All the tenured and tenure-track members of my department signed the following statement, which was drafted (and re-drafted, and re-drafted . . .) by University Professor Edward Countryman, one of my most distinguished colleagues. Yesterday it was published in full in the Daily Campus. Some professional organizations are actually lobbying SMU to insist on the revocation of the Order as a precondition for accepting the library. This won’t happen, but it does show how much the library has already raised SMU’s profile (one of the principal arguments of its backers) — as has all of the discussion and debate on campus.
As historians at SMU we have no collective position about bringing the Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Institute to this campus. Some of us favor it; others do not. We do believe, however, that there is one related issue on which we can speak. This is the matter of Presidential Order 13233, which gives current and former presidents the power to withhold records in presidential libraries virtually at their discretion.
Like many historians elsewhere, we are worried about several provisions of the order. In our opinion, these go against Congress’s purpose when it passed the Presidential Libraries Act.
First, the order grants power to incumbent presidents to overrule determinations by former presidents that records in “their” presidential libraries may be released. We are very concerned that an incumbent president might exert this power to block the release of a former administration’s material merely because it would be politically detrimental. That could happen in either direction, a Democratic incumbent blocking the access to the records of a Republican predecessor, or a Republican blocking access to those of a Democrat.