'Round the Library Bush Part 2
Where were all these professors three or four years ago when the school first invited the Bushies to build their library/museum/think-tank there? Complaining now seems like empty, face-saving posturing. From today's New York Times...
January 10, 2007
S.M.U. Faculty Complains About Bush Library
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
DALLAS, Jan. 9 — Intimates of President Bush have singled out Southern Methodist University as the likely site of his presidential library, but faculty members, complaining of being bypassed, are raising sharp questions about the school’s identification with his presidency.
In a meeting Tuesday, faculty members complained of a lack of consultation over the emerging agreement and all but demanded answers from the university’s president, R. Gerald Turner, on the relationship that would develop between the university and the library.
“There’s been a lack of transparency from the beginning,” said Tony Pederson of the journalism faculty, urging the university’s administration “to be more forthcoming with detailed information.”
Cal Jillson, a political science professor, called for “more rounded information” because, he said, “this train is leaving.” He said there could be a final decision on the library before the end of the month.
Rhonda Blair, the president of the faculty senate who convened the meeting even though many professors were still away on winter break, said she would pass on the questions to Dr. Turner on Wednesday.
The session grew out of the uproar after an op-ed article in the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, by two professors at the university’s Perkins School of Theology complaining about the library selection process.
The president and Laura Bush created the George W. Bush Presidential Library Site Selection Committee, which is headed by former Commerce Secretary Donald P. Evans and also includes Marvin Bush, the president’s brother; Andrew H. Card, the former White House chief of staff; and Craig R. Stapleton, the United States ambassador to France.
Mr. Evans revealed on Dec. 21 that the panel was setting aside two other contenders, Baylor University in Waco and the University of Dallas in Irving, to pursue exclusive discussions with Southern Methodist, the alma mater of Mrs. Bush and an institution long close to the Bushes. Mr. Bush graduated from Yale and Harvard.
Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for Mr. Evans, said Tuesday that he was not granting interviews at this stage of the selection process.
“The selection committee is now focusing their discussions on S.M.U.; however, no final decision has been made,” Mr. Griffin said. He said the final decision was expected to be reached within “a few months,” although others have estimated the process could be completed within weeks.
Mr. Griffin said he could not discuss the criteria for the selection process, and he said issues concerning financing of the library and control of content, including interaction between the policy institute and the library, had not been decided.
“The committee has been focused on the selection of the site rather than fund-raising decisions,” Mr. Griffin said. “It could vary depending on what the site would be. We are in an early phase in the process, and those decisions about how much money will need to be raised will come later.”
The complex under discussion would include a public policy institute independent of the university and answerable to a Bush foundation, while the library and a museum would be under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration. But control of presidential documents remains a subject of dispute.
About 150 of the university’s 600 faculty members attended the meeting, voicing a range of concerns, particularly on whether the school’s academic freedom and political independence might appear compromised by an association with not only the Bush library but also a museum that would accompany it.
Thomas J. Knock, a professor of history, said the public might have trouble differentiating between the library, museum and the university.
James K. Hopkins, chairman of the history department who was co-chairman of the meeting with Ms. Blair, a professor of theater, said he had asked Dr. Turner under what circumstances the university would “walk away” from a deal with the library.
“There was this very indirect response to that,” Dr. Hopkins said.
Ms. Blair said that it was not clear how much negotiating S.M.U. could do with the presidential library committee but that she would bring it up with Dr. Turner, who she said would soon meet with the faculty himself.
But Rita Kirk, chairwoman of the department of communications and public affairs, said the “wall” that would exist between Southern Methodist and the Bush library would allow for “robust debate” academically and afford scholars important access to papers of Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, among other administration figures.
Some of the faculty questions dealt with the cost of the library — published accounts have it as high as $500 million — including how much the school would be responsible for and whether raising the money might hurt the school’s own financial campaigns.
“We view the discussions that are taking place on campus as a very positive part of the process and one we’re very accustomed to here at S.M.U.,” said Brad Cheves, the university’s vice president for development and external affairs, shortly after leaving the faculty meeting.
“We glad that our colleagues feel comfortable to share their views with each other and with all of us,” Dr. Cheves said. But he said that S.M.U. had not detected widespread opposition among the faculty or others about the Bush library.
“At this point we have nothing that indicates that the support is anything but strong,” he said. “The feedback we’re getting clearly represents the diversity of thought that you would expect in a constituency as large as S.M.U.’s.”
Gretel Christina Kovach contributed reporting.