NY Times Warns of Secrecy in Library, Fundraising

An excellent piece in today’s Times that calls on SMU to step up to the plate by insisting on some terms for the acceptance of the library and institute — the revocation of President Bush’s executive order that grants him and his designees unprecedented and perpetual authority to control access to Presidential documents, and information about the financial contributors to the library. Many faculty members have expressed concern that SMU President Gerald Turner is acting like a supplicant desperate to land the library and institute, and called on him to negotiate from a position of strength appropriate for an excellent university with which the Bush Library and Institute would benefit from being associated. SMU is now in the national spotlight, and this is our chance to shine.

The George W. Bush Library: Scholarly Mecca or $500 Million Oxymoron?
Dorothy Samuels
The New York Times
January 28, 2007

The news reports that President Bush’s representatives seem to be closing in on a deal to put a half-billion-dollar presidential library and policy institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has inspired the predictable lame jokes and references to “The Pet Goat.”

But the project raises issues that are no laughing matter, touching on the writing of history, the university’s scholarly mission, governmental integrity and the rule of law.

S.M.U.’s negotiations regarding Mr. Bush’s library are bound to have a large public impact, which is why I’m hoping that the university’s president, R. Gerald Turner, and members of his board of trustees (presuming Laura Bush, the best-known trustee, has removed herself from the deliberations) can be persuaded to withhold a final go-ahead unless two basic conditions are met.

Continued here.


2 Responses to NY Times Warns of Secrecy in Library, Fundraising

  1. Joel Trout says:

    Everyone needs to see Sunday’s “Doonesbury” for a hilarious, as well as a true, take on the library. I think “belief tank” should be the description of choice from now on.

  2. Maarja Krusten says:

    As an outsider, I do not know the details of the proposed institute or think tank. I do not know whether scholars associated with the institute would expect to get privileged access to materials at the Presidential Library that are not available to other researchers. That would not, however, fit with current practices, at least in the case of PRA-controlled materials in the custody of the Presidential Library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In fact, such action might open up the National Archives to lawsuits.

    Consider the case of Francis Lowenheim, a history professor from Texas who complained in the late 1960s that archivists at the Roosevelt Presidential Library had not told him about materials pertinent to his research. Richard Cox mentions the controversy in his article, “America’s Pyramids: Presidents and Their Libraries,”

    When I joined the National Archives in 1976, the case still was relatively fresh. I remember being taught that as a result of the Lowenheim controversy, the National Archives established a policy which stated that screened and releasable materials available to one researcher should be available to all. The focus of the policy was on the availability to all researchers of finding aids. (These are inventories, including scope and content notes and folder title lists, that are prepared by archivists to describe collections of historical records.) The implication when I joined NARA was that there would be no favoritism, no special or privileged access for researchers who sought federal and Presidential records that had been deemed disclosable to the public.

    I am assuming, but do not know, that if the Library, Museum and institute were to come to SMU, NARA would be allowed to continue what has been its practice for nearly 40 years now. No privileged access, everyone treated alike in terms of access to statutorily controlled materials opened for research.

    Those of you who have access to Nexis or to libraries that hold copies of the National Journal may find an article from 1993 to be of interest. In its March 13, 1993 issue, the National Journal published an article, “At the Archives, Controversy’s Routine.” The opening paragraph was interesting. I’ll quote a few sentences:

    “On Dec. 10, 1969, a young Member named George [Herbert Walker] Bush took to the House floor to decry what historians now say was an archival scandal: A presidential library was withholding records from the public for private gain. Bush called for a congressional investigation into the concealment of papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y. He was prompted by a letter from Houston history professor Francis L. Lowenheim, who complained that the library had denied him access to critical letters that Roosevelt wrote during the 1930s. It turned out that the library had worked out an exclusive deal with Harvard University Press, which later packaged the letters in a three-volume series and shared the profits with the library. “He was enormously helpful in getting this situation cleaned up and reformed,” Lowenheim said recently of Bush’s role in the Roosevelt Library case.”

    However, the article goes on to describe Dr. Lowenheim’s later concerns in 1993 about the agreement which former U.S. Archivist Don W. Wilson signed at the end of his term in office with President G. H. W. Bush regarding control of his White House email records. “The controversial agreement has become the flash point in an escalating legal battle between public-interest groups and the government over what should happen to records, particularly electronic records, when a President leaves office,” The National Journal noted in 1993. A federal district court judge later threw out the so-called Bush-Wilson agreement.

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