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.

Faculty Senate President Circulates Faculty Comments on Bush Complex

April 15, 2007

SMU Faculty members were sent the following email on Sunday, April 15. I think that the collected comments, sent anonymously by email to the Faculty Senate’s staff person, offer a nice window onto faculty members’ views of the subject. There is discord and dispute, with views ranging from an enthusiastic endorsement of the package and condemnation of opponents, to outright opposition, to considered positions somewhere between. The preponderance of opinion seems to be cautiously optimistic and supportive of the Library and Museum, but highly suspicious of the Institute. (The concerns of scientists linking the Institute to the “Intelligent Design” conference are particularly interesting, and, to me at least, new. I’d say that response #57 is the most thoughtful, for pointing us beyond the Bush complex debate and toward the larger question of SMU’s status as a university.


Responses to the Senate’s Opportunity for Comments on the Bush Library Center
Gathered by the SMU Faculty Senate, March-April 2007

TO: The Faculty

FROM: Rhonda Blair, President, Faculty Senate

The following are 64 of the approximately 70 comments from SMU faculty on the Bush Library Center received in response to the call in March sent from my office. Permission has been received from the 64 faculty for public distribution of their comments; the other faculty chose not to have their comments included below. My letter for the call stated that the comments would be used by the Senate only in their deliberations regarding the Center; unfortunately, the full document, distributed only to members of the Senate, was leaked to the press. It is my hope that this will be the only “version” used publicly, out of respect for the faculty who have chosen not to be included. I would like to thank the faculty who participated in the process.

1. I am for the Bush library and museum. However, I have concerns about the institute, namely for the three reasons we’ve discussed repeatedly (concurrent appointments, inhibited access to materials and logistics of funding/association with SMU). I am interested to learn about plans for the institute (and library and museum). I welcome a more open forum atmosphere with the BOT and the Bush board and students and faculty. Only with clear, strong communication will these issues be hammered out. The faculty (and students) have raised very pointed questions, and these need to be answered specifically and directly.
2. I am opposed to the association of any Bush Institute with SMU, and its name, not so much out of moral offense at the conduct of the Bush administration in recent years, as from intellectual offense.

The administration has exhibited many behaviors that I constantly warn my students against: partisan selection of evidence, distortion of evidence in accord with preconceived ideas, willful ignoring, or ignorance, of other cultures, and, broadly, rigidity rather than flexibility of thought. In politics all these behaviors and habits are widely found; but this administration has been an egregious and unrelenting practitioner of them.
3. I am in favor of having the Bush Library, Museum and Institute. I would like to have some type of supervision or reporting to President Turner by the Institute on a regular basis.
4. As a faculty member who has taught at SMU for many years, I appreciate the opportunity to express my support for the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute. I do not always agree with Bush administration policy, but I bring the same philosophy to this situation as I bring to my teaching and mentoring of others. Mine is not the place to impose my beliefs, but to be a steward of open and honest debate. The Library and appended institutions will be a contentious place, but so are the classes I teach. To stand in the way of such an important opportunity for passionate debate is to staunch the very context that true educators strive to create in the teaching realm. Bring it on. We deserve a chance to be a part of the history and understanding of one of this world’s most polarizing leaders.

5. I support the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute. In my opinion SMU will be the better for having them.
6. I am in favor of the library, museum and institute coming to SMU. I am no fan of President Bush or his policies, or the war, or most of what he has done. I am green, Democratic, feminist, and ready for Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton for President. I think the library can become a valuable resource for us and I think we can handle whatever comes our way in challenges of hiring, etc. I believe in the intelligence and fortitude of my colleagues and myself, to engage the presidential library, etc. with academic rigor and moral rectitude.
7. While I understand concerns about the potential partisan nature of the Bush Institute and its impact on SMU both internally (e.g., joint positions) and externally (reputation) I believe the benefits outweigh the risks in the long run. Having the wealth of material which I believe will eventually be in the library, despite the current executive order will attract scholars from all over the world to SMU, enhance the ability of key departments (not my own) to hire great faculty and expose our students to a variety of political views and to the key historical documents. I vote yes as long as the faculty senate continues to exercise appropriate oversight of the negotiations and has sufficient opportunity to propose changes to the agreement between the Institute/Library and SMU.

8. Let’s do everything we can to get the Bush Library and the Institute!
9. I support SMU’s bid for the library complex. I hope that President Turner can persuade the Bush Foundation, during the negotiation and strategy sessions, to allow SMU officials to be a part of the governance board. If that attempt fails, I still support obtaining the complex.
Although President Bush has had a very unsuccessful administration, I still believe historians will write an entirely different story than the one we want to write today. I also have faith that the SMU administration at that point will make sound decisions regarding the Bush Institute’s relationship to the university.
I believe it is time for the debate to end, and for the Bush Foundation and President Turner to announce the awarding of the site.
10. If the library houses uncensored materials from the Bush administration, then it can be a valuable, historical resource for scholars and an asset for the university. If Bush’s executive order holds, allowing him and his family to withhold documents at their discretion, then it becomes a sham and an embarrassment to SMU. The partisan institute does not belong on this or any other university campus. Further, if it is anywhere near SMU, clear policies of separation–legally, institutionally, academically–between it and SMU must be established.
11. I think the entire Bush Library and Institute proposal can only have a positive impact on Southern Methodist’s reputation and on the intellectual diversity and activity on our campus. I’m amazed that any academic would be so narrow-minded and short-sighted as to oppose the location of such a resource on our campus. What can possibly be wrong with an institution that will attract scholars from all over the world to SMU? I would be just as excited about such a proposal no matter which presidential papers were involved; this is much bigger than narrow partisan opinion about a single president. I only wish my colleagues on campus were tolerant enough of intellectual diversity to accept this proposal with the enthusiasm it deserves.
12. I was one of the signers of the referendum petition. I believe the petition served its purpose in helping to stimulate discussion of the issues, in the Senate and elsewhere. I am not opposed to the presence of a Bush library and museum at SMU. I do oppose any relationship between the university and the envisioned “institute” as damaging to the academic integrity and identity of the university. Professor emeritus Schubert M. Ogden’s case against an SMU-based proprietary institute is sound, and I endorse his recommendation and the corresponding option offered by Professor McCrossen.
13. I am very excited about the possibility that SMU could host the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute, and concerned that the hostile posture assumed by some faculty could jeopardize our prospects. This should be a “no-brainer”; most of my colleagues at other institutions, and virtually all of my friends outside of academia, keep asking me why we are even having a debate about this. It’s a good question. If faculty opposition causes this $500 million complex, with its attendant hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, to go elsewhere, it would be the most extraordinary act of institutional self-sabotage that I have ever witnessed. I hope that cooler heads prevail before that is allowed to happen.
14. The Bush Institute would be a non-academic entity that might wish to pass itself off as academic in virtue of its connection to SMU. This can be prevented by insisting that it not use our name. I believe that this means not even being allowed to say ‘The Bush Institute at SMU’. And, after all, if the Bush Foundation truly does not wish to pass its productions off as emanating from SMU, it should have no objection to this restriction. In fact, it is clearly unreasonable of them to object, given what they wish their legal relation to SMU to be. This is an issue of principle: whether an academic institution is prepared to let an ideological entity it has no control over use its name, presumably to give its research and other productions an aura of academic respectability. Surely a self-respecting university would never do this without some enforceable

