Thanks to guest blogger Philosophy Professor Steve Sverdlik for this detailed and thoughtful report.
Report on the Faculty Senate Meeting of March 7, 2007Steve Sverdlik
The Faculty Senate concluded a dramatic debate on a resolution to sever all relations to the Bush Institute with a tie vote, barely sending it down to defeat. The vote was 13 to 13, with three abstentions. It is hard to see this outcome as anything other than an expression of profound disquiet among faculty members with regard to the Institute.
The Senate had its regular meeting in the Hughes-Trigg Ballroom. Other business took up the first half-hour of the session. The Senate then turned to a resolution that had been tabled. It concerned the financing of concurrent faculty appointments at SMU that involve fellows of the Bush Institute. The Senate has already seen a set of guidelines that are meant to govern the making of such appointments by SMU departments and schools. The purpose of the proposed resolution was to make sure that funds to pay for work at SMU come only from SMU and are under its control. (Otherwise there is a risk that Bush fellows will be subject to Bush Institute control while they work at SMU.) Provost Tunks praised the resolution as helpful in the way that it supplements the hiring guidelines. With a few minor amendments, the resolution passed almost unanimously.
At 4:20, the Senate took up the resolution on severing relations with the Bush Institute. One of the Senators who introduced it made a PowerPoint presentation. She emphasized the following facts: the Institute will be governed entirely by the Bush Foundation; it will be partisan and ideological in its mission but will reside on SMU’s property and use its name. The plan for the Bush Institute is thus unprecedented for presidential libraries associated with institutions of higher learning. In some cases there are schools associated with the presidential libraries, but these are under the control of the universities. No entity associated with a presidential library is partisan. The Hoover Institution at Stanford is a special case, but its directors claim that it is non-partisan. The Carter Center at Emory has significant university representation on its board. The Kennedy School at Harvard was intended to be partisan and independent, but Harvard rejected this plan. It is an academic unit of the university and is non-partisan. The presentation closed with two options for SMU: either it can bring the Institute under its oversight, or it can sever the Institute from itself, and not allow it to use its land, its name and its resources.
There followed a one-hour discussion. One supporter of the resolution noted how the Institute would be associated in the public mind with SMU and damage its reputation. A number of opponents brought up the point that the Bush Foundation is framing the complex as a package deal in which the Institute must be included; severing the Institute would mean losing the Library and Museum. One senator noted that the Academic Planning Committee is working out how to handle the use of the SMU name. At about five o’clock, the resolution was amended to incorporate the disjunction of the Power- Point presentation: the Senate would call on SMU either to bring the Institute under its control or sever all relations with it, including disallowing the use of its land.
At that late hour, the debate became intense. Provost Tunks stood and told the Senate that he did not wish to make any threats, but he did have great fear that this resolution would lead to losing the Library. And that, he said, would gravely damage SMU. President Blair told the Senate that she, too, has that fear. The supporters of the resolution argued that we have to uphold our academic values, and that the position that it is a package deal is a sort of threat being made by the Bush Foundation. It was also noted that the first option-to bring the Institute under our control-is the one employed at other presidential libraries. So, it was asked, why should we shy away from insisting on that (or severance)? At 5:30, the question was called. By then a number of Senators had left. Again, the vote was 13 to 13. The meeting thereupon adjourned.
Analysis: I hope it is not too churlish to note at the outset that the tie vote is a very dubious outcome for a number of reasons. First, as I noted, by 5:30 a number of Senators had left. Of course, we do not know which side this may have helped, if any. Second, it might be argued that a secret ballot would have been a fairer way to gauge sentiment. The Provost made an impassioned speech against the resolution and then was there to watch the voting, which took place via raised hands. Despite Provost Tunks’ insistence that he was not trying to intimidate anyone, it might be wondered whether his intensity made some people– especially assistant professors–reluctant to register their dissent. On the other hand, I found that the Senate was generous in allowing a PowerPoint presentation and a full hour of debate. (But then, again, at that point it was late and a vote may have been ill-advised.)
The Senate previously rejected carrying out a referendum, and so we have to take its own vote as the best indication we have to date of faculty feeling about the proposed Institute. It is possible that there will be further votes. But we have heard rumors suggesting that an announcement of a completed deal will occur in a few days. The results in the Faculty Senate look very similar to those of the 2000 Presidential election.