More Media Coverage as Debate Enters Critical Week

February 4, 2007

The Bush Library-Institute running debate now seems like a normal part of SMU life, and I open my morning papers — The Dallas Morning News and New York Times — with the expectation that I’ll be able to read about SMU in both while sipping my morning coffee. It’s a nice feeling, really.

This weekend has seen some more media coverage. On Friday night my colleague and occasional guest-blogger Kathleen Wellman appeared with political science professor Jim Hollifield on the local public television station to debate the question of the Library and Institute. I thought that SMU and its faculty came off very well on this program — both Wellman and Hollifield were engaged, articulate, and well-informed interlocutors whose concern for the long-term well-being of SMU was apparent. Hollifield stressed the long-term research value of the Library and Institute to SMU, while Wellman focused on questions of access and control of the library’s holdings, and of the partisan nature of the Institute. Hollifield repeated his assertions that much of the faculty opposition is due to partisan antipathy toward Bush, an argument that I find very frustrating. The Bush Institute is conceived of as a partisan institute, and will hire its fellows on the basis of their ability to advance this agenda, not on academic credentials — so to the extent that this debate has partisan tones to it, then that’s the major reason why. Both Wellman and Hollifield seemed to agree that SMU was all the better off for having this debate, and that it was being conducted in an engaged and thoughtful manner.

Today — Sunday afternoon — the debate within the Methodist Church will be the focus of a segment of “State of Belief,” the liberal Air America’s program focusing on religion and politics. The program host will be interviewing the Reverend Andrew Weaver, the organizer of the anti-Library petition. The program should be posted soon enough at http://www.airamerica.com/stateofbelief/.

More attention to the Library-Institute and related issues is forthcoming. The Dallas Morning News has in the works a substantial piece on executive order 13233, the controversial provision that gives former Presidents and their designees in perpetuity enormous control over access to their Presidential papers (entirely outside of the official system for restricting access to potentially dangerous information through classification, though the media and several commentators frequently confound the two). The News is also due to run an editorial by Presidential Library historian Benjamin Hufbauer on the Bush Library-Institute Debate. PBS’s News Hour is considering running a segmen on the debate. The Congressional Quarterly Researcher is planning an entire issue on presidential libraries, and their reporter, like others from the national media, will be in town for Wednesday’s faculty meeting.

On that note, it’s clear that the media attention will continue. Tuesday night at 6:00 at University Park’s city hall there is a hearing about the library, and Wednesday at 3:00 the Faculty Senate will be considering whether or not to hold a referendum on the Institute. Should be an interesting week!

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Head of Young Conservatives of Texas Reports on Petition Drive

February 1, 2007

This from guest blogger Andy Hemming, SMU student and executive director of SMU Young Conservatives of Texas:

We collected petitions for a little more than six hours, at first in the rain, and then inside the student center. During this time we collected about 500 signatures in support of the Bush Library as proposed (library, museum, institute/ think tank) Most of those signing were students, although a few faculty and alumni stopped by to add their name to the list as well. Faculty opposition to the institute prompted many to sign, either because they were strongly in favor of the institute on its own merits or because they feared that if SMU didn’t accept the institute we might lose the library as well. One common refrain that we heard was that even if students might not like Bush, they understand the value to SMU of having his complex here.

By and large there was not much debate on the topic, as it seemed like those opposed to the Bush complex politely walked by. However, some felt that it was necessary to make snide remarks about our petition instead of actually stopping to discuss our differing philosophies. I felt that when people actually did stop and debate, it was very cordial and a good discussion of the issues was had. There is a fair chance that we could top 600 signatures by the end of the week as we have a few stray petitions given out for students to take around their respective Greek houses or dorms. On behalf of the SMU Chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, I would like to thank all of those that stopped by the table to either sign or debate the issues. If anyone has any questions or comments about this petition, please do not hesitate to contact me at: ahemming@smu.edu

Andy Hemming
SMU Young Conservatives of Texas Executive Director


SMU Student Government Endorses Library

January 31, 2007

Yesterday afternoon SMU’s student senate voted to endorse the Library, Museum, and Institute. (it is not clear to me from the article, or from the account of a colleague who attended the senate meeting, whether the senate is aware of the distinctions between the Library-Museum and the Institute.)

The editorial board of the Daily Campus has expressed no view on the library itself, but has raised a set of concerns about the Institute. More student engagement with the issues may be forthcoming.

Student Senate Endorses Quest for Bush Library
A. Neely Eisenstein
SMU Daily Campus
January 31, 2007

Student Senate voted to support the Bush Library in its entirety Tuesday evening. It is the first time a student organization on campus has publicly taken a side on the Bush Library debate.