guarantees about the behavior of the Institute.
15. Here is my statement on the Bush Library, Museum, Institute:

The real issue is not with the Bush Library but with the Institute. Since each would need to be discussed on its own merits, the mere suggestion of a package deal is unacceptable. Serious questions must be raised as to why the matter is presented in such a way.

The idea of an autonomous Bush Institute that is in no way accountable to SMU but able to use the SMU name and infrastructure is unheard of. Such an Institute would create a substantial precedent for reshaping the character of universities everywhere. No clear reasons, and certainly no strong academic justifications, have been presented for such a venture. If the institute is indeed autonomous, an idea which I support in principle, it needs to be completely separate from SMU, without use of the SMU name and without official SMU encouragement of cross appointments and other prerogatives.
16. I am enthusiastic about the advantages that the Institute, Museum, and Library will bring to SMU: national visibility for something other than football, scholars, and visitors who will see the campus and raise our applicant pool. Whether the Institute is on SMU property or off, whether it is the Bush Institute at SMU or just the Bush Institute, seems irrelevant. Any thinking person knows the difference between a think tank and a university, just as any thinking person knows that a Methodist seminary is not a university. The faculty senate has communicated its views to President Turner; he has listened and responded. It is time for the faculty senate to step aside and let him negotiate the deal that he thinks is best for the university. SMU has, after all, many constituencies and he must be attentive to all of them.
17. Please receive and forward to Rhonda Blair and the SMU Faculty Senate the following comments on the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute:

“Yes” to the Library.

“No thank you” to the Institute.

If we cannot accept the Library without the Institute, then “No thank you” to both.
18. The reasons against bringing the Bush Library, Museum and Institute [Bush LMI] to SMU’s campus are far more numerous and significant than those in favor. On the one hand, we must deplore the secrecy, bullying, and duplicity that have characterized SMU’s attempts to secure the bid. On the other, the lack of due diligence is apparent in the widespread ignorance amongst SMU senior administration concerning issues germane to the functioning of a presidential library and museum, as well as concerning the fundamentals of policy institutes associated with institutions of higher education (non-partisanship and university oversight). The consultation of the faculty has been minimal; the leaders of the faculty senate have dragged their feet at best and behaved unprofessionally at worst; and the opinions of the faculty have been misconstrued: all this is and will be a black mark on the Bush LMI at SMU, should it come to pass.
19. I would like to voice my disapproval of the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute coming to our campus.

I am ashamed of George W. Bush. He has proven himself to be an ignorant, pigheaded president, involving us in a war against people who never threatened our country, causing massive loss of American lives, all in an effort to gain a foothold in the oil-rich region of the Middle East. Stem-cell research, the patriot act, and our citizens’ right to privacy and habeas corpus are just some of the issues on which I strongly disagree with Mr. Bush.

I believe Mr. Bush is handicapped by his lack of academic achievement and intellectual curiosity. The fact that he has claimed pride in earning straight Cs at Yale and Harvard are evidence of his unwillingness to appreciate cultures and ideas beyond his own, both domestically and abroad.

SMU will forever be known to the world as “the only university that seriously campaigned to get the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute.” Seeing as how Mr. Bush has record-low approval ratings in the US, and is even less popular abroad, I can see no upside for SMU if we become the custodian of his legacy.
20. I am writing from the Department of Biological Sciences. What I fear most from an uncontrolled institute is the the possibility of its support of pseudoscience. SMU cannot afford to be associated with such pseudoscientific ideas as “intelligent design”. I believe that President Bush is on record as saying that both sides of this “debate” should be taught. If events such as

the upcoming “Darwin vs. Design”, now scheduled for McFarlin Auditorium in April, were to become regular features on campus, it would become very difficult to recruit biologists to our faculty. Without strong science departments it will be impossible for SMU to significantly improve its standing among universities. Therefore, it is imperative that SMU is able to control what kinds of symposia, and the like, occur on our campus.

As far as I can tell, it appears to be unprecedented for a university to allow an institute to operate on its campus without any control.
21. I would like to express my objections to SMU accepting the Institute in the terms proposed by the Bush Foundation..

Would SMU accept an endowed chair with the condition that the donor would pick the candidate? This is more or less what the Bush Institute would be. Scholars working within SMU but being appointed by a foreign body.

Let’s say that President Chavez from Venezuela would like to endow a chair related to Venezuela’s recent history but the condition would be that he would decide every year who holds it. Would SMU accept such a deal? Wouldn’t be nice to have someone from that perspective on campus to enrich our dialogue?

Certainly not. There cannot be any dialog between scholars who pursue their research no matter where it might lead them and scholars who are paid to defend a certain ideology. That is the difference between a University and a Think Tank. If SMU accepts the Bush Institute, SMU will become part of a Think Tank. The fact that some donors would be upset if SMU rejects the Institute speaks about the lack of understanding of those donors about what is the mission of a University. They would rather have a Think Tank where they can pay scholars to think and publish the way they like it than freedom of research and opinion.
22. I very strongly oppose having any economic or structural ties between SMU and the Bush institute since the partisanship of the proposed institute is antithetical to a university’s goals of open dialogue and freedom to pursue divergent research agendas. I also feel that locating the institute on the SMU campus will pose a number of threats to the integrity of the university in terms of security and in terms of openness to social, political, and cultural diversity. There is an obvious affinity between libraries and universities (if documents are available for public perusal and unrestricted research), but universities should not be in the business of partisan politics.
I respectfully request that the Faculty Senate resolution proposed by Alexis McCrossen and Tom Knock be resubmitted for a vote by secret ballot.
Thank you very much for soliciting faculty input.

