Thanks to my colleague Professor Kathleen Wellman, our French historian — every department has to have one! — for writing this. I missed the first half of the meeting of the Faculty Senate, since I was teaching my class on the history of natural disasters.
President Turner met with the faculty senate in a meeting open to all faculty. About two hundred faculty were present, a turnout reflecting the high degree of faculty interest and concern about the Bush Library and Institute, as well as their deep commitment to their university.
President Turner expressed his view that over time the library, museum, and institute would become less partisan in character. He also expressed the belief that research generated by an such an institute would in the long run have to reflect standards of good scholarship. Despite this belief, many faculty expressed concerns about the possibility of faculty or academic oversight of these institutions. The Library provoked concern from a faculty member about President Bush’s executive order giving the president and his family representatives unprecedented ability to restrict access for as long as they see fit [for further discussion of this, see Ben Hufbauer’s piece on the “Key Resources” page]. The limited funding for the National Archives and Records Administration, which makes the cataloguing so slow that, for example, only 7% of the materials of George H. W. Bush are yet available, was another faculty concern about the library.
But virtually all faculty questions focused on their concerns with the proposed Bush Institute. Even taking President’s Turner’s exhortation to think long term, Faculty expressed concern about the impact of such an Institute on SMU. They expressed specific concerns that our efforts to recruit a diverse student body would be adversely affected by our greater connection to the Bush administration. Or that the Institute would jeopardize our attempts to become a more prominent, national university. They were also discomfited by the unspecified character of joint appointments of Bush fellows to university positions. While faculty are hired to meet specific needs within departments, to treats fields of inquiry shaped by academic disciplines, and tenured and promoted because of their contributions to their disciplines, Bush Fellows would instead be hired simply by the director of the Bush Institute who would have been appointed by and be accountable only to the Bush foundation. Unlike faculty, the fellows would instead be hired for their commitment to an ideological perspective. The fellows of the institute might then produce research which might reflect poorly on SMU or skew our hirings in ways that serve the interests of the Bush Institute more than the university.
While the meeting was at times intense, it was also polite and respectful Faculty were pleased with President Turner’s willingness to address these concerns with them, since until December, when a Faculty Senate meeting raised some of these issues, there was been very limited discussion of SMU’s proposal largely because of intense competition between Texas cities and universities for the library. Several faculty pointed out that they had been entirely unaware that an independent institute was a requirement of the Bush Library Committee and welcomed discussion now with the hope that President Turner might be in a stronger negotiating position with the Bush Library Committee because of the Faculty’s explicit questions.