The past few weeks have sparked a great deal of debate nationwide regarding the possibility of SMU hosting the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Faculty members have voiced concerns about the so-called “think tank” portion of the library; Methodists across the country have come together in a single petition against the institute; countless numbers of opinion pieces have been written and published in national media organizations; and now, an SMU student organization has chosen a side.

The resolution supporting the Bush Library and Institute passed after a few short comments. The final vote resulted in 27 yeas and five nays.

Continued here.


Bush legacy should be planted at SMU

January 26, 2007

I’m afraid that the Statesman is behind the curve on this.  The editorial board acknowledges the presence of the Bush Institute, which is conceived of as a partisan, advocacy-oriented think-tank, rather than a school like the LBJ school (as SMU originally proposed to the Bush people, as a matter of fact), but doesn’t dwell on how different this is than the LBJ library, or on its possible effects on the public reputation and internal governance of SMU.  The concerns about secrecy and Bush’s excecutive order giving Presidents and their designees in perpetuity the right to unilaterally assert executive privilige to keep documents off-limits are mentioned, but their impacts on the research value of the library are unaddressed.  And, of great importance to me as an SMU faculty member, the article ignores the institutional effects of bringing in such a large and well-funded operation to our small university — remember, we’re much smaller than any of the universities that have Presidential libraries.

Bush legacy should be planted at SMU
Editorial Board
Austin American-Statesman
January 27, 2007

When American historians years from now study this period of U.S. life, the dominant figure will be President George W. Bush and the central issue will be the war in Iraq. And they will go to Dallas to study his presidency – if his presidential library, museum and political institute are built at Southern Methodist University, Bush’s apparent top choice, though the decision is not final.

But some on the SMU faculty and in the Methodist Church object. Some worry about parking or having tourists disturb an academic setting.

The strongest criticism, though, comes from those who intensely disapprove of Bush’s policies, particularly his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Any presidential library is, in part, a monument to an ego, and some in the SMU and Methodist worlds can’t stomach the idea that the campus would house a monument to this particular ego, or his conservative politics.

Yet it would be a mistake for SMU to refuse the Bush library, the museum or the political institute – which no doubt will bend right in its views – that will come with it. But the president and his successors should be as wise in their handling of his legacy, as President Johnson and his have been.

Continued here.


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

January 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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


Don’t get too worried about a neocon invasion at SMU

January 24, 2007

Don’t get too worried about a neocon invasion at SMU
Lee Cullum
Dallas Morning News
January 24, 2007

To see how the think tank President Bush has in mind to accompany his library might work, it’s useful to look at the model he wants to follow – the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

As a media fellow there three times, most recently last spring, I can report that this is a respectable organization where the views you hear primarily are those of the Reagan wing of the Republican Party.

Continued here.


Ambushing the Bush Legacy

January 22, 2007

Ambushing the Bush Legacy
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Wall Street Journal
January 19, 2007

In an interview Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” President Bush told Scott Pelley that he is “not the kind of guy who sits here and says ‘Oh gosh, I’m worried about my legacy.’ I’m more worried about making the right decisions to protect the United States of America.”

It’s a noble sentiment, but with less than two years left in his presidency, Mr. Bush and his supporters do have to make some decisions about his legacy, or at least where it will be housed.

In December, the committee charged with selecting a location for W’s presidential library announced that it had narrowed down the candidates from three to one, eliminating Baylor University and the University of Dallas in favor of Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater. The proposed library will include, in addition to presidential papers and artifacts, a public-policy institute to further “domestic and international goals.” Among the goals mentioned by the selection committee are “compassionate conservatism, the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world and defeating terrorism.”

It all sounds quite worthy, but certain members of the SMU faculty did not react well to the news of their campus’s selection. In an op-ed article for the college newspaper, two professors from the university’s theology school asked: “Do we want SMU to benefit financially from a legacy of massive violence, destruction and death brought about by the Bush presidency in dismissal of broad international opinion?”

A letter sent to SMU’s president last week, signed by 68 current and past members of the faculty, echoed this theme. It expressed concern about “certain actions and attitudes of President Bush during his term in office,” including (draw a deep breath here): “the erosion of habeas corpus, denial of global warming, disrespect of international treaties, alienation of longtime U.S. allies, environmental predation, disregard for the rights of gay persons, a pre-emptive war based on false premises and other perceived forms of disrespect for the created order and the global community.”

Which raises the question: Why would Mr. Bush want to have anything to do with such hostile–not to mention graceless and cliché-obsessed–people? Why not look elsewhere for his library’s site? Admittedly the professors who signed the letter make up less than 10% of SMU’s faculty. But presidential libraries inevitably bring a degree of prominence, even prestige, to the universities that host them. Why should Mr. Bush and his friends give SMU the satisfaction? One can easily imagine Cindy Sheehan parading around the university grounds for years to come with hordes of sociology professors and student activists following her.

Continued here.