February 11, 2007
By Andrew Bell
A group of faculty members at Southern Methodist University is concerned that their school may be moving ahead too quickly with plans to build a multi-million dollar presidential library for George W. Bush. In December 65 professors signed a letter addressed to SMU President R. Gerald Turner requesting a moratorium and campus-wide debate on a project they say is premised on two competing, and ultimately irreconcilable, visions. The first sees the library as a “neutral space” in which future historians can conduct serious scholarly research and objectively assess the Bush administration’s legacy; the second envisions the center as a conservative think tank where the president’s policies will be blindly ballyhooed.
The faculty members, taking their cue from Mr. Bush’s public comments about the library, believe the latter scenario is more likely. “It seems to us that before SMU finalizes plans and makes our commitment irrevocable, the apparent contradiction between the two visions for the library needs to be explored, clarified, and resolved,” reads the letter. Turner contends that the Bush center will foster legitimate research and wants his colleagues to understand that a vote in favor of it is in no way a blanket endorsement of the president’s track record. “I cannot, nor have I tried, to answer the political differences with the Bush administration that have been enunciated,” he told them during a recent faculty meeting. “Only time will tell which position is correct on some of these issues. But I do know this: the analyses on which these conclusions will be based will emerge from the sources of the Bush Presidential Library.”
Presidential libraries have come under fire from skeptical academics in the past. In 1981, Duke faculty members voted down a plan to build an on-campus repository for Richard Nixon’s papers. And the Herbert Hoover Library moved to Iowa after Stanford University instructors raised objections to the project.