23. Dear Senate President Blair,

I would like to express my support for the two resolutions regarding the Bush Institute that were debated and voted on by the senate on March 7. I support the resolution proposed by Dennis Foster and passed by the senate that called for the complete separation of funding for SMU faculty members and Bush Institute fellows. I also support the resolution proposed by Professors McCrossen and Knock and amended by the senate to call on President Turner to present two options to the Bush foundation — either complete separation between SMU and the Bush Institute or meaningful SMU oversight of the Institute.

I am supportive of the library and museum coming to campus. I am opposed to the institute unless one of the above two stipulations is met. Along with some of my colleagues, I believe that a partisan institute is incompatible with the mission of our university.
24. The great sociologist Albert O. Hirschman – a noted liberal thinker – explained two mechanisms (“voice” and “exit”) by which employees could show dissatisfaction, either promoting change within their organization or absenting themselves from its future. Employees willing to exit show loyalty to their organization by exercising “voice” before “exit”: if their suggestions are met, they can then stay in good conscience; if not, they know that they’ve tried their utmost. Exercising voice but then failing to exit, unfortunately, signals that the vocal employees have very poor outside alternatives, exposing them to future difficulties within the very institution they honestly tried to improve.

I respect our colleagues’ willingness to voice objections to the Institute. While certainly not obligated to exit the University

(despite the signal that staying sends), they ought to now acknowledge that the time for “voice” is over and, loyal or not, commit their consciences either to exiting or staying constructively.
25. Below please find my statement on the Bush Library, Institute, etc.

I have been following this issue with interest and especially appreciate my colleagues who have taken precious time to illuminate the complicated matters at stake here. Throughout the last two months I have been somewhat uncertain of my position, finding the pro-Library/Institute position reasonable but also finding the concerns of the anti-Institute people compelling, as well. In the end, it seems to me it is IMPERATIVE for the sake of SMU’s long-term integrity and academic respectability that it not accept the Institute as the Bush Foundation presents it. No other university has allowed such a relationship nor should SMU. I am convinced that all would be better served by a relationship that serves academic freedom and inquiry. But one which allows the Bush Institute complete autonomy while trading on SMU’s academic prestige and integrity, seems inappropriate. I do hope the Library comes to SMU. I want, however, the Institute and SMU to establish an academically sound and appropriate relationship. The Foundation’s plan does not do that.

26. My only concern is over the executive order that certain papers be kept secret in perpetuity. I suggest that the order be modified to allow public scrutiny after the two President Bushes and their wives are dead. What’s the point of having these papers in the Library if there will never be a way to see them?
27. I support the coming of the Presidential Library to SMU. I have strong reservations about the Institute and am deeply opposed to the Bush administration on many crucial issues, but believe that any problems arising from the Institute’s proximity to us can be dealt with through policy, teaching, and rigorous activism and vigilance on the part of SMU administration and faculty. The benefits substantially outweigh the downside. The Library will be a repository of some of the most important documents of the last decade, not only for the U.S., but for the world, and SMU should benefit substantially, particularly in the long-term, through having the relationship.

28. Although I personally have doubts about some of the elements of bringing the library to SMU, I believe that the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. Since the issue has been so thoroughly discussed and the thoughtful doubts have been expressed, I have confidence that the President, the Provost, and Deans will consider the discussion carefully and be careful to implement such safeguards as may be necessary to ensure academic freedom and to limit the political influence of the Institute while welcoming the resource of the Presidential Library itself.
29. Dear Rhonda, I am disappointed that the representatives of the faculty on the Senate have seen fit to endorse, through their votes on resolutions and discussions, the establishment of the Bush Institute as an independent partisan think tank on SMU campus. I believe this initiative will prove to be a defining one for our university in ways that we will all live to regret in the near future.
30. I believe that a presidential library would be a great asset for our university but too bad it will be associated with a president that has such low ratings and achievements. He stands for the status-quo, not for the future of our nation. Bush does not represent us properly. He represents our aggressiveness not our compassion. That is something that needs to change. We need to instill hope within our society, especially within our youth. They need to grow and develop into “World Citizens” to lead our nation properly.

I quote, “There is boundless hope for our future, the key has always existed inside of us. Collectively, we will, without a doubt, create a peaceful world that believes in and extols the greatness of the human being.” – L. Johnson, SGI-USA.
31. I continue to believe that the Bush Library and Museum will be a substantial benefit to SMU. I also continue to believe that the Bush Institute will be a substantial detriment to SMU if it is not under the guidance and administration of the university. If it is not to be under the guidance and administration of the university then it should not be housed on the campus.

Two thoughts shape my view of the Institute’s place at SMU. First, SMU has a long and distinguished academic reputation which we should cherish and defend. To allow a partisan and ideological entity (the Bush Institute)that might compromise that reputation seems to me to be irresponsible. Second (and for the reason articulated in point one), no other university acting as host to a presidential library complex allows that complex or any element of it to operate outside the purview of the university. The reasons are obvious and persuasive — a university allowing a free-standing Institute would be giving its good name and reputation hostage to an entity that owes it no allegiance or responsibility.

We should have more pride.
32. I would welcome the Bush Presidential Library on the campus. I urge the university to support efforts to change the Executive Order that President Bush signed regarding control over Presidential papers.

I would not welcome on campus as part of the Presidential Library an institute that is a uni-dimensional pro-Bush policy think tank. If such an institute is to exist, it should exist off campus and be treated as a user of the Presidential Library just as would any other user.

33. Dear Faculty Senate

To me, most of the leadership on this issue has been “too smart by half”: missing the really big picture here. Here’s three examples:

1. It is intellectually true that “the final version of history is never written”. However, this does not mandate blindness or paralysis with regard to the abundant evidence that SMU is on the cusp of essentially becoming a memorial to the most duplicitous, incompetent, and reckless individual to have ever occupied the Whitehouse. This is not about one particularly bad decision (e.g., bugging the Watergate), but instead a consistent trend of folly and failure on such a broad range of issues that even many died-in-the-wool Republicans can’t wait for this presidency to be over. And what do we have to look forward to? The emeritus President taking up an office at SMU…?

