Methodist Bishops Call on Trustees to Recuse Themselves

In today’s Daily Campus, three retired Methodist bishops and an SMU/Perkins alum call on eight trustees to recuse themselves because of longstanding political ties — in most cases, extensive pasts as fundraisers — with George W. Bush’s political career.  In broad strokes, the information they present is not surprising — I don’t think that the insight that wealthy white Texans associated with the oil industry are likely to be Republicans would get me tenure in the political science department — but the extent of the overlap between the Board and Bush’s political circles did take me a bit aback.  This goes well beyond having Laura Bush on the board, or Dick Cheney as an ex-member, or the law school giving an honorary alum degree to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. 

Of course all successful universities need to capture the support and loyalty of their local establishment, and in Dallas this establishment is still all-white, pretty much all-Republican, and still centered on the oil industry (but less and less so on the latter count).  If you look at three universities that have catapulted themselves from being at SMU”s current level as a good regional institution with pockets of national strength, into the ranks of top national universities — Stanford three generations ago, Rice two generations ago, USC in the last generation — they’ve all managed to maintain local elite support while reaching out to a larger, more diverse group of board members and a more diverse student body, in terms of geography, background, and academic interest.  I hope that we haven’t cast our lot so strongly with Bush and the Dallas establishment as to preclude this.  For me, this information is one more reason to be wary of the unprecedented arrangement with the Institute — on campus, with the possibility of sharing faculty lines, but with partisan goals, its own separate board, and without following academic hiring procedures —  that SMU’s administration is contemplating and that the elected faculty leadership has so far refrained from challenging.

Here’s the start of the article:

Recently, First Lady and SMU trustee Laura Bush said that she would not vote on or participate in the decision-making process regarding the proposed Bush Library complex.

We think several other trustees who have had long-term personal, financial or political relationships with President George W. Bush should also recuse themselves from this project rather than permit questions to be raised about whether they have interests that conflict with their fiduciary duty as trustees of the university.

Among them are eight trustees, seven of whom have been major fundraisers and contributors to Bush political campaigns. All information presented below is from public records.

1) Robert H. Dedman Jr. is chair and CEO of Club Corp. International. The Dedmans are long-time friends of the Bush family, and Dedman raised at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign and gave more than $16,000 to Bush gubernatorial races

2) Ruth Altshuler is a Dallas philanthropist and investor. She pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign and gave $25,000 toward the 2001 Bush inaugural gala.

3) Alan Feld is a lobbyist and one of two senior executive partners of the 25th largest law firm in the U.S., Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP. He pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign.

4) Ray L. Hunt is the Chair and CEO of both Hunt Consolidated, Inc. and Hunt Oil, one of the largest privately owned petroleum companies in the world. He was appointed to the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 2001 and pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush campaign. He gave $100,000 toward the 2001 Bush inaugural festivities and Hunt Consolidated, Inc., gave another $250,000 toward the Bush 2005 presidential inaugural gala. Hunt already has donated $35 million toward the Bush Complex at SMU.

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