SMU Chaplain Urges Awareness of Religous Right’s Newfound Interest in SMU

April 30, 2007

Last Friday the SMU Daily Campus ran an insightful piece by the Rev. William Finnin, the University’s chaplain.  Entitled “The Other Institute Interested in SMU,” the opinion piece focuses on the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), tracing its history and close ties to the Bush administration.  Finnin closes with a guarded call for SMU community members to think about what greater interest and involvement by organizations such as the IRD might portend for the university:

Like as not, IRD will join other groups of greater visibility on the periphery of the academy if and when Bush’s Library complex comes to campus. According to The Dallas Morning News, IRD is quite interested in seeing the university’s currently-extended invitation formalized, despite Mr. Tooley’s disclaimer. IRD’s self-insertion into the conversations currently underway at SMU portends much broader interest by similar institutes likely to cluster around Bush’s Institute for Democracy wherever it is located. Irrespective of the kind of welcome IRD finds on campus, it’s certain they’ll be watching us and taking notes. It might be wise to sharpen our understanding of academic, intellectual and political freedom as well as the relevance of SMU’s United Methodist Heritage while keeping our own eyes open and alert.


Library, Institute Proponent Reflects on Debate, Future of SMU

April 29, 2007

Thanks to my colleague in Political Science, Matthew Wilson, for this thoughtful and reflective guest blog.  Wilson has been one of the most outspoken — and in my view, articulate and compelling — proponents of the Bush complex.  Here he turns his attention to what the Bush Library and Institute and the debate over it might mean for the future of SMU.

–Ben Johnson


I’d like to thank Ben Johnson for inviting me to say a few words in this forum about our discussion and debate over the Bush Library complex. I welcome the opportunity to communicate with a group of readers who, in the main, do not share my position on this issue. Too often, because of our natural tendency to communicate disproportionately with those who share our own perspectives, we come to believe that our own stance is held by all reasonable/intelligent/moral people. When it comes to the complicated issue of SMU’s relationship with the proposed Bush Policy Institute, however, this is clearly not the case-for any side. Thoughtful and decent people, all of whom genuinely care about this university and its future, disagree about how we should regard the coming of the Institute.

I have made no secret of my own views on this score. In pieces in The Dallas Morning News and Congressional Quarterly Researcher, as well as in an open letter to my faculty colleagues, I have laid out my reasons for enthusiastically supporting SMU’s bid to host the Library, the Museum, and yes, even the Institute. I will not rehash those here-those who are interested can read these statements and evaluate them on their own merits. Instead, I will reinforce two key points: that our positions on the Bush Library complex should not be driven by political judgments of this administration, and that this discussion ties in with broader questions about what kind of institution SMU wants to be.

Opposition to the Bush complex seems to come in two basic varieties: narrowly tailored objections to the proposed structural and administrative relationship between SMU and the Bush Institute, and broad-based moral and/or ideological indictments of the Bush administration, often accompanied by expressions of revulsion at the prospect that SMU would host any facility associated with President Bush. The former I regard as legitimate concerns for us to work through together as a university community; the latter, whether merited or not, I see as irrelevant and unhelpful in this particular discussion. If the standard for hosting a presidential library is that the president in question must not have engaged in behaviors or promulgated policies that many find deeply immoral, then I would submit that no institution could ever accept one.   Richard Nixon initiated secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia, sought to undermine the integrity of the electoral process through the Watergate break-in, and would have been impeached had he not resigned. Bill Clinton twice vetoed bans on partial birth abortion, committed adultery in the Oval Office (literally), perjured himself while president, and was impeached. Lyndon Johnson misled the country about events in the Gulf of Tonkin to get authorization for a divisive war that dwarfs the scale of the Iraq conflict. Ronald Reagan initiated a massive defense buildup and cut taxes on the wealthy at the same time that he slashed many social programs.

I could go on and on about the actions and policies of former presidents that many would deem immoral, but the point is that I would have enthusiastically welcomed the library complexes of any of these presidents if they had wanted to locate on the SMU campus. Becoming the site for such a facility is not tantamount to endorsing any of the president’s specific ideas or behaviors. The University of Texas did not sanction the Vietnam War by accepting the LBJ museum and school, any more than Stanford assumed responsibility for the Great Depression by hosting the Hoover Institution. As hard as it may be for some, we must put aside sweeping judgments about whether the Bush presidency has been a “failure” and catalogs of the administration’s alleged misdeeds when it comes to deciding whether SMU should host the library complex. The record shows that it is the libraries and museums of our nation’s most controversial presidents that have attracted the greatest interest from scholars and visitors alike.