2. As a husband and new father, I am seriously concerned about a terrorist attack at SMU… and think you should be too. Do any of you seriously feel assured by the notion that we need not worry because our bumbling Department of Homeland Security or the secret service is “onto it”…?

3. I am sufficiently concerned about these issues that I have quietly started contemplating looking for work elsewhere. Do you think I am alone? Who in their right mind shares such a fact, until they have alternative employment arrangements stitched up? (The point here is that neither you nor I know the extent of intellectual and spiritual drain that the current course of action will cost SMU). I doubt that the loss of other research and teaching-award winners like me – in principle as well as for person safety – promotes SMU’s mission.

For all these reasons, I ask you to ALL to put your partisan preferences aside and ask yourselves: What ethical course of action would not be too extreme to prevent SMU from bearing the above legacies? This is one final plea for the Senate to make a last stand to either prevent the “whole deal” or at least make the institute as separate (physically, financially and in all ways possible) from our currently wonderful SMU.

Thanks for your consideration

34. I am of the strong opinion that the Bush Library Project is one of the greatest opportunities ever afforded this university for the promotion of SMU from a second-tier institution to a truly significant, nationally recognized player. I feel that the outspoken, overbearing opinions of a minority of faculty who are politically opposed to President Bush and anything attached to his name have crossed over from reasonable objection to obstinate opposition. The objection that the administration has not heard faculty concerns is unfounded. “Hearing one’s concerns” is different from agreeing with those concerns. This minority has also claimed greater support than I believe is truly present among all faculty and has wrongfully misrepresented this to the media, much to SMU’s harm. I strongly support the successful negotiations to bring the GWB Presidential Library Complex to SMU and feel that the majority of my colleagues do as well.
35. Comments on the Bush Institute:

If the Bush Institute remains as currently announced, viz., a) under exclusive control of the President and the Bush Foundation, and b) constituted as a vehicle for promoting and supporting the Bush Presidency’s policies and ideology, my strong position is: 1) SMU should insist that the Institute explicitly dissociate itself from SMU, and 2) SMU should likewise publicly state – and include in its institutional documents – that this dissociation is based on the specific grounds that a partisan organization is incompatible with academic principles. I do not find it reasonable to expect, however, that the Institute be physically off-campus and completely separate from the library/museum.

If the Bush Institute should seek to modify its governance by offering to add SMU oversight in the form of representation on its Board of Directors, my position would be that the Institute’s avowed purpose also be changed to the exploration of all sides of particular partisan or political ideologies and policies. If its purpose should remain promotional and focused only on Bush policies, any representative governance would be rendered ineffective.

In all of this, my primary concern is the association of the SMU name with any institution that endorses a particular partisan philosophy, however indirect that association may in fact be.
36. Locating the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute on the SMU campus has my full, unqualified support. Bringing a Presidential library managed by the National Archives to our campus, along with the huge associated capital investment, adds significantly to the resources available to campus scholars regardless of their political views and affiliations.

Media coverage surrounding the library site selection process has already significantly enhanced the reputation and name recognition of SMU. In previous years, faculty searches in my department typically yielded only a few nationally recognized, qualified candidates. A new search, underway for the last few months, yielded an unusually large number of extremely highly regarded applicants. Indeed, one particularly capable applicant implied that he had never heard of SMU until the national news coverage of the site selection process led him to eagerly submit his qualifications.

The reasons given by some for opposing the library complex lean heavily upon phrases like “academic freedom, independence, and integrity.” These arguments ring hollow, because they are transparent attempts to mask the fact that opposition to the library is based on the personal political views of those who vehemently oppose a controversial president and, in their view, the failed policies of his administration. This position is, quite literally, a diametric contradiction of the lofty ideals of academic freedom and integrity, and the free and open debate of widely divergent ideas and policies.
37. I remain deeply distressed by the fact that faculty efforts to stimulate and participate in an active and open conversation about the Bush project continues to be met with suspicion, perfunctory thanks for “our input”, and obfuscation of the real issues. The Institute, as most everyone acknowledges, including President Turner, is THE PROBLEM. It is the only unacceptable part of the package. Any administration has the right to fund and create a partisan think tank devoted to promoting its ideology in perpetuity–if they fund it and run it on their own land. It is inappropriate and irresponsible for SMU to provide such an institution the academic legitimacy such close identification with our campus confers. I respect President Turner’s hard work in this effort and understand how much pressure he must receive from all constituencies. But I urge him in the name of his two most important constituencies–the faculty and students of SMU– to be our voice, telling the Library Committee that we look forward to housing the Library and Museum but that the Institute must either sit off campus or fall under the oversight of this university.
38. The Bush initiative is a lamentable development, and represents a massive failure of academic leadership. The efforts of Blair, Hopkins, Tunks, and the Executive Committee to dismiss, blunt, and filibuster any substantive discussion are a sad day in the history of faculty governance. None of these people did any homework, or dug into the matter in a professional way: they only offered fear-mongering, over-hyped emotionalism, and thinly veiled threats. At first, I felt positive toward the Bush institute; watching Turner and the Bush Institute’s partisans among the faculty, I see now the tremendous cost this University will have to pay. Sad but true: the Bush institute will bring DC Beltway moral deficit to our campus, and we are seeing this already in the actions of our own Scooter Libbys on the faculty. I say no to the Bush Institute: no library, no museum, and no institute.
39. I heartily support the Library/Museum. I have always been reluctant about the Institute. Thus, I favored maintaining negotiation on the Institute abiding SMU’s standards of academic freedom.

I appreciate Pres. Turner taking such concerns seriously; what that concretely means has not been answered.

The Provost’s recent comments disturbed me:
1) that voting against the Institute harms our academic reputation is absurd. Colleagues at a national conference expressed the opposite– not kowtowing to partisan demands would increase academic respect for SMU.

2) that even pressing for further dialogue endangers the project sounded ominous. Senate members have been gracious and equanimous, with little in return. If (as he claims) the Senate has more power than it knows, it should receive the respect that power brings.

This Library/Museum/Institute is envisioned in unprecedented ways. Facing no answers or compromises, we should thank them considering us and decline the Institute, regardless of the outcome.

40. I strongly support the Bush library. Regardless of one’s personal political views, any presidential library is a profoundly significant monument to our shared history. A presidential library will raise the status of SMU in the international community, and will bring a great deal of prestige and financial investment to the entire Dallas community. We are foolish (and selfish) if we reject such a valuable opportunity.

