By way of a colleague I’ve just come across and old and disturbing story about the meddling of the Bush people with Texas A & M faculty members associated with the George Herbert Walker Bush school, one that directly involves President George W. Bush (then Governor of Texas). One of the A & M professors involved has written SMU professors, warning us that “then-governor Bush had no qualms about intervening to try to restrict the academic freedom of professors in his ‘daddy’s’ school. I don’t know if you have talked to anyone here at A&M about our experience, but I can assure that the Bushies really are worse than you can imagine.”
According to this March 2000 story, associates of both George H.W. and George W. Bush lashed out at professors who made critical comments about them, threatening to revoke their affiliations and fellowships with the Bush School if such comments continued. At one point Bush School Director Charles Hermann drafted a policy, which he backed away from after a firestorm of publicity, that should be a warning to my colleagues at SMU who seem to be under the impression that the Bush people are nice, collegial, open-minded intellectuals:
As a “matter of sensitivity and simple courtesy to the people who have made possible this school,” Hermann wrote, faculty members should not “use the affiliation with the Bush School in ways that cause embarrassment to the Bush family.” Hermann counseled faculty to refrain from claiming a Bush School affiliation if they intended to give “personal opinions or undocumented material pertaining to any member of the Bush family or an organization with which they are prominently associated.” In a memo, Hermann also cautioned that “failure to comply” with this policy could “lead to termination of the relationship” between the school and the offending professor.
The article continues: “Since the incident, at least three political science professors have turned down teaching appointments to the Bush School because of the controversy. ” I know of one case already where a senior faculty member at another university, very prominent in his field, who one department would like to target for an endowed chair, has declined to apply, citing his concerns about what the Bush complex will mean for SMU and its faculty.
Click here for the coverage, from the now-defunct magazine Lingua Franca.
Remember: these are many of the same people that we’re talking about with the Bush complex at SMU, who already have deep ties to our board. And remember the trajectory of the current defense secretary, Robert Gates, who started off as head of the Bush School and went on to become A & M’s President (by many accounts, a fine one). And remember that the arrangement proposed with the Bush Institute — on campus, with the possibility of concurrent appointments with SMU departments, but one that doesn’t have the Institute reporting to SMU administrators or practicing standard academic hiring procedures — means that these people will have fewer checks (none?) than they do at A & M. SMU’s current President and Provost wouldn’t stand for the kind of nonsense that Hermann tried (or else I wouldn’t be saying any of this, as a professor up for tenure) — but they won’t be around forever, and won’t have any say in the running of the Bush Institute.