On the second point, the relationship between the library complex and SMU’s long-term trajectory, I believe that this university is potentially poised on the cusp, with apologies to Chairman Mao, of a “Great Leap Forward.” In a post below from April 15th, Ben rightly lauds the comments of one anonymous SMU faculty member who, rather than coming out clearly for or against the Bush Institute, stresses that the key question for our university’s future is what else we do. If our goal is to become a “first-class research university,” well known nationally as opposed to just regionally, then we must evaluate all of our collective decisions through this prism. Making this jump into the top tier of national universities will require principally two things (in addition to good university leadership and wise programmatic decisions): a significant pool of financial resources and increased institutional notoriety. The Bush Library complex will undoubtedly provide both-it will increase the pool of donors for whom SMU is on the radar screen (and, more to the point, not alienate the donor base that is already quite generous toward our institution), and dramatically expand the number of people, both inside and outside of academia, who are exposed to the university’s considerable attractions. The library, museum, and institute, and their associated programs, will create tremendous research synergies for many of our departments, especially in the social sciences. I have tremendous confidence that we as an institution can and will successfully manage the stresses that will inevitably come with a campus addition of this magnitude, and that we will not shrink from our first (and best) opportunity to take a bold and dramatic step forward in institutional growth.

As a final note, I should say that my confidence in our ability as a university to manage this transition (should it come to pass) has been bolstered by observing the discussion and debate on this campus over the last few months. The Faculty Senate (a body to which, perhaps ironically, Ben and I will both be inaugurated next week) has been very thoughtful and deliberate in its consideration of the many facets of the library complex proposal. More broadly, we as a community have engaged in a lively and vigorous exchange of ideas in open fora, campus publications, emails, external media outlets, and more informal one-on-one conversations. Most of this discussion has been both cordial and constructive; to be sure, a few voices have tended toward condemnation of those with opposing views (see the reference to Institute supporters, among the anonymous comments below, as “Scooter Libbys on our faculty”), but those have been remarkably limited in a discussion as momentous as this one. For good or for ill (or, more likely, some combination of both), a decision to host the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute would be one of the most significant events in this university’s history. No one on campus will be unaffected by it, positively and/or negatively. Even though it represents, in my view, a tremendous opportunity that we would be foolish to turn down, the details of the relationship still merit serious discussion and debate. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to that debate here.

J. Matthew Wilson

Associate Professor of Political Science

Library Journal Article about the Bush Library Blog

April 29, 2007

LJAN Newsmaker Interview: Bush Library Blog Founder and Moderator Benjamin Johnson
Library Journal
April 26, 2007

Without question, blogs have become vital communication tools on campuses-and a good example is the Bush Library Blog, started by Benjamin Johnson, associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. In December 2006, SMU was named the finalist to land the Bush Library and an accompanying policy institute, but many SMU faculty members have since raised serious questions. The Bush Library Blog has proven a vital place for discussion, garnering as many as 1000 hits per day. The Library Journal Academic Newswire (LJAN) caught up with Johnson to discuss the Bush Library process, his own feelings on the library and policy institute, and the role the blog plays in the discussion at SMU.

LJAN: You started the Bush Library Blog and members of the Methodist Church distributed an online petition. Does this say something about how technology is enabling discussion and debate?

BJ: I moderate and started the blog not only to forward my own views on the subject, but also to expedite a wider discussion, which I think neither the SMU administration nor the elected leadership of the Faculty Senate has wanted. A blog is a comparatively low-labor, wide-distribution way of doing this, and I can’t imagine any way offline of accomplishing this. The blog is read by several hundred people a day, sometimes more like 1000, from across the U.S. and multiple other nations, by academics, interested lay people, journalists, congressional staffers, and others. So in some modest sense my experience bears out some of the claims made by Internet boosters about how these new technologies enable communications and networks of information that conventional print sources would not.

Continued here.

