Reasons For Opposition

First, and most importantly, the Bush Library-Museum-Institute will be as much or more a source of continued political propaganda for the Bush administration and its policies as it will be an educational resource.The Institute is explicitly conceived as an advocacy organization, and it will report to the Bush Foundation, not to the University. The museum, as is the case with all presidential museums is mostly funded by private sources, in this case by the same Bush foundation. As extensive experience with the previous eleven presidential libraries indicates, this museum will also present a partisan view defending the Bush administration and advancing its reputation and policies. The library, while it could be an asset to SMU – and remember that I am a historian, and have spent an amazing portion of my adult life happily ensconced in libraries – will also be heavily influenced by the Bush people, though under the control of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In November of 2001, President Bush issued an executive order requiring NARA to honor any assertion of executive privilege by a former President – even against the wishes of a library director or a sitting president. In other words, years from now, if an aged historian Benjamin Johnson wanted to walk from his office to the Bush Library to look at documents related to, say, domestic spying programs under Attorney General Alberto Gonzáles, if George W. Bush had invoked executive privilege Professor Johnson wouldn’t be able to, even if Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama were in the oval office. Or even if I were in the White House.

Second, there is the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy. Bush has reclassified documents going back to the 1960s (prompting a clash with the Archivist of the United States), has conducted controversial if not downright unconstitutional programs without informing Congress or the courts (domestic wiretapping, etc), classified government documents at greater rates than prior administrations, and further restricted the ability of former government officials to write academic, journalistic, and opinion pieces about matters of policy related to their former positions. This is not an auspicious track-record for founding a great library.

Third, as faculty member who is honored to work at SMU, I’m afraid that my small university will be swamped by the Bush people – in effect, that SMU will become part of the Bush Library and Foundation rather than the other way around. Remember that Robert Gates became Texas A & M’s president after serving as the head of its George H.W. Bush school. We’re going to bring an institute to campus backed by major local powers, including the wealthiest and most influential of our board members, with an endowment of up to $500 million (according to press accounts, which is nearly half of SMU’s endowment), and bearing an incredibly high public profile, one much higher than SMU’s. The Bush people are going to eat us alive. I fully expect Condoleezza Rice or Paul Wolfowitz or Karen Hughes to end up being president of SMU. Being swamped by a partisan institute wouldn’t be acceptable for a university even if the institute represented a popular, unifying presidency whose policies I like. It’s even worse that it’s one of the most divisive, partisan, and unpopular administrations inU.S. history. Although this is not a partisan debate at its core – many of the faculty supporters of the library-museum-institute are Democrats who have always voted against Bush – the truth is that the proposal wouldn’t prompt this level of controversy were it not for this administration’s use of torture, waging of a destructive war under false pretenses, and cheerful complicity in vast environmental destruction. As you sow, so shall you reap.

Fourth, there are serious and under-explored opportunity costs for SMU. Our next capital campaign is supposed to be targeted at the faculty and the curriculum – more endowed chairs, more faculty positions (my department has lost several in the five years I’ve been here), more student scholarships. The hundreds of millions of dollars that will go to the library-museum-institute will derail our other goals. Presidential libraries, for all of their scholarly value, don’t make universities better at the core missions of teaching and research. That’s why more prestigious, higher-profile places like Duke, Stanford, and Harvard, have turned them down. SMU is a good university that could become an excellent one, but not without deeper investments in its faculty and teaching. When I walk past our beautiful football stadium and hear our leaders extoll the benefits of the Bush Library, I’m not sure that they understand that basic point.

7 Responses to Reasons For Opposition

  1. kris says:

    The only reason for opposition in my book, is quite simply because that I don’t think that SMU would want a presidential library full of coloring books.

