SMU faculty opposes executive order limiting release of documents
ANGELA K. BROWN
DALLAS – Southern Methodist University’s Faculty Senate voted Wednesday to ask the school to request that President Bush rescind his order allowing former presidents to keep White House documents secret forever.That action was part of the group’s endorsement of the SMU history department professors’ letter opposing the executive order, which Bush issued nearly two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying he was protecting national security.
The group also approved a resolution outlining their issues and concerns about Bush’s presidential library, museum and institute, a partisan think tank that would report to the Bush Foundation – not SMU.
The two resolutions will be presented to SMU President Gerald Turner to use in negotiating with the library site selection committee, which is in exclusive talks with SMU.
Brad Cheves, SMU’s vice president for external affairs and development, said Turner would consider the resolutions carefully. Cheves said he did not know if Turner would ask Bush to rescind the order because the SMU president has not yet seen the resolution.
History professor Thomas Knock said he was pleased with the faculty group’s nearly unanimous votes on both resolutions.
“I felt very, very positive about the Faculty Senate’s actions to endorse the letter and take that next step,” said Knock, who last week introduced the motion – which was defeated – for a faculty-wide vote on whether the campus should host the Bush institute as part of the library project.
SMU became the apparent winner in the library competition in December when the site selection committee said it was entering into further talks with the 11,000-student private university, which is first lady Laura Bush’s alma mater. The Bushes are Methodists.
A final decision is expected after Bush receives a recommendation from the committee, which recently started discussions with Turner.
The 1978 Presidential Records Act made presidential papers the property of the government, not ex-presidents. The law called for presidential records to be released after 12 years, except for those withheld for national security or certain personal reasons. A former president could claim executive privilege to prevent the release of certain documents, but a sitting president had the final say.
With Bush’s executive order, a sitting president cannot override a claim of executive privilege made by a former president. The privilege claim can be appealed in court, however.
All of SMU’s nearly two dozen history professors recently signed the letter, noting that the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians also oppose that executive order. The order also is the subject of a pending lawsuit.
“In our opinion, these provisions create real possibilities for stifling legitimate and necessary public discussion,” the history professors’ letter reads.
Besides access to the records, other concerns in the faculty group’s other resolution are the relationship between SMU and the partisan institute, procedures for concurrent appointments and how library fundraising will affect the university’s own efforts.
But student Andy Hemming said faculty who oppose the library project have changed their positions, first saying they oppose the library, then only the institute and now the executive order.
“The student body as a whole feels ignored; the faculty is going off on their own,” Hemming said Wednesday. “I think their (professors’) problem is with George Bush.”
Most students support the library, said Hemming, executive director of SMU’s Young Conservatives of Texas, which gathered more than 750 signatures supporting the library during a two-day campus petition drive.
Meanwhile, an online petition organized by a group of Methodist ministers urging SMU to drop its library bid had more than 10,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Bush told C-SPAN that his site committee was “still in serious discussions” with SMU, which he said seems “anxious for us to go. And we think it might be a good fit.”
He said officials were still working on details but that it “makes sense” for the library to be there because several people close to him are SMU alumni, including his wife, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and presidential adviser Karen Hughes.
Bush also said he likes Dallas and the university’s academic reputation.
“We’ve still got work to do, but I’m leaning pretty far forward, as you can tell,” Bush said.
If negotiations with SMU fail, the other finalist is Baylor University in Waco, near the Bushes’ Crawford ranch. The University of Dallas had been a finalist but withdrew its bid last month.