New Message from Organizer of Methodist Anti-Library Petition

April 26, 2007

The Reverend Andrew Weaver, organizer of the Methodist-oriented petition against the Bush complex (including the library), recently sent the following message to the 10,000 plus signatories of the petition. Note in particular the vow to take this to the United Methodist General Conference in May of 2008. The General Conference must ratify the South-Central jurisdiction’s decision to grant permission to SMu for the allocation of land for the Bush complex. The fight within the United Methodist Church may well go on.—————————————————————————————

I am the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D. — the person who organized and maintains the petition at www. I am an ordained United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City.

I want to thank you for signing the petition and for your passionate and heart-felt comments. It is important that United Methodists and other people of faith and conscience express their pain and outrage at the unchristian manner that President George W. Bush has conducted himself while in office. No one in modern history has done more to discredit the witness of Jesus Christ and the good name of the Methodist people worldwide than President Bush. To place a massive partisan Institute on the campus of a university owned by the United Methodist Church (UMC) to “polish his legacy” and “promote President Bush’s polices,” over which Southern Methodist University (SMU) or the UMC will have no oversight is unacceptable.

The evidence is abundant; Bush has acted in profoundly immoral ways while in office. He chose to launch a “shock and awe” war of aggression against the people of Iraq, based upon a series of falsehoods. The war continues to be a catastrophe and the tragic aftermath will be with us for generations to come. In addition, the President has authorized international kidnapping and torture.

On September 15, 2006, the Washington Post lead editorial was entitled “The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture.” The Post reported, “President Bush rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.”

Anyone who thinks that the good name of Methodism or Southern Methodist University should be associated with George W. Bush needs to read the book, “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror” by Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Professor Miles has based this volume on painstaking research and highly-credible sources, including eyewitness accounts, army criminal investigations, FBI debriefings of prisoners, autopsy reports, and prisoners’ medical records. These documents tell a story strikingly different from the Bush administration version presented to the American people, revealing involvement at every level of government, from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prison health-care personnel. The book also shows how the highest officials of government are complicit in this pattern of torture, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, United Methodist Vice President Dick Cheney, and United Methodist President George W. Bush. (See my recently published review of Miles’ book at

While much of the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and Special Forces troops remains concealed, Dr. Miles documents how nineteen prisoners were tortured to death by American military personnel. The book tells of an Afghan prisoner named Dilawar, an innocent 22-year-old, who drove his taxi to the wrong place at the wrong time. At the U.S. detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002, Dilawar was smothered, shackled and then suspended by his arms. When he was beaten with a baton, he cried out “Allah, Allah,” which amused the soldiers and triggered more merciless blows. The official report reads that he was beaten over a five day period until his legs were, in the words of the coroner, “pulpified.” He was then chained to the ceiling of his cell, where he died. Although an autopsy stated that Dilawar’s death was a homicide, General Daniel McNeil told reporters that Dilawar had died of natural causes on the grounds that one of his coronary arteries was partly occluded. The words “coronary artery disease” were typed in a different font on the prisoner’s death certificate.

Up to 90 percent of the prisoners detained in the Bush “war on terror” have been found to be unjustifiably imprisoned and without intelligence value. In addition, much of the hideous work of torture is out-sourced by the Bush administration to countries like Uzbekistan, Syria and Egypt, where torture is a long-standing and common practice. In July 2004, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who grew up in a devout Methodist home, protested the Uzbek intelligence service’s interrogation practices: “Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and U.K. to believe…. This material is useless — we are selling our souls for dross.”

Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of every human rights treaty in existence, including the Geneva Conventions which prohibit cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Torture is as profound a moral issue in our day as was slavery in the 19th century. It represents a betrayal of our deepest human and religious values as a civilized society. If The United Methodist Church cannot take a stand against the use of torture and those who employ it, including President Bush, what does it stand for?

We must refuse to allow President Bush to build his partisan Institute to promote his failed and immoral policies on a UMC university campus without the strongest possible objection.

What can you do to help?

1. Inform yourself about this issue. The majority of the faculty at SMU is firmly against the partisan Bush think tank and has been prevented from voting on the issue by the SMU administration. Read the ongoing bush library blog found at It is the single best source of information available.

