French Professor Weighs in on Bush Complex, Faculty-Administration Relations

March 19, 2007

Thanks to Professor of French Bill Beauchamp for this thoughtful take on the status of the discussion and some of the larger university governance issues that it raises.

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Like most of my SMU colleagues, I see the university first and foremost as an open community of learning, exploration and debate — not a brand to be imaged and shilled. From this perspective, and in light of all the recent argument, the issue of the Bush library-museum-institute boils down to three principal points.

1) Bush library/museum: I support bringing the Bush library and museum to SMU on three conditions:
• that it be an authentic, comprehensive repository of unfiltered presidential documents (this does not seem possible while Executive Order #13233 remains in force)
• that it not consume the attention, energy, and fund-raising efforts of the SMU leadership to the detriment of other, especially academic priorities (this seems unlikely)
• that the overriding motivation for seeking the library/museum be to foster scholarship and learning — not to enhance the “SMU brand,” not to serve as a vicarious pyramid for university leaders.

2) Bush institute: I oppose locating an autonomous partisan “institute” on the SMU campus or associating it with the SMU name in any manner. Such an institute is by definition incompatible with the university mission of open, disinterested inquiry. One has to question the motivation of persons who insist, in the absence of persuasive argument, that the two entities — library/museum, on the one hand, and institute, on the other — must be linked. Could it be that such an institute would have difficulty finding donors without the cover of SMU’s academic respectability?

3) Paternalism: We faculty are told by certain of our leaders that, having made our concerns known, we should now maintain a dignified silence and trust the president of the university to do what’s best. That model may be acceptable at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it is not acceptable at SMU. Paternalism, secrecy, soft accountability — and, some would say, veiled threat — have no place in a university community.

Bill Beauchamp
Chair, French Section
Foreign Languages & Literatures

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The Economist on Bush Library

March 19, 2007

Interesting that our former colonial overlords are still interested in this. The first paragraph suggests that they haven’t done their homework — SMU hasn’t definitely landed the library — but the reporter does pick up on the magnitude of Bush’s ambitions and the disputes over the institute.

A room of his own
The Economist
March 15, 2007

George Bush wants his library to propound his message.

THE race is now decided. Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas will enjoy the dubious honour of being host to George Bush’s library. From Mr Bush’s perspective, it was an easy choice: after all, Laura Bush is an alumna and trustee. Wealthy donors in Dallas will be happier to contribute million-dollar cheques if the money is staying in town rather than flowing down the road to Baylor University in Waco, another of the finalists. And Mr Bush’s library will be easier to visit than his father’s, which is hidden away at Texas A&M University in College Station.

It may seem like a coup for the university, too. Housing the George W. Bush presidential library and museum will bring SMU money and attention. But Mr Bush’s plans for managing his legacy have ignited a fierce debate about what SMU may have to sacrifice in return. The president hopes to raise $500m for the project. This would make it the most expensive presidential library ever, $335m more costly than Bill Clinton’s in Little Rock. For Mr Bush wants to build, alongside the library and museum, an institute devoted to promoting his policies and ideas.

Continued here.