  2. Anne says:

    I just don’t understand why members of the faculty would want to deny us, the students, this fantastic opportunity to be a part of American history. And the crack about Condi Rice being president of SMU? Condi Rice is one of the most accomplished and intelligent women in our country, it would be an HONOR to have her as president of our university. Even though I am a liberal, I find it insulting that you would insinuate otherwise. (It would be amazing in and of itself to see a woman in a major role of power here at SMU, anyway)

    If the President wants to deny access to certian materials in his library than so be it. I really don’t think that in the long run a history professor not being able to look at a homeland security document is going to make much difference in the world. Not getting this library however, would.

    Once again, I do not support the Bush presidency, but I think it’s pretty daft to try and pretend that the faculty’s opposition to this stems from anything other than regular old partisan bitterness.

    I want my school to be famous for something other than Greek life and horrendous football. And if being chosen to host what will someday be a major historical site is the best we can do than I am all for it.

    And being as we are one of the schools ranked highest in the “Most Nostalgic for Ronald Reagan” category in the Princeton Review, I think it’s pretty silly to get worked up that we might be overrun by the “Bush people” (have you looked around this campus lately? Not exactly Berkley, is it?)

    Basically, I’m just pretty darn greatful for the professors that DO want the students of SMU to have this opportunity. Any presidential library will be filled with propaganda from whatever side it represents. But if the faculty of this university think themselves incapable of educating their students to be free thinkers because they’re manufacturing propaganda across the street, then we probably don’t deserve the library anyway.

  3. heber4 says:

    Anne:

    You raise some good points, and most of all, I’m glad to see students weighing in on this debate. As to being a part of history, it seems to me that this debate and the press attention it has generated has already made us part of history, no matter what happens. I think the debate that has emerged on campus has only made us look better.

    I think you over-simplify matters — this is not “regular old partisan bitterness,” and nobody thinks SMU is going to be like Berkeley. (What a relief, Berkeley is one of the most pretentious, self-absordbed places I’ve ever spent any time in). The benefits of the library itself to students are pretty dubious, especially given the question of what important materials scholars and students will actually have access to.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the importance of Bush’s unilalateral power to deny access to documents. If he can sequester controversial materials, then it raises the question of what value the library will be for the writing of history, by history professors, students, journalists, or anybody else.

    Yeah, on some ways we’re a pretty conservative campus, which is fine by me — I grew up and live among God-fearing, church-going, Republican-voting proud Texans, and I like it. But we’re also a place that is open to a wide range of views and is respectful of dialogue, and bringing a well-funded, highly partisan think associated with a deeply divisive administration and over which we would have no real governance or oversight is just a bad idea, as your fellow students on the Daily Campus editorial board pointed out yesterday.

    Ben Johnson

  4. Maarja Krusten says:

    Hi, Anne and Ben. As a government employee (historian) and a former archivist, I hope you don’t mind if I give you a link to look at. I notice that Anne wrote that “If the President wants to deny access to certian materials in his library than so be it. I really don’t think that in the long run a history professor not being able to look at a homeland security document is going to make much difference in the world. Not getting this library however, would.”

    Issues related to the Presidential communications privilege covered by Executive Order 13233 actually deal with a different section of the Presidential Records Act than the one that covers national security matters. National security information falls under a different order, much older executive orde3r, 12958, as amended. This is not a secret order, its text is publicly avaiable.
    See
    http://www.archives.gov/isoo/policy-documents/eo-12958-amendment.html

    Classified information has to be treated very carefully so it is protected by statute, not by the other order which gives the President and his family the right to exert privilege over his communications.

    In fact, members of a President’s family, like you and other private citizens who don’t work for the government, wouldn’t be authorized under 12958 to look at all the information in a President’s records. So they could not assess some types of information in order to claim the communications privilege. Actually, if I understand it correctly, E.O. 13233 is intended to give former Presidents a chance to look over what the National Archives archivists already have marked for public disclosure. In other words, information that by federal archival standards appears releasable.