41. One objection to the Institute is that it will be a proprietary institution exploring the philosophy and policies of the conservative tradition in politics. Commitment is incompatible with proper academic research.

If we apply this argument, we should close the Perkins School of Theology, the Cox School of Business, and the Dedman School of Law. These schools are committed respectively to the Christian tradition, the logic of capitalism, and the tenets of western law. Like the Institute, they are research programs that function within a family of perspectives. Even then, the institute will operate outside the university and will be separately funded.

Scholarship is more complex than “neutral research”. It invariably involves research programs that presuppose a tradition of thought and inquiry. The Bush Institute will make an invaluable contribution to political and theological scholarship precisely because it operates within a long, contested, robust, volatile political tradition.
42. I remain deeply concerned about the long-term impact of bringing the Bush complex to SMU, and opposed to a partisan institute on our campus that does not play by our rules (report to us, standard academic hiring and tenure procedures). The idea that we must do this because the Bush people insist that the library is a three part package (library, museum, and institute) suggests that our university administration is more interested in accommodating SMU to the Bush vision than vice-versa.

The process of debate and discussion also leaves me unhappy with the status of faculty leadership at SMU. The Senate is a toothless body, as a whole one that seems to accept the overall lack of regard for faculty opinion by our administration, who still has yet to inform the faculty of basic attributes of the Bush package or negotiations. What’s worse is that it seems content with this status: Turner’s patronizing non-answer to the request for specific responses to an important set of issues about the Bush complex and its relation to SMU ought to have provoked a ferocious response. If elected faculty leadership does not stand up for itself, we have far greater problems than any posed by whatever Bush complex ends on our campus.
43. The SMU faculty has been able to sustain a largely civil and productive dialogue about the Bush Library Center in part because we tend to keep our personal opinions about the Bush administration to ourselves. Rather than engaging in political debate, our discourse has focused on the implications of various formal relationships that might be established between SMU and the Library Center.

Whatever the merits of our self-restraint, we should remember that it causes our most precious resource – our intellects – to be dissociated, with little opportunity for meaningful integration of private opinions with public discourse. Barring political debate from the larger conversation shows that we wish to be scholars and employees first, citizens and human beings second.
We could choose instead to incorporate our personal opinions about the political ideologies and practices of the Bush administration into our disagreements about the Library Center. We could judge the values of this administration, and not just the implications of our association with its values. We could, in short, express ourselves fully, without having to conceal our carefully considered, deeply felt political opinions.
As for me, I consider the Bush administration morally reprehensible, and for that reason alone I prefer not to have any association with its legacy through my place of employment. I would be proud to say that my university refused to legitimize the partisan legacy of one of the most corrupt and inhumane administrations in American history.

44. I respect the debate and discussion that has occurred among our faculty regarding the Bush Library and Institute. I believe the library will be scholarly resource for years to come. I remain confident that the marketplace of ideas and the strength of SMU will assure that the Institute poses no threat to the academic enterprise. It is for these reasons that I support the Library, Museum, and Institute coming to SMU
45. As a faculty member, I have no objection about housing the Bush Presidential Library at SMU. However, the Darwin vs. Design event at McFarlin Auditorium sponsored by the Discovery Institute is a microcosm for what SMU will face with the Bush Institute. As a scientist, for example, we should not spend our time countering the President Bush’s view that intelligent design should be taught along side the scientific view of cosmology or evolution or that faith-based views of natural history have equal materialistic value to scientific ones. As a result, I do not see the short term benefit of the association of SMU with a “Bush” Institute whose mission is to promote the agenda of the most “un-American” administration of my lifetime.
46. Thank you very much for the opportunity to state an opinion.

On balance, I believe SMU would benefit by hosting the Bush library and museum, assuming executive order 13233 overturned.

I do not think that this benefit is entirely clear-cut, or that it can completely be divorced from President Bush’s record.I believe history will not treat this presidency kindly, and many at SMU will come to at least partly regret the association.

The institute is another matter. I believe that a partisan institution which exists to promote a particular viewpoint is inconsistent with free academic inquiry and does not belong within a university. My hope is that we can negotiate for the library and museum without the institute, or to restructure the institute to fall within normal academic governance. If the choice is all or nothing, I think SMU would be better off maintaining its integrity and accepting nothing.

47. My position from the beginning has been entirely in support of the Bush Library and Museum because I sincerely believe their presence will likely generate positive national attention to our campus in the form of distinguished historians, educators, lecturers and students who otherwise might not have considered SMU. I trust the physical structures will be an asset to our campus as well and I sincerely hope they will include an auditorium, large meeting rooms and other facilities that might be used by the entire campus community. However, the presence of the Institute has been a concern for me since I learned the conditions under which it would likely operate. When the original petition was generated, I signed it because I believe an independently governed institute on campus (that would or could operate under separate conditions and yet function as a part of the university) sets up a double standard of operation that can only be a source of constant controversy and ethical concerns.

President Turner has worked tirelessly to bring this enormous gift to SMU and I am convinced we will all benefit by the presence of the Library and Museum on campus. I do not know where the Senate stands with the latest resolutions and proposals submitted but I am not in favor of incorporating the Institute as it presently presented. I do hope some compromise can be reached to make the Library and Museum happen.

48. I have never understood why President Turner and his principal advisers did not seriously take to heart the faculty’s objections to a partisan Bush Institute on our campus and respond to them in a straightforward manner. I still don’t understand why from the start he would not have the same concerns and therefore fairly present them to the Bush Family Foundation. (No one knows if he ever did so.)
Nor have I ever understood why President Turner allowed his closest advisers to distort, in their comments in the press, what the faculty’s concerns were (and are). Some of his advisers often virtually lied about the extent of the numbers of faculty who were concerned or that they opposed the Library for political reasons when, in fact, they supported having the Library at SMU but objected to the Institute. For too long the Turner administration operated as if the issue were simply a public relations problem, and that attitude fed the distortions in the press about the nature of the objections.

Regardless of the outcome, a lot of damage has been done that will be long in healing. And one can only wonder how differently events might have unfolded if President Turner months ago had held a campus community meeting of his own volition and provided information, gladly and fully, instead of having to be forced to do so and only in piecemeal fashion.