2. Encourage your friends and colleagues worldwide to sign the petition. We need to continue resistance to the misuse of our good name and take the issue to the United Methodist General Conference in May of 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas. We need to tell officials of the UMC at every level that we find an association with George Bush unacceptable.

3. Encourage church school classes, United Methodist Women groups, congregations, districts, and annual conferences to petition our bishops and the General Conference of the UMC to reject the Bush Project at SMU.

4. I want to encourage you to support a publication that is an important new voice in lifting up concerns like this that are important to progressive Christians. It is a magazine called The Progressive Christian: Faith and the Common Good ( We must have effective means to communicate as progressives, and in my opinion this publication is critical to that cause. I encourage you to read it and support it. (Mention my name and receive the lowest published rate – currently $22.95 for a one-year subscription.)

With Best Regards,
Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D.

Dallas Historian Reflects on Bush Complex Debate, SMU History

April 23, 2007

Many thanks to Michael Phillips for this lengthy and detailed commentary on the history of SMU and the recent debate over the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute.  Phillips, the author of White Metropolis, a provocative and prize-winning history of race relations in Dallas that ought to be read by everybody who lives here and anybody who cares about the city, has followed the on-campus debate from afar.  Here he draws on his knowledge of the histories of Dallas and SMU, ammassed over decades as a reporter and historian, to place the recent debate in what he sees as its historical context.


On the surface, it seems like such a perfect fit.

George W. Bush probably never expected to encounter resistance and protests when his cronies announced that his presidential library and a related “think tank” would open on the Southern Methodist University campus. The “Institute for Democracy” would be funded by an unbelievable proposed half-billion dollar endowment. Corporate CEOs, Arab petro-states and rich, right-wing heirs giving $10 million to $20 million a pop would endow the Institute and its mission to shape how history views Bush 43’s presidency. According to the New York Daily News, the Institute would hire neo-conservative scholars who would be expected to crank out “papers and books favorable to the President’s policies.”

Bush probably reasoned that SMU represented the reddest of campuses in the heart of that reddest of Republican states, Texas, and that his library and the Institute for Democracy would be warmly greeted. Yet, on April 11, Southern Methodist University’s faculty senate passed by a more than two-to-one margin two resolutions calling for the Institute for Democracy to not use the SMU name and to be officially separate from the university. The senate narrowly rejected, by an 18-15 vote with two abstentions, a stronger measure that would have allowed the Bush library and policy institute to have no official relationship with the university.

SMU professors have resisted having their school associated with the Bush administration because of the president’s policies in Iraq, his record on civil liberties, his executive order that severely restricts scholarly access to presidential archives, and the fear that the Bush think tank will simply be a propaganda factory lying about the president’s record and the multiple failures of his domestic and foreign policies.

This reaction caught Dallas and the Bush White House off-guard. SMU lay within a Dallas inburb called Highland Park, generally perceived as a right-wing Republican Bantustan. Landscape architect Wilbur David Cook developed Highland Park in 1907 as a hideaway for the wealthy as Dallas itself increasingly filled with African Americans, Mexican Americans, Jews from Eastern Europe and other so-called “minorities”. Completely surrounded by Dallas, Highland Park incorporated as a separate town in 1913 and bitterly resisted attempts at annexation by its urban neighbor. Highland Park became the residence of company executives and bankers who founded the mini-city as a congenial tax dodge. Residents avoided higher city taxes while Dallas provided them with water at much lower cost even as rates climbed for city residents.

As noted by the Center for Responsive Politics, residents of the university’s 75205 zip code donated more to Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign than from any other zip code in the country. The neighboring zip code located just to the north, 75255, ranked third in Bush campaign donations. Highland Park’s hyper-Republicanism has been defined by elitism and negrophobia. The median family income is about $150,000 a year (about $100,000 higher than the U.S. median.) Whites makes up 97.3 percent of Highland Park’s population. Latinos make up only 2.7 percent of the populace (compared to 12.5 percent for the United States as a whole.) African Americans are as rare as a Highland Park Democrat, making up a mere 0.4 percent of the city’s residents (compared to 12.3 percent in the U.S. population.) As of 2005, only six African Americans attended Highland Park High, along with 65 Mexican Americans (out of about 1,900 students.)
In short, Highland Park resembles one of those whites-only South African resorts in the days of apartheid.

