SMU Discussion of Bush Library and Institute Now Posted

February 20, 2007

SMU journalism students have taped and posted a faculty panel’s extended discussion of the library and institute. The panel consists of History professor Alexis McCrossen, English Professor Dennis Foster, Political Scientist Cal Jillson, and Theatre Professor (and Faculty Senate President) Rhonda Blair. Student comments at an open mike and camera set up in the student center are also very interesting, and show that they have been following the debate closely in some cases, particularly when it comes to the Institute. In general this is a revealing look at a campus full of thoughtful people who are drawing on their expertise and integrating new knowledge and information as quickly as possible.

One thought I did have while listening to this is that the focus of the discussion on the Institute has really let the educational benefits that library supporters claim go unexamined. In some cases these are clearly exaggerated — in January’s faculty meeting, for example, one faculty member stated that this would be “one of the great libraries of the world.” That comment reveals a basic ignorance of what reseach libraries are, and a troubling naivete about the state of SMU’s library system, which is not funded at anywhere near the level necessary for a nationally prominent university. Our DeGolyer library, for example, has leading collections relating to the U.S. West. A generation ago it made as many acquisitions as leading libraries in the field at places like Berkeley and Yale. But over the years the central administration has chipped away at its funding, siphoning the yields from the endowment that came with it to support staff positions. Now it is no longer in the vanguard. This is the kind of resource that makes for an excellent university, and if it and other similar endeavors continue to be neglected, SMU won’t better itself, library or not.

Click here to listen.

Dallas Morning News on Terror Threat

February 10, 2007

The question of the Library’s impact on the Park Cities is another angle of this debate, one I don’t know much about and don’t have a lot of stake in. But it can be important — remember that the Reagan Library at Stanford was defeated in part because of local opposition. Much of the concerns in Dallas seem to focus on the questions of security and terrorism. I’m not in a good position to evaluate them, but given the Bush administration’s repeated use of terror threats for political gain — recall particularly Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney’s terrifying invocations of mushroom clouds over America in the run-up to the calamitous Iraq war — the Bushes are again reaping what they have sown.

Will Bush library be a target?
Kristen Holland
Dallas Morning News
February 10, 2007

Terrorists will destroy the Bush library and take out most of the Park Cities at the same time. The question isn’t if but when, says Sam Boyd, a Park Cities lawyer.

Mr. Boyd isn’t alone.

A number of Park Cities residents say they fear that building the presidential library in University Park would be like painting a big, red target on their community.

Security and terrorism experts have mixed sentiments. Although some say presidential libraries are unlikely targets, others say Bush’s library may change that because the president is such a polarizing figure worldwide.

Continued here.

History Professor Reports on Jan. 24 Faculty Meeting With President Turner

January 24, 2007

Thanks to my colleague Professor Kathleen Wellman, our French historian — every department has to have one! — for writing this. I missed the first half of the meeting of the Faculty Senate, since I was teaching my class on the history of natural disasters.


President Turner met with the faculty senate in a meeting open to all faculty. About two hundred faculty were present, a turnout reflecting the high degree of faculty interest and concern about the Bush Library and Institute, as well as their deep commitment to their university.

President Turner expressed his view that over time the library, museum, and institute would become less partisan in character. He also expressed the belief that research generated by an such an institute would in the long run have to reflect standards of good scholarship. Despite this belief, many faculty expressed concerns about the possibility of faculty or academic oversight of these institutions. The Library provoked concern from a faculty member about President Bush’s executive order giving the president and his family representatives unprecedented ability to restrict access for as long as they see fit [for further discussion of this, see Ben Hufbauer’s piece on the “Key Resources” page]. The limited funding for the National Archives and Records Administration, which makes the cataloguing so slow that, for example, only 7% of the materials of George H. W. Bush are yet available, was another faculty concern about the library.

But virtually all faculty questions focused on their concerns with the proposed Bush Institute. Even taking President’s Turner’s exhortation to think long term, Faculty expressed concern about the impact of such an Institute on SMU. They expressed specific concerns that our efforts to recruit a diverse student body would be adversely affected by our greater connection to the Bush administration. Or that the Institute would jeopardize our attempts to become a more prominent, national university. They were also discomfited by the unspecified character of joint appointments of Bush fellows to university positions. While faculty are hired to meet specific needs within departments, to treats fields of inquiry shaped by academic disciplines, and tenured and promoted because of their contributions to their disciplines, Bush Fellows would instead be hired simply by the director of the Bush Institute who would have been appointed by and be accountable only to the Bush foundation. Unlike faculty, the fellows would instead be hired for their commitment to an ideological perspective. The fellows of the institute might then produce research which might reflect poorly on SMU or skew our hirings in ways that serve the interests of the Bush Institute more than the university.

While the meeting was at times intense, it was also polite and respectful Faculty were pleased with President Turner’s willingness to address these concerns with them, since until December, when a Faculty Senate meeting raised some of these issues, there was been very limited discussion of SMU’s proposal largely because of intense competition between Texas cities and universities for the library. Several faculty pointed out that they had been entirely unaware that an independent institute was a requirement of the Bush Library Committee and welcomed discussion now with the hope that President Turner might be in a stronger negotiating position with the Bush Library Committee because of the Faculty’s explicit questions.

