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.
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.
Chair, French Section
Foreign Languages & Literatures