Highland Park’s segregation makes SMU’s black students often feel isolated. “The only blacks that you’re going to see here either work here or go to this school,” said 23-year-old Brent Welch, an African American college student who was interviewed for the “Stories in America” blog. “When I first came here, it was culture shock. I hated it. I just felt out of place. During spring break, people would ask, where are you summering? Summering, what is that? I’m going home. I knew it was a rich school, but I didn’t realize it was this rich. They have two names for this school: the Harvard of the South and Southern Millionaires University.”

SMU made the national news twice in the years immediately leading up to the Bush library controversy. In 2005, Highland Park students, during an unsanctioned yearly tradition called senior “Thug Day,” turned the campus into a giant minstrel show, in which students wore “Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans. On Fiesta Day, which was to honor Hispanic heritage, one student brought a leaf blower to school,” imitating the Hispanic landscapers and gardeners who toil at Highland Park estates, according to the Dallas Morning News. Students interviewed by the newspaper dismissed the negative reaction of the NAACP and other groups to the racial stereotyping as “overblown.”
Two years earlier, the SMU chapter of the Young Conservatives of America, in an apparent lame attempt to satirize affirmative action, held a bake sale in which cookies were sold at different prices based on the buyer’s race or gender. The YCA charged white men $1 per cookie, white women 75 cents, Hispanics 50 cents and African Americans 25 cents.

The young Bush Republicans belonging to the YCA apparently felt that African Americans and Mexican Americans receive an unfair advantage from affirmative action, oblivious that whites still reap benefits from the affirmative action programs called slavery and segregation. The YCT apparently felt programs increasing minority enrollment in colleges represented an unreasonable policy in a country where blacks, Latinos and women, still get paid less for the same work, still have fewer opportunities for job advancement, have a harder time getting business loans, enjoy fewer job opportunities, suffer from inferior city services in their neighborhoods, receive markedly lower quality health care and live shorter, less healthy lives, than whites.

“The reality is that they’re ignorant of the lives of nonwhites – it’s like a parallel universe,” said Charles Gallagher, a sociology professor at Georgia State University, speaking of the Highland Park students participating in Thug Day. “. . . If they have interactions with blacks or Hispanics, it’s typically someone serving them a soft drink or the Mexican who cuts their lawn.” As Gallagher told the Dallas Morning News, in Highland Park, “[y]ou have a community of adolescents who live in a complete white bubble.”

Highland Park residents, curiously enough, have nicknamed their community “the Bubble.” President Bush shares the cluelessness of the Highland Park High students when it comes to people who differ from him in color or income. Bush once famously remarked to the Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of anti-poverty group Call to Renewal, that, “”I don’t understand how poor people think.” Bush then, in a moment of rare candor, described himself as a “white Republican guy who doesn’t get it, but I’d like to.” Bush, of course, has isolated himself with sycophantic advisers fearfully echoing the stray thoughts in his head, leading Newsweek in a 2005 cover to photo-shop him into a floating bubble. The president in a bubble thought his library would fit perfectly in the Highland Park bubble.

What Bush didn’t realize is that SMU and Highland Park are not synonymous. The university, though still overwhelmingly white, represents a rainbow coalition compared to its host city. Latinos make up 7.6 percent of the student body, while African Americans make up 6.3 percent. When Asians and other groups are added, people of color comprise 21.6 percent of the student enrollment.

SMU also has a high percentage of Jews and other religious minorities than Highland Park. Because of diversity programs, low-income SMU students represent a higher proportion of the university’s population than the poor represent in Highland Park. In short, SMU is blacker, browner, more Jewish, and less wealthy than its host city. The same can be said of the SMU faculty. This creates a sometimes subtle, though important, difference in the university’s political atmosphere. Though SMU is highly conservative overall, liberals form a vibrant, activist minority large enough to be heard and even shape campus life.

When the Young Conservatives of Texas held their offensive bake sale, they provoked angry reaction from enough students that the university to shut down the fundraiser after about 45 minutes. In all that time, the Young Conservatives made only $1.50 in sales. Matt Houston, 19, was one of the students who got the university to stop the racist event. “My reaction was disgust because of the ignorance of some SMU students,” said Houston, an African American. “They were arguing that affirmative action was solely based on race. It’s not based on race. It’s based on bringing a diverse community to a certain organization.”