49. I fully support both the Library and Institute. They will be important assets for SMU. I believe that hostility to the Bush administration and presidency should not frame our decision to accept or reject these assets. I am reasonably confident that our university and its faculty are stronger than a relatively small number of researchers and policy types in any proposed institute. Dialogue should be beneficial to everyone. I very strongly believe that the media in general have had their own agendas concerning this issue and that they have not had the best interests of our university in mind. It is presumptuous of us to claim that any product of the proposed institute would not qualify as legitimate scholarship. We are basing too much perhaps on hearsay as to the intent of the institute members. I am for maximum openness regarding the presidential papers.

50. My concerns about the proposed Bush Institute were very eloquently stated in the opinion piece by Janis Bergman, David Freidel, and Valerie Karras that appeared in the Daily Campus on January 19th. I am opposed to the Institute having affiliation with SMU without some form of meaningful oversight by University administration and faculty.

51. If the faculty blow it by scaring away the Bush Library, it will be a major embarrassment for SMU and disappointment for the City of Dallas. We will be the laughingstock of Texas higher education, will probably have to start searching for a new president, and will call off the capital campaign for lack of interest.

I am not afraid of a Bush institute. The Hoover Institution has not hurt Stanford’s reputation (e.g., #2 ranking in political science), despite its political leanings. The continuing stream of proposals and position statements on this subject imply that a partisan group of the faculty are risking being responsible for a new SMU “death penalty” if the library goes elsewhere.

I have yet to hear a short, clear reason for rejecting the library package that my Dallas neighbors would understand. How about: “Some faculty were scared of the think tank.” Were this to happen, I would not blame any potential donor for saying “If SMU can’t even get the presidential library, handed to them on a silver platter, there is something wrong with those people and they won’t get my support, much less my children as students.”

I hope that we, as faculty, can stay focused on the historical treasure trove that
the library would contain and the value to the Dallas community that the museum would provide. The think tank will be fine and should contribute to lively topical discussions on campus.
52. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the Bush library/museum/institute. Similar to many, I am in favor of the library and museum. The institute however is much, much more problematic for me, for a variety of reasons (most of which have been clearly articulated by many others during the course of this debate). My bottom line: I’d prefer to have the Bush Institute completely separate from SMU — let it be in Dallas, but not on SMU property, not using the SMU name — no affiliation with SMU at all.

Thanks again for letting our opinions register.

53. I give three reasons we should be opposed to the Bush Institute.

1. The goals of SMU as a university and those of such an institute are diametrically opposed to one another. This has been written about quite eloquently by Schubert Ogden in the student newspaper.

2. It has been well documented that the Bush administration has actively participated in distorting the scientific discussion for all aspects of global warming. In connection to this, the National Academy of Science has extensively criticized this administration as has the Royal Society of London, the oldest scientific body in the world, which set a precedent by censoring this administration for its distortion of science. Why would we not expect the same from such an Institute on campus?

3. Recently we have also seen that this administration has politicized the judicial system. Why would they not also do the same to the University system?
54. The Bush Library, Museum, and Institute will be an asset to the University’s name recognition, academic interests, and local economy. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, the entire package provides incredible opportunity for research, tremendous academic discussion and experiences for our students. I would think as a strong university we would welcome the opportunity for the diversity of opinion, politics, interests, etc. Diversity of thought sharpens all our thinking processes.
55. As many have so eloquently explained, SMU should reject the Bush Institute, but welcome the Bush Library with open arms. Fears of a substantial drop in donor base were the Bush administration to withdraw the entire offer, are I believe unfounded. Any such impact would probably be small in comparison to the enormous gains in visibility both nationally and internationally that would come from SMU taking such a principled stand. In the end it is entirely possible that not getting the Bush Library and/or Institute could do more good for SMU’s academic reputation than getting them.
56. Dear President Blair: Universities are not afraid of ideas, but find their true purpose in the free exchange of ideas in a context of controversy. I believe that SMU should welcome the challenge of hosting the Bush Library and Museum — and accept the Institute as a necessary part of the package. Having the Library at a place where conflicting views are negotiated in an atmosphere of open inquiry and intellectual competence will be good for the nation and for the study of its recent political history.
57. Perhaps the most important question about the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute is where they fit in a larger plan for strengthening SMU as a research university. A liberal arts college can strive for purity of scholarly purpose. (It would never occur to St. John’s College to seek a presidential library.) Research universities have more complex relationships to sponsored research, affiliated organizations, public programs, etc. Research universities maintain their integrity, if they do, not by striving for purity, but by maintaining a broad agenda and a balanced portfolio of relationships. So among questions those who want the Bush Library should be answering is “What else are we going to do?” If Stanford University had received the Hoover Institution in the 1950’s and done nothing more, they would be known today as a medium-sized private university with a big endowment and quirky, right-wing political tendencies. SMU could be known that way in 25 years, or it could have a reputation more like Stanford. Which it will be depends less on the Bush Library than on the rest of what we might accomplish. Right now, the answer to the question, “What else are we going to do?” is vague, and definitely underfunded. But we are acquiring the leadership and the experience that will help us give better answers. Becoming a first-class research university is something we’ve said we want to do. Accepting the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute makes it something we have to do.
58. I stand strongly opposed to the creation of any policy institute, “think tank”, or other partisan institution that is affiliated with SMU. While I can understand that some benefits may attach to the location of a presidential library and museum at SMU (even while disliking the affiliation of my university with what I, and many, view as a failed and illegitimate presidency), I cannot find any acceptable reason to establish the institute proposed to accompany it.

The sole argument that I have heard presented–that to reject the institute would alienate donors–is cowardly, and it is beneath us. Universities are not for buying and selling–at least, the good ones aren’t. If we have any pretensions to emulate the great institutions upon which we are modeled, we must emulate them wholeheartedly, by rejecting easy money and staying true to our goal of keeping SMU a place of open inquiry, intellectual diversity, and academic independence.

I urge the administration to reject the Bush policy institute.
59. SMU’s catalog proclaims its mission to be to “cultivate principled thought and wisdom.” This mission is utterly incompatible with that of an autonomous institute whose explicit goals are to further the policies of a political leader. The administrations and faculties of Harvard and Stanford refused to compromise their academic integrity by allowing similar institutes on their campuses for Presidents Kennedy and Reagan.

By contrast, SMU’s president, provost, and faculty leaders are willing to abandon academic standards, tempted by a half-billion dollar complex (over which SMU will have NO control) and worried by the loss of a politically-motivated donor base. Even worse, they have begged our faculty senate NOT to call the university to hold to the highest principles.

