Nebraska History Professor Weighs in on SMU’s Reputation and the Bush Complex

February 22, 2007

This guest blog entry is written by Professor Andrew Graybill of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Graybill’s comments take on particular importance in light of the repeated insistence by SMU’s administration that the Bush Complex (library, museum, institute) will raise the university’s stature within higher education.

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As someone with very fond feelings towards SMU, I feel compelled to comment on the debate about bringing the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Institute to the university.

I spent the 2004-05 academic year at SMU as a research fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, which was a thoroughly wonderful experience. The fellowship provided time and support (intellectual, financial, and otherwise) for me to revise my doctoral dissertation for publication as a book. But I also had the opportunity to observe up close what makes SMU so special, something that I – even as a native-born Texan – had never realized.

For one thing, it’s a lovely place to go to work each day, and the campus truly inspires, what with its beautiful, manicured grounds and impressive buildings (I felt smarter just for having an office in Dallas Hall). For another, SMU has amazing resources, like the DeGolyer Library, and also its many centers and institutes, including of course the Clements Center. But most of all I was struck by the quality of the faculty, especially in Dedman College, which is where I spent most of my time. In fact, I believe that the history department belongs in any conversation about the best such collections of scholars at any college or university in the country, and even when losing luminaries – William B. Taylor to Stanford, Peter Onuf to Virginia – the department has brought in eminently worthy successors, like Peter Bakewell and Edward Countryman.

So with all this in mind, I often found myself wondering why SMU wasn’t better. This, of course, does not refer exclusively or even primarily to its modest ranking in US News & World Report (though how it plods along in the low 60s among research universities baffles me, if only because of its enormous endowment). Rather, I refer to the general lack of oomph or ambition I sensed to push SMU into the upper tier of the nation’s best universities. Why can’t it compete with Duke or Vanderbilt for preeminence in the South, or even Rice for supremacy in Texas?

Those questions are best debated elsewhere, but I think that there are some people in the SMU community who see the Bush Library & Institute as the solution to this dilemma, a ticket to rapidly improving the University. I strongly disagree, for three reasons.
First, and as others have pointed out, SMU is just too small to comfortably absorb such a complex. With only 11,000 students, it doesn’t have nearly the population or even the physical plant of, say, UT-Austin, which is five times larger and thus much less likely to be overwhelmed by the establishment of a presidential library and museum (to say nothing of a partisan think tank) in its midst. Indeed, the LBJ Library is just another square in UT’s enormous patchwork quilt, not the centerpiece. Moreover, SMU simply doesn’t have the national and international stature of a place like Stanford, whose reputation serves as a bulwark against the too-close association of that university with the Hoover Institute. I fear that SMU, on the other hand, would become synonymous with the Bush Library & Institute.
 

Second, the overtly partisan nature of the Institute would likely drive away some current  faculty and certainly inhibit the recruitment of others. Dallas, though an exciting metropolis with much to offer, is already something of a tough sell to prospective faculty with affinities that draw them more naturally to the East or West coasts, or to other cities that seem to offer a wider range of political views. Adding a nakedly partisan think tank to SMU will only confirm the suspicions of others that Dallas more broadly, and SMU in particular, is committed to only one way of viewing the world.

Finally, the emphasis of George W. Bush’s administration on secrecy and obfuscation – with the most relevant example being Executive Order 13233 – undermines the very spirit of inquiry that universities like SMU profess to hold dear. Constructing a complex that is dedicated not to studying his presidency and its significance but rather to presenting a one-sided and highly partisan view of it will do incalculable damage to SMU’s reputation, driving it backward instead of pushing it forward. And this, I suspect, runs counter to what all in the University community – regardless of their feelings about the Library and Institute – hope for SMU.

Andrew R. Graybill
Lincoln, Nebraska


Dallas Morning News on Terror Threat

February 10, 2007

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

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

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

Mr. Boyd isn’t alone.

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

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

Continued here.


SMU Historians’ Statement on Presidential Order 13233

February 9, 2007

All the tenured and tenure-track members of my department signed the following statement, which was drafted (and re-drafted, and re-drafted . . .) by University Professor Edward Countryman, one of my most distinguished colleagues. Yesterday it was published in full in the Daily Campus. Some professional organizations are actually lobbying SMU to insist on the revocation of the Order as a precondition for accepting the library. This won’t happen, but it does show how much the library has already raised SMU’s profile (one of the principal arguments of its backers) — as has all of the discussion and debate on campus.

As historians at SMU we have no collective position about bringing the Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Institute to this campus. Some of us favor it; others do not. We do believe, however, that there is one related issue on which we can speak. This is the matter of Presidential Order 13233, which gives current and former presidents the power to withhold records in presidential libraries virtually at their discretion.

Like many historians elsewhere, we are worried about several provisions of the order. In our opinion, these go against Congress’s purpose when it passed the Presidential Libraries Act.

