Demonstration, Gonzales Mess, Continued Discussion of Bush Institute

March 20, 2007

Yesterday afternoon as I was walking to my car in a stupor I saw three news helicopters circling overhead — I wondered what was going on, and particularly whether the school had announced the closing of the Bush complex deal. Then I heard drums and chanting as I got further south, and remembered the demonstration to mark the anniversary of the Iraq war, which ended up with a rally near the site of the proposed library. I’m sure this will be one of many if the Bush complex does indeed come to campus. All was peaceful and seemingly cheerful — even the local Fox affiliate gave a relatively neutral account that presented the views of some demonstrators and a carload of somewhat pissy SMU students who seemed put off by the gathering. The police were ready for much worse — there were about 20 squad cars and a bus-sized paddy wagon deployed in the gym’s parking lot in case things hadn’t gone so well.

Both the Dallas Morning News and the Daily Campus covered the demonstration, noting its ties to the proposed library complex and to the anniversary of the now-unpopular war. Today’s campus paper also ran a student editorial trying to offer an optimistic take on the violence in Iraq — terribly unconvincingly, to my mind — and a nicely-executed account of the Methodist Board’s approval of SMU’s request for land use for the Bush complex that also glossed the recent Congressional actions on Executive Order 13233 and the disclosure of library fund-raising.

Theology Professor Susanne Johnson, one of the first to speak out against the Bush complex, weighed in with a thoughtful editorial suggesting that approval of the Institute may violate SMU’s charter.

According to Article 13, real estate of the corporation “may be sold or leased only by the consent of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference,” and then “only for religious or educational purposes.” As defined in Article 4, the meaning of “educational purposes” cannot be stretched far enough to include a politically partisan institute such as that conceived and articulated by George W. Bush.

Johnson concludes that

We do not have to break by-laws and breach covenants to attain what is of lasting academic value for our university. SMU can embrace the Presidential Library and Museum, but ask that the partisan institute be built off-campus. By proceeding within the bounds both of law and of reason, all stakeholders will obtain what they most value and emerge with integrity intact.

This suggests that the debate within the Methodist Church may not be done with.

Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney scandal continues, with mounting pressure on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. Our law school gave him an honorary alum award last month — brilliant timing. Along with prominent alum Harriet Mier’s renewed prominence as an apparent advocate of securing the dismissal of all U.S. attorneys, SMU’s hosting of Bush-Cheney victory rallies in the last two Presidential election cycles, the heavy overlap of SMU Board members and Bush campaign fundraisers, the close ties between Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and SMU’s young School of Education, and now the library and institute plans, SMU is well on its way to being massively identified with the Bush administration, both publicly and institutionally. Whether this close level of identification is in our best long-term interests remains an open question to many on campus.