SMU Newspaper Summarizes Current Debate, Media Coverage

January 30, 2007

Most of us at SMU are aware of how much our school is in the spotlight these days. Several senior colleagues have told me that to their knowledge SMU has never been the subject of this kind of national attention. Many think that we are benefitting tremendously from it, in large part because of the vigorous debate about the library and institute. Perhaps we’ve already raised our profile because of becoming the finalist for the library and institute — and because there have been so many doubts and concerns raised.

Bush library debate focuses spotlight on SMU
Mark Norris
SMU Daily Campus
January 30, 2007

Three faculty meetings, two petitions and numerous editorials later, the drama that is the Bush Library complex continues to gain a wider audience in the United States and worldwide.

The debate has shone a bright, and sometimes harsh, spotlight on the Hilltop.

Media inquiries about the Bush Library have flooded SMU’s News and Communications office. According to its media monitoring service, 329 articles and television segments have been done on SMU’s bid for the complex since the Dec. 21 announcement that the school was entering into exclusive negotiations with the library committee.

Last week, ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” had a story on the debate in addition to other coverage on CNN and MSNBC. The story has received column space in the Washington Post and the New York Times, both of which have sent reporters to cover the faculty meetings along with reporters from The Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News.

The story has gone international in the past week with articles in the United Kingdom’s The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph of London and a German newspaper. The debate was also featured on “Canada A.M.,” that country’s equivalent of “Good Morning America.”

Continued here.


A View from our Neighbors to the North

January 29, 2007

The first paragraph of this Canadian report made me wince — SMU students are neither as wealthy nor as homogenous as this description implies — but it’s a decent take on some of the debate and the wider context of Presidential libraries. The subtitle plays up the fact that this controversy is happening in Texas, though mercifully the body does not really pursue this point. Is it really surprising that the most prominent university in a city with an openly gay sheriff named Lupe Valdez should not greet the Bush Library and Institute with considerable dissent?

All the President’s papers
Alan Freeman
The Globe and Mail
January 27, 2007

WASHINGTON — Southern Methodist University is an island of privilege near the centre of Dallas, a place where SUVs are de rigueur in the student parking lot and young women go to class sporting Louis Vuitton handbags adorned with sorority pins.

The student body, according to The Princeton Review, which ranks U.S. colleges, is overwhelmingly southern, white, upper-class and “very conservative.” Laura Bush is on the university’s board, as was Dick Cheney before he became Vice-President.

There’s even a Laura Bush Promenade, thanks to a $250,000 gift from her husband.

It’s the kind of place where the Bushes, who are Methodists, should feel perfectly at home.


Houston Chronicle Joins Chorus Questioning Library Secrecy

January 28, 2007

From yesterday’s Houston Chronicle. This piece makes a similar point as the Times editorial today and offers an implicit opening for SMU leaders to help fix the presidential library system even as they try to land its latest addition.

Ponying up to the shrine; into the health care debate
Cragg Hines
Houston Chronicle
January 27, 2007

A university of any pretensions should be slobberingly eager to house a president’s archive, be he warlord, prophet of peace or thundering dud.

Unfortunately, the mass of executive papers that researchers will mine for years tends to come these days as part of a non-negotiable package that includes what amounts to a shrine to the former leader.

The papers can be pristinely preserved and managed by the National Archives and Records Administration, but accompanying museums/centers/institutes exist in large part to tend the past leader’s flame if not be the actual home of any post-White House dips by the former leader into national or international affairs.

Continued here.

NY Times Warns of Secrecy in Library, Fundraising

January 28, 2007

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.

Houston Chronicle Editorialist on Student Opposition to Institute

January 27, 2007

This is a well-done piece, arguing that opposition to the Institute, as articulated in yesterday’s Daily Campus, is more compelling than the rejection of the whole package advocated by some within the United Methodist Church. The author also praises the students for realizing that SMU is in a strong bargaining position — something that our administration does not seem to realize.

SMU flap: Kids right, bishops not
Rick Casey
Houston Chronicle
January 26, 2007

Usually when there is an uproar over a library it’s because some fundamentalist Christians are upset about a book a child might chance upon if he can reach high enough.

This time it’s liberal Methodists worried about what the adults may be up to.

A group of Methodist bishops and ministers is protesting plans to establish the presidential library for George W. Bush at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

They believe the “linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate.”

Simply put, Bush has been too sinful, they say, what with torture and all that.

The kids at SMU, as we shall see below, make a better argument.

Continued here.

Bush legacy should be planted at SMU

January 26, 2007

I’m afraid that the Statesman is behind the curve on this.  The editorial board acknowledges the presence of the Bush Institute, which is conceived of as a partisan, advocacy-oriented think-tank, rather than a school like the LBJ school (as SMU originally proposed to the Bush people, as a matter of fact), but doesn’t dwell on how different this is than the LBJ library, or on its possible effects on the public reputation and internal governance of SMU.  The concerns about secrecy and Bush’s excecutive order giving Presidents and their designees in perpetuity the right to unilaterally assert executive privilige to keep documents off-limits are mentioned, but their impacts on the research value of the library are unaddressed.  And, of great importance to me as an SMU faculty member, the article ignores the institutional effects of bringing in such a large and well-funded operation to our small university — remember, we’re much smaller than any of the universities that have Presidential libraries.

Bush legacy should be planted at SMU
Editorial Board
Austin American-Statesman
January 27, 2007

When American historians years from now study this period of U.S. life, the dominant figure will be President George W. Bush and the central issue will be the war in Iraq. And they will go to Dallas to study his presidency – if his presidential library, museum and political institute are built at Southern Methodist University, Bush’s apparent top choice, though the decision is not final.

But some on the SMU faculty and in the Methodist Church object. Some worry about parking or having tourists disturb an academic setting.

The strongest criticism, though, comes from those who intensely disapprove of Bush’s policies, particularly his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Any presidential library is, in part, a monument to an ego, and some in the SMU and Methodist worlds can’t stomach the idea that the campus would house a monument to this particular ego, or his conservative politics.

Yet it would be a mistake for SMU to refuse the Bush library, the museum or the political institute – which no doubt will bend right in its views – that will come with it. But the president and his successors should be as wise in their handling of his legacy, as President Johnson and his have been.

Continued here.

Concerns mount over Bush library

January 26, 2007

Probably the best story in terms of its understanding of the changed dynamics of the debate on campus. It’s also important to note that SMU’s administration has clearly backed off of its earlier, groundless assertions that there is widespread faculty support for the Bush Library-Museum-Institute.

Concerns mount over Bush library
Miguel Bustillo
Los Angeles Times
January 26, 2007

HOUSTON — More than a quarter of the faculty at Southern Methodist University on Thursday demanded a referendum on whether the Dallas campus should become the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, if that means accepting a conservative think tank as part of the deal.

The petition, which was signed by 170 faculty members — including professors from all six SMU schools, several department chairs and past presidents of the faculty senate — is the latest sign of rancor over the proposal to bring Bush’s papers and an institute touting his legacy to the university.

Continued here (registration required).