Houston does not represent a solitary progressive voice in SMU history. Past moments of dissent, however, have generally been concealed, forgotten or denied. SMU reflects the larger culture of the Dallas area. Dallas enjoys a rich history of political protest, one that has been largely erased by an insecure, paranoid city leadership.

Buried beneath SMU, and the Dallas area’s, apparent monolithic conservatism, however, rests a past in which Socialists and Populists in the early twentieth century won Dallas city council seats, in which the International Lady Garment Workers Union and the United Auto Workers fought bloody battles against hired company goons during the great Depression, and where African Americans and Mexican Americans fought a patient and dignified battle against discrimination during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

SMU also enjoys a rich history of faculty and student protest. While the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, formed specifically in the antebellum years because Southern ministers largely refused to condemn slavery, the Methodist church has a deeper tradition of non-conformity and independence. Methodist circuit riders in the early 19th century were among the first white Christian ministers to evangelize slaves, to baptize African Americans, and to give blacks a forum to preach before white believers. Early Methodists sought not just salvation, but justice. While the Southern Methodist church thoroughly collaborated with the peculiar institution, and for decades stood silent or actively endorsed segregation, many of the Methodist faculty at the Perkins School of Theology have closely adhered to the democratic ideals of the early 19th century church.

Like much of Dallas during the Red Scare decade of the 1950s, the SMU campus knuckled under to right-wing intimidation. In 1951, most of Dallas reacted with indifference upon publication of an ugly anti-Semitic screed, Iron Curtain Over America, written by the chair of the SMU English Department, John Owen Beaty. The SMU faculty, however, became the only voice in the city outside of the Jewish community to loudly object to Beaty’s work and urge his academic censure.

In Iron Curtain, Beaty denied that the Eastern European Jews who represented the bulk of the American Jewish population descended from the Biblical Israelites. Most Jews, he claimed, descended from Khazars, a “belligerent tribe” of “mixed stock, with Mongol and Turkic affinities” that, while living between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, collectively converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century C.E. Khazars eventually provoked the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, he said, while immigrant “Jews” in the United States represented a communist fifth column.

Khazar Jews, Beaty charged, took over the Democratic Party, promoting the crypto-socialism and racial liberalism embodied in the 1930s New Deal. Jews then provoked the United States to enter World War II, Beaty claimed. “Our alien-dominated government fought the war for the annihilation of Germany, the historic bulwark of Christian Europe,” he shrieked in italics. Just six years after American troops had liberated concentration camps in western Germany, Beaty denied the Holocaust happened, labeling the claim that Nazis murdered millions of Jews a fraud launched to justify the slaughter of Aryans and, after 1948, to blackmail the West into political and financial support of Israel. Khazars, Beaty claimed, stood on the verge of world domination.

Beaty’s message reached a broad audience, going through nine printings by 1953. SMU President Umphrey Lee had ignored letters complaining of Beaty’s anti-Semitism dating back to 1947. The Public Affairs Luncheon Club, a Dallas women’s organization, adopted a unanimous resolution backing Beaty and requesting that SMU investigate the faculty’s philosophy and values. The SMU faculty proved slow to respond to Beaty’s paranoid anti-Semitism, but the school’s professors provided Dallas’ few voices of conscience during this embarrassing episode.

Assistant Professor Paul Boller, an historian, blasted Beaty’s book in the student newspaper, the SMU Campus, as “full of distortions, omissions, and half truths.” Aware that Time Magazine was about to publish a story on Beaty and his claims, Boller in 1954 successfully persuaded the rest of the faculty to take a stand, asking his peers, “How would it look if there was no comment?” In February of that year, the SMU faculty approved, by a 114-2 vote, a joint statement condemning Iron Curtain Over America.

Even as the Dallas Morning News dismissed the controversy as a trivial ideological battle between professors, the faculty embarrassed the SMU board of trustees into issuing a timid rebuke. As meager as this response was, the actions of the SMU faculty represented the only vocal opposition to Beaty registered in Dallas’ gentile community. Finally, when Beaty’s enabler Umphrey Lee retired the same year, Willis Tate took over the SMU presidency and, in a direct meeting with Beaty, ordered the department chair to end his racist tirades.