    If any of your fathers or mothers ever worked for the federal government, you, as family members, wouldn’t have the right to demand to look at everything they once handled and dealt with at the office, classified or unclassified. They would have been employed to deal with governmental issues. There are federal laws and rules that cover government records and ensure their proper handling, at the time of creation and later. If any of your parents worked for the federal government, to gain access to their work products, even if you were a family member, you would have to request, through the Freedom of Information Act, the screening of it by government employees.

    There’s another, governmental process, which assesses classified information for continued protection or eventual disclosure.

    The National Archives actually has an official in charge of overseeing the handling of national security information in historical documents. His name is William Leonard and he used to work at the Department orf Defense before coming to the Archives. From what I hear, he is a good rep. If you want to get a sense of how he views issues, take a look at a speech that he gave in 2004. See
    http://www.archives.gov/isoo/speeches-and-articles/ncms-2004.html You might not have time to read E.O. 12958 which is written in the somewhat stilted language of executive orders. Officials have been struggling for decades to improve the writing of federal issuances, and they are not there yet, LOL. But the speech by Bill Leonard is well written and is worth taking a look at. He lays out the challenges very clearly and even mentions some current issues, such as Abu Ghraib.

    Maarja Krusten
    Historian and former National Archives’ Nixon tapes archivist

  5. Maarja Krusten says:

    I should state for the record that I take no position myself on where the Bush Presidential Library (and museum) should be located. My experiences all are governmental, I lack the perspective to comment on campus issues. My posting here, regardless of the headlines of the articles under which I post, simply represents an effort to let people know, based on public information, how archival issues are handled. And how statutory controls apply to historical information in government records. Those controls apply whether a President’s records are at a campus based Library, at a “free standing” Library, or simply within the National Archives building in the Washington, DC area.

  6. I suppose this is a response to Anne,

    I am a faculty member and am opposed to the current proposal. I don’t think it’s fair for you to describe my opposition and the opposition of other faculty members as a reflection of “partisan bitterness” because, quite frankly, you don’t know us. I really think that this debate should focus on something other than the motives of the participants to the debate.

    I don’t understand how someone could not know why those members of the faculty are opposed to the proposal since they keep saying explicitly why this is. While we think there may be some good that comes off the proposal to bring the library to campus, I for one don’t think that would justify bringing the think tank onto campus. I think it is simply inappropriate to mix a university and a think tank. We shouldn’t be selling our credibility to a partisan body in order to get something in return, even if it is good. I think there are some basic questions that those who want to support the proposal should answer. Do they think it is appropriate for a partisan center to be able to disseminate work under the university’s auspices? If not, why do they think that this is an instance in which we should violate our own standards and sell out our own values?

  7. Joe Dyoub, class of 83 says:

    The name of the school is “SOUTHERN METHODIST” University. This point was emphasized to the incoming SMU freshman class in 1979 by the faculty and deans during orientation.
    What part of that title sounds liberal?

    I still live in Dallas, am very proud that I had the opportunity to attend and graduate with honors from SMU, and learned a great prospective, both left and right, from the outstanding faculty.
    However, I was a big boy at 22 when I graduated, and have made up my own mind on how to vote and whether to believe or not the BS from groups like moveon.org.
    You, the SMU faculty, taught me to “make up my own mind.”
    You gave me the tools and the wisdom to do my own research.

    It has worked, and I don’t live in Boston and worshop Ted Kennedy or Al Gore.

    But free thinking – left or right, was always expected from SMU, and any comments from past students on these blogs “who won’t give another dime” if the library comes to campus need only look at the past leaders who have controlled SMU – Hunt, Clements, Sewell, Deadman, to know that your opinions are just that.
    Keep your opinions coming, but attend Cal Berkeley or NYU next time if you are looking for a school that will block controversial history and policy that will be captured in a library that does not fit with left wing thinking or doctrine. And if your are surpised by the outcome of the debate, maybe you don’t understand what Southern and Methodist mean.

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