First, the order grants power to incumbent presidents to overrule determinations by former presidents that records in “their” presidential libraries may be released. We are very concerned that an incumbent president might exert this power to block the release of a former administration’s material merely because it would be politically detrimental. That could happen in either direction, a Democratic incumbent blocking the access to the records of a Republican predecessor, or a Republican blocking access to those of a Democrat.

Continued here.


Guest Blogger Reports on University Park Meeting

February 6, 2007

A good friend sends me this report of the University Park City Council meeting on Tuesday evening:

At the meeting of the University Park city council this evening, the sale of the city property called Potomac Park to SMU was the first item on the agenda. SMU President Turner addressed the council and crowded room, noting that SMU had wished to acquire the property since the 1990s, before there were any considerations of a Presidential Library on the location. He pointed out that University Park residents have long used SMU’s campus as a park for walking with children and pets, and assured them that the new facilities would be maintained at the previous high level. (Later, a local resident responded that while UP treated the campus like a park, SMU had used her street as a parking lot since she bought her home in the 1970s).

Then the “pros” and the “antis” were each given 30 minutes to address the meeting, with 3 minutes for each person to make his or her statement. All those who planned to speak were requested to refrain from making any political statements and to focus on the sale of the land. Those in favor of the proposition generally appeared to feel that Potomac Park did not function as a park, would be no great loss, and that SMU was a good neighbor and they trusted President Turner and the city council to make the proper decision.

Those who spoke in opposition identified a number of reasons to reject the proposal, including the preservation of green space and mature trees, the loss of a buffer against noise, and concerns about increased traffic in the area. But the dominant theme was terrorism — an incredibly ironic comment on the Bush administration’s constant ratcheting up of anxiety and fear of attack by scary brown Muslim people over the past six years. A trial lawyer and former Green Beret warned that those who favored the proposal were “naïve” and that an aerial attack was a genuine threat; then what would they all do, after a Saudi flew a plane into the building? Several others voiced similar worries about terrorist attacks and the dangers posed to their families, drawing bursts of applause until the council requested such demonstrations to cease. It is not clear to what extent their fears are shared by others in the community, but the proposal goes to University Park voters in May.


Voices of the petition — SMU alumni

February 6, 2007

As of February 5, 2007, the petition started by protectsmu.org had been signed by over 10,000 people. A surprising number of those signers, hundreds or even 1000 or more, have identified themselves as SMU alums; so many, in fact, that I wonder if alumni response in snail mail or telephone calls has been at all equivalent. Is anyone listening to their concerns? I post here just a sampling from the petition’s first 5,000 signatures; many more sigs can be viewed here.

123 Tena Hollingsworth My husband and I are alums of the SMU School of Law and we are a appalled at this. We will never give another dime to the school if this “library” is built there. It is a travesty.

225 Tyson Ervin I am a former student of Southern Methodist University and strongly disagree with this library. SMU’s name will forever be tarnished and will be cut off from valuable contributions of individuals in prominent positions around the world. On a personal note, I will not be as quick to tell people that I went to SMU and my school pride will be diminished as the majority of the public will find this an embarrassment for the school.

401 Mack Fulton Harrell As a graduate of SMU, I cannot voice my protest against this egregious bit of pandering too loudly. NO! NO! NO! TEN-THOUSAND TIMES NO!

404 Elizabeth Moseley No affiliation – severely lapsed Catholic but thinks Methodists are OK. I attended SMU and received my diploma from there. I don’t want my expensive education to be devalued because of this library. George Bush is -and history will bear out – a lying, psychopathic, murderous bastard. He should be impeached for lying to the world about Iraq. Why would SMU or ANY institution of higher learning want to be associated with him?

533 Katherine Blanchard Methodist. and SMU MA, Art History, 2005. I do not believe that the majority of faculty nor alumnae support the Bush Presidency as much as Dallas and SMU would like you to believe. As a Methodist I also agree that the linking of the religion with the standards of conduct undertaken by the current administration lends a unwelcome comparison and assumed support.

562 Cynthia J Gwinn United Methodist I am an alumnus and former employee of SMU and I also object in the strongest terms possible to this affiliation. George W. Bush, his policies and his actions as President, do not represent my university.

752 Lamar White United Methodist. My father, grandfather, two uncles, and two aunts are all SMU graduates. My sister is a current SMU junior, and I am a graduate of the Cox School Summer Business Institute.

1285 Michael McGee As an SMU Alumni member I’m ashamed that my alma mater would consider supporting the creation of a Bush Library on the campus. Gerald Turner has made amazing progress with the university becoming a part of the larger community – this would be a step back to be affiliated so closely with the failed policies of President Bush.