SMU students and faculty played a more decisive and heroic role in Dallas’ civil rights movement. Dallas elites tried to carefully stage-manage token desegregation, working through a Committee of 14, that included seven older African Americans acceptable to the white establishment. The group had managed to slowly implement limited desegregation across the city. Younger African Americans and their white supporters, however, refused to accept merely symbolic redress on a fundamental issue of social justice. In the spring of 1960 a group of 58 white and two black SMU theology students sat in at the University Drug Store across the street from the campus. When they refused to leave the lunch counter, owner C.R. Bright hired a fumigation service that pumped insecticide inside the store. Most of the students remained seated, covering their faces with handkerchiefs.

The brave action of the SMU students, though covered up by a Dallas media blackout on civil rights protests, inspired similar acts of direct action across the city and quickened the pace of desegregation. The day after the SMU students were gassed, African American attorney W.J. Durham publicly admitted that negotiations carried on by the Committee of 14 had broken down. Protestors targeted the downtown Titche-Goettinger Department store and 200 angry students returned to the University Drug Store for a five-hour protest.

By May 1961, the spiral of demonstrations threatened Dallas’ national image. The general manager of Detroit’s Metropolitan Opera Company announced that it would no longer play to segregated audiences, specifically mentioning Dallas and Atlanta as cities notified of the new policy. Facing the threat of business boycotts, the Committee of 14 engineered desegregation in downtown Dallas. On July 26, 1961, the Committee of 14 took 159 black patrons to 49 downtown restaurants and lunch counters where they were served without incident. Jim Crow died a much quicker death at Dallas lunch counters because of SMU activism.

If SMU didn’t compare to Berkeley or Columbia University in terms of student activism in the 1960s, its response to the needs of African American students compares favorably to other Texas colleges and universities. SMU football star Jerry Levias broke the Southwest Conference’s color barrier in the mid-1960s, well before schools such as the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, which fielded all-white gridiron teams until the early to mid-1970s.

That SMU represented a relatively progressive campus on racial issues becomes clear when one compares the response of the school’s administration to protests by black students on May 1, 1969 to the reaction to a simultaneous student action by Texas A&M President Earl Rudder.   That day, a group of 34 black SMU students belonging to the Black League of Afro-Americans and African College Students occupied President Willis Tate’s office for five hours. They presented a list of demands, including the hiring of two black staff members to assist prospective African American students, expansion of black study courses, and provision of a building for use as a black social center.

Dr. Tate agreed to all the student demands except one calling for recruitment of 500 additional African American students for the next fall semester. SMU at that time had only 50 African American students, mostly in graduate school, out of a total of 9,500, but Tate insisted that school had the prerogative to set admissions standards. In spite of this temporizing on genuine integration, SMU Vice President Thomas E. Broce praised the students, telling the press, “It was a very constructive and healthy discussion. We feel and the students feel we have a better university for it.”

The SMU meeting stood in stark contrast with the almost simultaneous confrontation that took place at Texas A&M where 15 students identifying themselves as the Afro-American Society presented a list of eight demands to Dick Bernard, special assistant to President Rudder. Expressing anger at the tokenism still prevailing at A&M six years after its supposed integration, the students sought recognition of the Afro-American Society as a campus organization; the immediate hiring of a black counselor to work as liaison between black students and the administration and the right of black students to approve the counselor’s selection; investigation of recruitment policies at the still almost all-white A&M athletic department and the expansion of athletic scholarships to black athletes. “If the demands are not met by the third week of September, 1969, the Afro-American Society will take appropriate action,” the society proclaimed. “We will meet force with force, understanding with understanding, and restraint with restraint.”

Unlike Willis Tate, Rudder and the A&M board later rejected changes “thrust upon this institution under the ugly veil of threat or demand,” including recognition of the Afro-American Society. In a May 27 letter, Rudder turned down black studies courses. “As to the idea of ‘special courses on African history’ and the like, I am against them,” Rudder wrote. ” . . . I just don’t believe that ‘special’ courses in anything which lack either academic value, sufficient demand or a college able to offer them should be included in the curriculum.”

