This morning I had more Bush Library-Institute with breakfast. The Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story entitled “SMU is Pressed to Fight Secrecy” written by a reporter from its Washington, D.C. Bureau. It is the most thorough treatment of Presidential secrecy and the unprecedented control that George W. Bush has given to former Presidents to appear in the mass media. It underscores the radicalism of this administration, and the ferocious response that these measures have provoked from professional associations of archivists, scientists, and historians. Some of these groups are weighing in on the SMU discussion in particular, as the first two sentences of the article make clear:
Archivists and historians are urging Southern Methodist University to reject the Bush presidential library unless the administration reverses an executive order that gives former presidents and their heirs the right to keep White House papers secret in perpetuity.
“If the Bush folks are going to play games with the records, no self-respecting academic institution should cooperate,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
The Bush Library-Institute also dominates the Morning News’ editorial page. SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson makes a strong argument for the Bush Institute, which, as he notes, is now the real focus of faculty debate. Benjamin Hufbauer, a professor at the University of Louisville who wrote Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory, argues that the Bush plans for the Library-Museum-Institute represent “a stark break with the way past presidential libraries and their associated institutions at universities have worked.” He urges the revocation of Executive Order 13233, increased funding for the National Archives, and greater input of historians and political scientists in presidential museum exhibits. Hufbaeur concludes with the observation that “[a]s currently proposed, the Bush Library and Institute would be by far the most ideologically driven presidential center ever built.”
What SMU could do about Executive Order 13233 and most faculty think about the Institute remain open questions. We may find out the answer to the second one, if the SMU Faculty Senate decides in this Wednesday’s meeting to hold a faculty referendum on the Institute as it is currently designed.