1562 Christopher Ainsworth Methodist. I am a third generation SMU graduate and very opposed to the affiliation with the Bush Library

1699 Roy D. Rinkle S.M.U. graduate 1958 Harvard University rejected the location of the J.F.K. Library on its campus because of the traffic and congestion. University Park is just as vulnerable as Cambridge. S.M.U. should not be associated with the Bush Library. It will demean the reputation of the University forever and insult the pride we feel for our Alma Mater. Submitted with great respect for the leadership of Dr. Gerald Turner and appreciation for the influence A.M.U. has had on me.

1941 Sara L. Sanders I am a member of the United Methodist church, and am a graduate of SMU. I do NOT want the Bush Library associated with my alma mater.

1955 Matt Alholm I am not a Methodist but I am a proud SMU alumni. Any petition trying to stop this embarrassment is a good thing. Class of 1996.

2272 David Johnson Not Affiliated with the Church, but I am a graduate of Southern Methodist University with a 2001 BA and a 2004 JD. Associating SMU, or any University in the United States with President George Bush is a step backwards in this nation’s treatment of personal liberty and freedoms. President Bush should not be so honored at SMU.

2319 Michael Crane Graduate of SMU. Class of 1978. Had 3 of 4 siblings attend/graduate SMU. The fact that SMU is considering spending one penny on a horrible president, George Bush, is a slap in the face to every person who ever attended the school. I will never give another dollar to SMU if this library goes through. George Bush is an embarrassment to the nation and the world. SMU will be bringing disgrace upon its name if it gets the library. Bush stands for precisely the opposite of what any caring, thoughtful person believes. SMU will be the laughing stock of universities if the library goes through. DO NOT DO IT!!!!

2411 Dwight McAnally Methodist.. I hold two degrees from SMU and hate to see this wonderful universilty sullied by association with a man who thinks he’s above the law.

2456 Benjamin van der Wel No affiliation, but SMU Class of 1988. As an alumnus I object to the establishment of this library at SMU for the same reasons as the Methodist Church — such a library would be incompatible with SMU’s mission, history and future.

2599 Anton Skowronski I’m not affiliated with the church, however, I am an alumni of S.M.U. (class of 97). It would be sad if the university choose to be forever tied to a closed minded, secretive, faliure of a presidency. It would not represent the diverse education that I recieved. It would be a stain on the university’s image.

609 Barry J. Cochran Polk Street United Methodist Church, Amarillo, Texas As a former University Scholar at SMU, I am extremely distressed to have our great university associated with the disturbing Bush legacy. Once built, the library cannot be demolished, and history will judge neither Bush nor his associates kindly.

3619 Gene Richardson Why would SMU want to honor a President that will go down in history as the one man that has taken away over two hundred years of progress for the USA? What a terrible way to treat your Alum…..MLA 76

783 Rae H. Stoll, Ph.D. As a graduate of SMU (M.A., 1965) and former instructor of English there, I find the prospect that the University may become the home of the Bush library and a right-wing think tank profoundly disturbring. The Methodist church, through the university, should not appear to welcome–and therefore to sanction–an administration so deeply mired in unconstitutional and immoral behavior as is this administration. I have always considered SMU my ethical home. Associating itself with the administration of G. W. Bush would be a betrayal of what I learned and taught there.

Read many more alumni protests from the Protect SMU Petition.


Dallas Morning News on Secrecy, Institute

February 5, 2007

This morning I had more Bush Library-Institute with breakfast. The Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story entitled “SMU is Pressed to Fight Secrecy” written by a reporter from its Washington, D.C. Bureau. It is the most thorough treatment of Presidential secrecy and the unprecedented control that George W. Bush has given to former Presidents to appear in the mass media. It underscores the radicalism of this administration, and the ferocious response that these measures have provoked from professional associations of archivists, scientists, and historians. Some of these groups are weighing in on the SMU discussion in particular, as the first two sentences of the article make clear:

Archivists and historians are urging Southern Methodist University to reject the Bush presidential library unless the administration reverses an executive order that gives former presidents and their heirs the right to keep White House papers secret in perpetuity.

“If the Bush folks are going to play games with the records, no self-respecting academic institution should cooperate,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Continued here

The Bush Library-Institute also dominates the Morning News’ editorial page. SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson makes a strong argument for the Bush Institute, which, as he notes, is now the real focus of faculty debate. Benjamin Hufbauer, a professor at the University of Louisville who wrote Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory, argues that the Bush plans for the Library-Museum-Institute represent “a stark break with the way past presidential libraries and their associated institutions at universities have worked.” He urges the revocation of Executive Order 13233, increased funding for the National Archives, and greater input of historians and political scientists in presidential museum exhibits. Hufbaeur concludes with the observation that “[a]s currently proposed, the Bush Library and Institute would be by far the most ideologically driven presidential center ever built.”

What SMU could do about Executive Order 13233 and most faculty think about the Institute remain open questions. We may find out the answer to the second one, if the SMU Faculty Senate decides in this Wednesday’s meeting to hold a faculty referendum on the Institute as it is currently designed.


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!