Old Thorn, New Wrinkles

March 25, 2007

Thanks to my colleague Kathleen Wellman for calling my attention to two stories in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News.  The first reveals that University Park lawyer Gary Vodicka has succeeded in having his long-running legal battle against SMU’s buyout and demolition of the University Gardens apartment/condo complex shifted back into state court.  SMU spokespeople characterize this as a stalling tactic.  This lawsuit has always struck me as a nuisance matter, with no real principle at stake, but I suppose that it may be playing an important role in the dealings between SMU and the Bush people if the article’s assertion that “according to some, the process has held up the Bush administration’s selection of a library site” is correct. 

I’m surprised that an announcement of a final deal has not been struck — it’s been three months since the announcement that SMU was the final finalist.  Maybe it’s Vodicka’s lawsuit, maybe there’s another hitch, or maybe there’s no hitch at all.  Still, if the Bush people were going to pull out I’d think they’d line up another arrangement beforehand, which would surely take some time.

The second article, “SMU Profs Protest Intelligent Design Conference,” is much more tied to the campus debate over the proposed Bush Institute.  (The institute has attracted much criticism because it is designed to advance the political agenda of the Bush administration and as far as we know will be located on campus and have the potential for joint appointments with SMU departments, but will report to its own board and hire fellows at the discretion of its director rather through a standard academic hiring procedure.) 

Here’s the substance of the dispute that the article covers:

Science professors upset about a presentation on “Intelligent Design” fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down.

The “Darwin vs. Design” conference, co-sponsored by the SMU law school’s Christian Legal Society, will say that a designer with the power to shape the cosmos is the best explanation for aspects of life and the universe. The event is produced by the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based organization that says it has scientific evidence for its claims.

The anthropology department at SMU begged to differ:

“These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits,” said the letter sent to administrators by the department. “They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask.”

Similar letters were sent by the biology and geology departments.

What does this have to with the Bush Institute?  Here are the connections that the reporter and the Dean of Dedman College (SMU’s core liberal arts unit) make:

The size of the dispute reflects two ongoing battles about academic freedom and responsibility.

One is local: The concern that some SMU professors have that the proposed Bush library and an accompanying policy institute would create the impression that the school tilts politically toward the positions of the current administration.

The other is national and local: The struggle between those who say the material world couldn’t get this way on it’s [sic] own versus those who say that there’s no scientific justification to invoke the supernatural as an explanation.

Many SMU science professors say they are worried that merely allowing “Darwin vs. Design” on campus could give the public impression that Intelligent Design has support from scientists at the school.

The Bush library debate has increased the size of the response to the Intelligent Design conference, some university officials said.

“In the broader context of the Bush library debate, this is causing enormous discomfort,” said Caroline Brettell, interim dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and an anthropologist.

This is a remarkable statement for a Dean to make, and whatever one thinks of this conference, gives some indication of just how widespread are the concerns over SMU’s coziness and public association with George W. Bush and his circles throughout SMU’s faculty, and (though generally behind closed doors) within its administration as well.  Some of the most influential people at SMU have expressed their concerns about the Institute, privately and publicly.  Whether they will have a bearing on a final agreement with the Bush people and whether they will shape the future relations of the university and Bush’s circles remain to be seen. 


Military columnist links Bush Library, Critique of Bush Presidency

March 24, 2007

After 5 years, a broken military, broken Constitution, broken laws and broken troops
Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers
March 21, 2007

Wars are deceptively easy to get into, but harder than calculus to get out of, especially when things aren’t going well.

President Bush is learning the truth of that the hard way this week as his war in Iraq enters its fifth year. Starting He is starting off the fifth year with $400 billion already spent foolishly, 3,200 soldiers and Marines killed, more than 50,000 wounded or injured and nothing in sight but more of the same.

Remember the fall of 2002 and the beginning of 2003? How fast and easy a cakewalk it would be? How Iraq oil revenues would pay most of the cost? How our troops would mostly be greeted as liberators with flowers and chocolates? How toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship would trigger a democratic wave that would sweep the Middle East?

Continued here.

Dallas Blog: Another Side on Bush Institute

March 24, 2007

Another Side on Bush Institute
Carolyn Barta
Dallas Blog
March 21, 2007

The SMU faculty discussion over the institute that will accompany the Bush Presidential Library is turning into a “she said, he said” debate. The latest is a “Dear Colleague” letter today from several political science/history professors saying the open letter sent out by a faculty group Tuesday, asking that the institute be totally separated from SMU, contained misrepresentations, unverifiable claims, and unwarranted assumptions. The new letter presents arguments in support of the institute’s connection to SMU, asserting that it will be a boon to intellectual life at SMU.

Continued here.

Bush Institute Debate Refuses to Die

March 22, 2007

While some of my colleagues have expressed a sense of fatigue over the ongoing library-institute debate, the discussion continues, with new voices and perspectives joining the chorus. A new petition asking for the removal of the institute off-campus has been circulated by email to all faculty with an initial batch of signatories, with a rejoinder (also sent by email) from another group. (I’ll try to post these missives as soon as I can, but my day job keeps interfering with these sorts of endeavors . . .)

Today’s Daily Campus contributes to the debate. The paper reports on the removal of an image of the proposed complex from a local TV station’s website, after SMU officials reported to the station that the image was inaccurate. As the article reports, SMU hasn’t revealed any artist’s rendering of the plans, and even the location of the complex on SMU’s campus remains uknown. And Shannon C. Jacuzzi weighs in with another piece about her proposed “collaborative think tank.”

Furthermore, a staff editorial entitled “Miers Embarasses Her Alma Mater” points to the current U.S. Attorney scandal as a reason for SMU to avoid over-identification with the Bush administration and its circles.

The current scandal, and its multitude of SMU connections, makes us wonder if this isn’t a huge sign that maybe it’s not the best idea to be so cozy with the Bush administration.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, a new scandal pops up that makes you wonder what the hell is going on.

Oh well, we’re probably just overreacting.

We look forward to reading Gonzales’ defense of the firings a few years from now in his cozy office in the Bush Institute.

An interesting and plausible scenario, and my hope is that the library-institute debate and contributions like today’s student newspaper editorial, will impress upon SMU’s leadership the need not to over-identify with the Bush circles, even if the library and institute end up at SMU. Maybe the next Republican victory rally won’t be held on campus?

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.

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.


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

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.