More Media Coverage as Debate Enters Critical Week

The Bush Library-Institute running debate now seems like a normal part of SMU life, and I open my morning papers — The Dallas Morning News and New York Times — with the expectation that I’ll be able to read about SMU in both while sipping my morning coffee. It’s a nice feeling, really.

This weekend has seen some more media coverage. On Friday night my colleague and occasional guest-blogger Kathleen Wellman appeared with political science professor Jim Hollifield on the local public television station to debate the question of the Library and Institute. I thought that SMU and its faculty came off very well on this program — both Wellman and Hollifield were engaged, articulate, and well-informed interlocutors whose concern for the long-term well-being of SMU was apparent. Hollifield stressed the long-term research value of the Library and Institute to SMU, while Wellman focused on questions of access and control of the library’s holdings, and of the partisan nature of the Institute. Hollifield repeated his assertions that much of the faculty opposition is due to partisan antipathy toward Bush, an argument that I find very frustrating. The Bush Institute is conceived of as a partisan institute, and will hire its fellows on the basis of their ability to advance this agenda, not on academic credentials — so to the extent that this debate has partisan tones to it, then that’s the major reason why. Both Wellman and Hollifield seemed to agree that SMU was all the better off for having this debate, and that it was being conducted in an engaged and thoughtful manner.

Today — Sunday afternoon — the debate within the Methodist Church will be the focus of a segment of “State of Belief,” the liberal Air America’s program focusing on religion and politics. The program host will be interviewing the Reverend Andrew Weaver, the organizer of the anti-Library petition. The program should be posted soon enough at http://www.airamerica.com/stateofbelief/.

More attention to the Library-Institute and related issues is forthcoming. The Dallas Morning News has in the works a substantial piece on executive order 13233, the controversial provision that gives former Presidents and their designees in perpetuity enormous control over access to their Presidential papers (entirely outside of the official system for restricting access to potentially dangerous information through classification, though the media and several commentators frequently confound the two). The News is also due to run an editorial by Presidential Library historian Benjamin Hufbauer on the Bush Library-Institute Debate. PBS’s News Hour is considering running a segmen on the debate. The Congressional Quarterly Researcher is planning an entire issue on presidential libraries, and their reporter, like others from the national media, will be in town for Wednesday’s faculty meeting.

On that note, it’s clear that the media attention will continue. Tuesday night at 6:00 at University Park’s city hall there is a hearing about the library, and Wednesday at 3:00 the Faculty Senate will be considering whether or not to hold a referendum on the Institute. Should be an interesting week!

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