Our students learn from us: we teach them by what we DO far more than by what we say. I am ashamed of what they are learning from SMU’s leaders these days.
60. I am definitely in favor of the Bush Library and Museum coming to SMU. I do have some reservations and questions about the Bush Institute. However, I am OK with the Bush Institute on SMU property…
61. I have several concerns about the Bush Library, Museum, and Institute.

First, I am less concerned about the Bush Library and Museum than I am about the Institute. If the Institute were able to appoint faculty–with or without tenure–to departments on campus without either the free will or consent of departments, that could very well alter SMU’s climate, making it less hospitable, and in direct violation of the university’s bedrock principles of free intellectual inquiry and faculty governance.

Second, it would set a terrible precedent for an institute answerable to no one but its foundation to be established on any university campus. SMU should not want to be known as the university that surrendered its governance for the sake of perceived gains. I believe the institute should remain completely independent of SMU in all respects, so both may enjoy a benign relationship.
62. I fear what the Bush Institute means for SMU. Our administration is already scraping, bowing, and kowtowing, and they’re not even here. This will be a partisan think tank–the “shock troops of the revolution” by the political and cultural right, as one of Bush’s aides frankly described right-wing think tanks generally. I fear that the Bush people, who have already been well represented among our trustees, are looking for a university they can commandeer for their own purposes. I fear that our reputation, which was ailing already in the wider academic world, will take a huge hit from which it will not recover. We are being used, especially under the half-way measure of “complete autonomy” for them while they are located on our campus and associated with our name.
63. The debate and discussion that has arisen over this complex and multi-faceted issue has been vigorous and rewarding. In its course, there has been abundant opportunity both in public and private settings to air matters of concern to us as a faculty. In my view, the most important of the issues under our control, concurrent appointments, has been satisfactorily resolved. Moreover, I have complete confidence that in the ongoing negotiations with the selection committee that the university’s best interests will be fully protected and advanced. I also believe that we as a faculty, in partnership with the President Turner, will successfully face whatever challenges, if any that emerge as a result of the university’s relationship with the Bush Library-Museum-Institute project.

The key point for me is this. A university’s purpose is to create and disseminate knowledge. Those institutions that house presidential libraries, such as the University of Texas at Austin, perform a great public service in providing access to the papers of a former President. A Presidential Library on our campus would be a unique and precious asset to our university. Only in time will the work of scholars come to fruition. It is then that a more sober and reflective understanding of a presidency will be possible. We should be pleased that SMU will have the opportunity to be a major documentary repository that will allow generations of scholars and students to understand better the crucial years of the Bush presidency.

64. I am writing to express my concern about the Bush library, museum and institute on the SMU campus. Most importantly, I object to the idea of a partisan think tank to be associated with this university. While I believe that some very convincing arguments have been made about the ideological conflicts between partisanship and academic scholarship, one argument that I have not heard relates to the damage that such actions would do to the reputation of specific departments.
It is hard enough for my department to recruit exciting new faculty and graduate students. We often have to assuage their fears of Texas as a bastion for the religious right. The addition of not only the library and museum but also a conservative think tank would only solidify the perception of SMU as a decidedly conservative institution.
I ask that the choice to associate with overt partisanship be made openly and honestly from a desire on the part of the university to move in a more conservative direction. While I believe that the move will add to the prestige of SMU in some circles, both political and academic, it will also severely constrain my ability to help built my own department to a level of national repute.

65. I am opposed to the Bush Institute being connected in any way to SMU. My reasons focus on ‘bad behavior’ rather than on ideology.

By bad behavior I mean the practice in the Bush Administration of policy analysts with no scientific background altering, censoring and suppressing scientific reports by the government’s own scientists. I set this out in an op-ed piece titled “Institute will put SMU’s science programs at risk” (Daily Campus, February 22, 2007), which can be downloaded at

Please also refer to a New York Times article of March 20, 2007, reproduced at

on a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report, detailing hundreds of instances in which a White House official, Philip A. Cooney, who has no scientific background and who was previously an oil industry lobbyist, edited government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role. If partisan White House officials are encouraged to behave in such a way, what can we expect from a partisan Bush Institute?

Continued Faculty Wariness of Bush Institute on Display in Senate

April 12, 2007

We’ll have a guest blog posted soon, but for now a brief summary and links to media coverage: yesterday the Faculty Senate passed two resolutions affirming the separation of the Institute from the University and calling for the Institute to not be able to use SMU’s name. A third resolution, with very strong language urging SMU’s president not to strike a deal with the Bush people that included an Institute, was narrowly defeated. (I’m amazed that it got 15 votes — 18 voted against, and two obstained). One of the resolutions that passed stipulated that the Bush Institute should invite speakers and participation by people representing a range of political views. Let’s hope so, but this strikes me as close to a fantasy given everything that we know about the Bush people.

The Daily Campus and Dallas Morning News both ran stories describing the outcome. The Morning News story is on page two of the front section, but I don’t seem to be able to find it on the paper’s cumbersome website — do post a link if you see it.

Updated to add the link to the Dallas Morning News story.

Will Karl Rove be the First Head of the Bush Institute? Questions about the Bush Complex, Faculty Leadership, and the Future of SMU

April 7, 2007

Last weekend while at the ever-scintillating meeting of the Organization of American Historians I ran into a few friends in administrative positions at research libraries. The Bush people, they told me, have been scoping out research facilities, taking a look at how institutions try to set themselves up to house both archival records open to a wide range of researchers and provide a productive working environment for fellows. The person leading this effort was nobody other than Karl Rove, the President’s chief political strategist, and — whether you like him or not — undeniably one of the great political geniuses of American history. Rove is personally going around to these libraries, meeting with their directors and checking out their facilities. According to one colleague, he seems to know exactly what the square footage of the building will be and where it will be located on campus.

The idea that somebody as high-up in the Bush administration as he is would actually do this took me by surprise. It suggests that Bush, Rove, and company really do see their complex as a top priority. Upon further reflection, though, this is consistent with the administration’s explicit invocations of its place in history — Bush, like Harry Truman, may be unpopular, his spoksemen tell us, but his heroic struggle against terrorism will be vindicated by history. It’s also consistent with the clear effort to conceal the most damaging information about the administration, whether by using private email accounts for conducting business that should be covered by the Presidential Records Act, or by ensuring through Executive Order 13233 that George W. Bush and his heirs will be able to deny access to pretty much any records that they want.