SMU and Bush Library: In Depth

January 19, 2007

SMU and Bush Library: In Depth
Daily Kos
Fri Jan 19, 2007

Opposition to Southern Methodist University accepting the proposal to be the site of the Bush Presidential Library grows but the differing factions have very different reasons for their opposition.

Continued here.

Welcome to the Bush Library Party!

January 18, 2007

Five years ago, when I came to Southern Methodist University (SMU), I never thought I’d find myself at ground zero of the first national debate about the legacy of the George W. Bush administration. Now that we’ve been named as the finalist for his presidential library and institute, that’s exactly where I find myself. This blog ( will, I hope, offer a view of what this debate looks like from its very center, in the history department of SMU. I hope to change people’s minds by my postings, but most importantly, to provide one forum where people across the nation and at SMU can exchange ideas and find information and arguments to help them make up their own minds. This goal is consistent with my profession, and if I didn’t believe that it would do some good even if my views don’t win out, I’d have no business being a professor. I have enormous respect for this university, and hope that this blog helps showcase some of its strengths. I am a history professor – an untenured assistant professor, to be exact – at SMU. I have a lot at stake in this debate because I’m employed by SMU and hope to be for many decades to come, because I am a professional historian, and because I teach and write about Texas (where I’m from) and often resent the way Texas is portrayed in the national media and scholarship. (For more about my work, see my homepage at Texas and Dallas are complicated places that have exercised enormous influence over the shape of modern America – yet so often they are portrayed in such flat, mono-dimensional tones, by Texans and outsiders alike. I have a point of view in all of this: I think that the proposed library, museum, and institute (and especially the latter) are bad, bad news for SMU, and raise important and sometimes troubling questions about private money, partisan politics, and universities – not to mention the legacies of the Bush administration.

I’ll close this introductory post by raising what I see as the principal arguments against the library-museum-institute coming to campus.

First, and most importantly, the Bush Library-Museum-Institute will be as much or more a source of continued political propaganda for the Bush administration and its policies as it will be an educational resource.The Institute is explicitly conceived as an advocacy organization, and it will report to the Bush Foundation, not to the University. The museum, as is the case with all presidential museums is mostly funded by private sources, in this case by the same Bush foundation. As extensive experience with the previous eleven presidential libraries indicates, this museum will also present a partisan view defending the Bush administration and advancing its reputation and policies. The library, while it could be an asset to SMU – and remember that I am a historian, and have spent an amazing portion of my adult life happily ensconced in libraries – will also be heavily influenced by the Bush people, though under the control of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In November of 2001, President Bush issued an executive order requiring NARA to honor any assertion of executive privilege by a former President – even against the wishes of a library director or a sitting president. In other words, years from now, if an aged historian Benjamin Johnson wanted to walk from his office to the Bush Library to look at documents related to, say, domestic spying programs under Attorney General Alberto Gonz├íles, if George W. Bush had invoked executive privilege Professor Johnson wouldn’t be able to, even if Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama were in the oval office. Or even if I were in the White House.

Second, there is the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy. Bush has reclassified documents going back to the 1960s (prompting a clash with the Archivist of the United States), has conducted controversial if not downright unconstitutional programs without informing Congress or the courts (domestic wiretapping, etc), classified government documents at greater rates than prior administrations, and further restricted the ability of former government officials o write academic, journalistic, and opinion pieces about matters of policy related to their former positions. This is not an auspicious track-record for founding a great library.

Third, as faculty member who is honored to work at SMU, I’m afraid that my small university will be swamped by the Bush people – in effect, that SMU will become part of the Bush Library and Foundation rather than the other way around. Remember that Robert Gates became Texas A & M’s president after serving as the head of its George H.W. Bush school. We’re going to bring an institute to campus backed by major local powers, including the wealthiest and most influential of our board members, with an endowment of up to $500million (according to press accounts), and bearing an incredibly high public profile, one much higher than SMU’s. The Bush people are going to eat us alive. I fully expect Condoleezza Rice or Paul Wolfowitz or Karen Hughes to end up being president of SMU. Being swamped by a partisan institute wouldn’t be acceptable for a university even if the institute represented a popular, unifying presidency whose policies I like. It’s even worse that it’s one of the most divisive, partisan, and unpopular administrations inU.S. history. Although this is not a partisan debate at its core – many of the faculty supporters of the library-museum-institute have always voted against Bush – the truth is that the proposal wouldn’t prompt this level of controversy were it not for this administration’s use of torture, waging of a destructive war under false pretenses, and cheerful complicity in vast environmental destruction. As you sow, so shall you reap.

Fourth, there are serious and under-explored opportunity costs for SMU. Our next capital campaign is supposed to be targeted at the faculty and the curriculum – more endowed chairs, more faculty positions (my department has lost several in the five years I’ve been here), more student scholarships. The hundreds of millions of dollars that will go to the library-museum-institute will derail our other goals. Presidential libraries, for all of their scholarly value, don’t make universities better at the core missions of teaching and research. That’s why more prestigious, higher-profile places like Duke, Stanford, and Harvard, have turned them down. SMU is a good university that could become an excellent one, but not without deeper investments in it faculty and teaching.

May the debate continue, and may its depth, insight, and passion be a rebuttal to all enemies of democracy – both foreign and domestic – and a reminder of why we have universities.

Ben Johnson