SMU still has far too few African Americans on its faculty and in the student body, but many professors have fought to make the campus and the larger Dallas community more aware of black history and culture. An SMU theology professor and his continuing education students forced the city of Dallas in the early 1990s to confront an ugly chapter of its past. In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. William Farmer taught a class at SMU that studied a fire that destroyed much of Dallas in 1860 and was blamed on African Americans. The fire resulted in widespread paranoia about a possible slave revolt and resulted in the lynching of three black men. Farmer, who later converted to Catholicism and taught at the University of Dallas, successfully lobbied the Dallas park board in 1991 to rename a grassy patch of freeway easement “Martyr’s Park” in reluctant tribute not only to President John Kennedy, assassinated near the site, but also in honor of Samuel Smith, Patrick Jennings and Cato, the three slaves blamed for the 1860 fire. The park sits near where railroad workers uncovered the bodies of the hanged slaves.

Dallas doesn’t like to confront its past and so, in the case of Martyr Park, it took away with one hand what it gave with the other. Almost a decade after the park board approved a new name for Dealey Annex, no marker proclaimed the rare undeveloped Dallas turf as Martyr’s Park and no sign explained the significance of the location or the site’s ambiguous name. To reach Martyr’s Park, one had to pass underneath a bridge, following a pathway smelling of urine. Rather than explanatory plaques, a visitor confronted the empty liquor bottles, abandoned shopping carts and unoccupied bedding that marked the spot as a homeless village.

Farmer, a man of quiet dignity who found in his Christian faith the inspiration to participate in Dallas civil rights movement, had evangelical hopes for the park, hoping greater knowledge of the city’s racial past might pave the way to social justice in the future. Before he died of cancer, Farmer found it predictable that the leadership of the city could not face the past squarely. “Dallas is unlike Chicago – it doesn’t know about its fire,” Farmer said. ” . . . It’s like a family going through a trauma, but suppressing the memory. The past is forgotten, but essential to coming to health is recalling.”
Dallas has done all it could to demean Farmer’s accomplishment in getting Dealey Annex renamed Martyr’s Park, but the effort of SMU faculty to resist the creation of an SMU Bush think tank represents a continuation of Farmer’s work. Farmer wanted Dallas to remember a past incident of social oppression in order to build a better tomorrow.

Opponents of the Bush library hope that the folly of the Bush years won’t disappear down an Orwellian memory hole created courtesy of the Institute for Democracy. In resisting the library, SMU’s faculty hope to preserve memory and prevent future catastrophes like the Iraq War. In this effort, they stand on the shoulders of too-often forgotten SMU activists of the past.

SMU Daily Campus: Students take sides in Bush library debate

April 20, 2007

Students take sides in Bush library debate
Gillian McWhirt
SMU Daily Campus
April 20, 2007

SMU has been chosen as the favorite to house the George W. Bush Presidential Library, but the campus opinion is far from unified.

“Having the presidential library at SMU will attract people from all over the world to come to the school and examine the documents of the Bush administration. It will bring worldwide recognition to the university,” said SMU alumnus Ryan Kenter.

The controversy over the library is one in a series of controversies during the Bush presidency: the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the Alberto Gonzales firings, just to name a few.

Despite the fact that Dallas is largely Republican, many residents don’t want Bush’s legacy affiliated with their city.

Continued here.

NYT: Bush, on Friendly Turf, Suggests History Will Be Kind to Him

April 20, 2007

Bush, on Friendly Turf, Suggests History Will Be Kind to Him
Jim Rutenberg
The New York Times
April 20, 2007

TIPP CITY, Ohio, April 19 – With his attorney general under fire in Washington and his fight with Congressional Democrats over paying for the war at a stalemate, President Bush came here Wednesday before a friendly audience to give his thinking on Iraq, Congress and the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times,” President Bush said on Thursday.

Speaking at a 90-minute, town-hall-style meeting in a high school gymnasium, Mr. Bush said he would not buckle to polls showing opinion cutting against him on a variety of issues, and conveyed his belief that he would be vindicated by history.

Continued here.

Bush’s belief in the vindication of history again reveals why siting the Bush Library Complex at SMU is so important to him and other members of his administration. Perhaps they are unaware of this 2004 poll, fortunately not yet gone “poof, ” of professional historians, in which 81% already ranked his Presidency as a failure. It seems highly unlikely that those opinions would be any more favorable today.