An important backdrop to all of this is the Bush administration’s continued political collapse, which amazingly enough keeps getting worse. My sense is that this collapse makes the library-museum-institute complex all the more valuable to the Bush people: especially after the crushing defeat in the last Congressional election, the complex may be all that they will have left to leverage to secure their place in history. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rove’s days as a top political strategist are over, so perhaps a position as head of the Bush Institute would be attractive to him in a way that it wouldn’t have been earlier in his career.

All of this ought to be more reason for SMU’s faculty leadership to make sure that it asserts itself to protect SMU from being even more publicly identified with the Bush legacy. The debate on campus over the Bush complex, which has appropriately centered on the Institute, has been a godsend in this regard. At least within academic circles, if my and several colleagues’ experiences at professional conferences are any indication, SMU is known not only as the presumed site of the Bush complex, but also for the debate that has erupted on campus over the library-museum-institute. Yet this debate has happened in spite of, not because of, the university’s administration and much of its faculty leadership.

At the start of the semester, there was a widespread recognition on campus that there had to be some kind of substantive discussion about the coming of the library-museum-institute. An open faculty meeting held before the start of classes attracted nearly a third of the faculty, and the set of issues generated in that discussion were forwarded to President Turner for his response. He responded directly and in some detail a few weeks later, making a presentation and taking questions from the faculty at an open meeting for (according to several of my colleagues) the first time in his tenure as President. (That fact alone is remarkable). This meeting also provided indications that the administration wanted the debate to end. Administrators also spoke openly of their hostility toward the press, something that nearly every reporter who has spoken with me has asked me about or commented on, despite the fact that to my eyes at least the press coverage has been a huge boon to SMU. (The whole point of landing the Bush complex, according to its backers, is to raise the profile of SMU, making this animus all the more bizarre.) Faculty Senate President Rhonda Blair took this a step further in what in retrospect strikes me as the start of a concerted effort to clamp down on the debate: she lambasted the faculty for its general apathy in university governance (probably true, of SMU as most universities), understated the attendance at the first faculty meeting on the Bush complex by half, and launched an ad hominem attack on unnamed critics of the Bush complex (clearly Professors Susanne Johnson and Bill McElvaney, though she didn’t name them) for “playing to the media at the eleventh hour.”

Since then, Blair and the administration have done everything they can to bring the debate to an end, even as undeniable signs of the depth of faculty wariness about the Institute have remained in public view. (My understanding of their reasoning is that continued discord over the Bush complex — or even just over the Institute, since the Bush people have insisted that it’s a package deal — might prompt the Bush people to withdraw the offer, thereby depriving SMU of the benefits of the complex and bringing it great embarrassment.) In response to a petition signed by about a thid of the Faculty, the Faculty Senate declined to hold a faculty referendum on the advisability of the institute, in part because of a series of almost farcically convoluted procedural objections. In this discussion, many Senators spoke of the need for the Senate, as the properly-elected representative body of the Faculty, to conduct its own survey or poll of the faculty. No action was taken. After President Turner essentially ignored a mild resolution requesting clarification on a number of points about the complex, particularly the Institute, the Senate passed one resolution against the mingling of funds for concurrent appointment and deadlocked on another calling for the Institute to be brought under standard academic hiring procedures or to be organizationally and physically dissociated entirely from the campus. The deadlock on the second resolution was particularly remarkable given that the vote followed dire warnings from Provost Tom Tunks, Faculty Senate President Rhonda Blair, and several senators that the passage of the measure might do grave harm to SMU’s future by driving the Bush people to another university and crippling our next capital campaign.

One apparent result of the tie on the second measure was that the Senate belatedly moved to some kind of assessment of faculty opinion, by sending an email asking for input on the Bush complex. Seventy-something professors wrote back, with about twenty nine expressing support for the complex (either in its entirety or out of conviction that the advantages of the library and museum outweigh the disadvantages of the institute) and more than forty expressing different degrees of reservation about the institute. The comments, which preserve the anonymity of their authors, have been circulated to the faculty senate, but Senate President Rhonda Blair has declined to circulate them to the faculty as a whole. She and the administration apparently believe that further discussion of the Bush complex, particularly if it were covered by the press, is not in SMU’s best interest.

In the meantime, elections for some faculty positions have been held. The next president-elect has expressed his wariness of the institute and voted for the second Senate resolution described above, and I was elected to one of the Faculty Senate’s at-large positions, over much more senior candidates with much longer track records of university service. I take these results as reflections of the continued wariness about the Institute by the preponderance of SMU’s faculty. If the Bush complex does come to SMU, and if the Institute ends up fulfilling the fears of its detractors, the debates over the Bush complex may go on for years, and with faculty leadership more willing to hold lengthy discussion and debate.

Plans for Bush library stir Texas-size tempest

April 7, 2007

A thoughtful piece by the Tribune’s White House correspondent, who captures the debates within the faculty and Methodist Church as well as offering a glimpse of how some outside experts perceive the Bush complex.

Plans for Bush library stir Texas-size tempest
Mark Silva
The Chicago Tribune
April 8, 2007

DALLAS — For Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of First Lady Laura Bush and a proud, nearly century-old institution, the prospect of housing the George W. Bush Presidential Library would seemingly be an honor.

Yet the possible advent of the Bush library — and especially an ideological think tank planned as part of it — has split the SMU faculty, feeding a debate that simmers beneath the serenity of the leafy campus. At an institution dedicated to scholarly achievement and academic freedom, many fear the work of the Bush Institute would forever associate SMU with a right-wing political agenda.

Continued here.

See also the discussion at the Chicago Tribune blog, here.

(Note: this post is back-dated)

SMU Daily Campus story on new anti-Bush Institute petition

April 5, 2007

Faculty members launch anti-institute petition
Sarah Scott
SMU Daily Campus
April 5, 2007

A group of SMU faculty members announced the launch of an online petition against the Bush Institute on Wednesday.

According to Perkins School of Theology professor Susanne Johnson, the open letter to SMU President R. Gerald Turner and the Board of Trustees was a collaborative effort between her and about a dozen other professors. In it, they challenge the notion that the Bush complex is an all-or-nothing deal.

“There are a good many of us faculty members who do not buy the all-or-nothing mantra,” said Johnson. “It’s evident that George Bush wants to come to SMU bad enough that, more likely than not, he’s open to negotiation.”

Continued here.