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Monday, January 29, 2007

Bush Library At Southern Methodist U: Latest News

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- There has been some suggestion that Cleveland State University jump into the bidding because of the hubbub a post-presidency Bush Institute has caused in Dallas. Meanwhile, the Southern Methodist University professor leading the fight to keep President Bush's partisan policy institute separate from the Dallas school's campus just sent out an e-mail message outlining her latest concerns.

Susanne Johnson believes SMU will be used to promulgate a partisan point of view after Bush leaves office, and she fears the addition of the policy institute to a $500 million presidential library and museum will corrupt the school's mission.

''Make no mistake,'' Johnson said recently in Dallas. "The goal of any reputable university is not to shape students to be Democrats, independents, Republicans or people of any political stripe. Universities are designed to teach students how to think, not what to think."

She included The Daily Bellwether on the list receiving her latest missive:

"Dear Colleagues:

"This is a lengthy statement, so please forbear.

"Last evening a sinking feeling flooded over me as to where the Library matter is headed: toward the worst possible scenario. That is, even more sinister than a partisan institute on our campus (independent from SMU)--from which George Bush will continue his public and political life after he leaves office--is a policy institute that's integrated into the administrative and academic structures of SMU.

"While a Bush Institute that's completely unaccountable to SMU is bad enough, even worse is an Institute that's tied into SMU in such a way that its fellows-in-residence can piggyback on our credibility in the Academy, and that its publicity can highlight its status as a prestigious center 'of' Southern Methodist University.

"In a twist of irony, all the protest on campus may very well lead to this worst case scenario, leaving us wishing that we'd left well enough alone.

"Putting SMU faculty and administrators on the Institute's Board of Directors will do nothing, absolutely nothing, to change the overall ambiance of the Institute, to influence the nature of its so-called 'scholarly' output, to hold it accountable for objectionable ideological practices, or to influence which scholars are hired as fellows-in-residence (they are to be hired by the Director). To believe otherwise is simply naive. President Turner's notion that we can influence the Institute by making a handful of joint appointments is utterly disingenuous. The Hoover Institution has 40+ fellows; we'll likely have even more.

"My friends, it's a given that we're going to have a George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on our campus. I fear that, in this light, many faculty members are rapidly concluding that the best compromise they can dare hope for is to insist that the Institute be given administrative input from SMU, leaving the door wide open for it to brag on its university-related status and imprimatur of academic credibility. SMU will be exploited for sure, in worse ways than simply having an independent Institute among us.

"Again, I want to put forth the notion of "compromise" as a positive gain, not a loss. I believe it's time to regroup and restrategize. Unless there's overwhelming unity of effort to insist that the Institute be situated in the city of Dallas (rather than on the SMU campus), in proximity to the presidential library and museum but not an intrinsic or legal part of the complex, then one of two things is DEFINITELY going to happen: (a) the entire package will come to SMU, and the Institute will be on our campus but completely accountable to SMU; (b) the entire package will come to SMU, but there will be administrative arrangements between the Institute and SMU such that the Institute can boast of itself as one among many prestigious centers on our campus.

"I'm sorry if my change of stance disappoints some people. Probably on account of immersion in community grassroots training, I no longer believe in a stance of "idealism" if that means standing up for one's principles with no willingness to bend--as though compromise is intrinsically an ethically bad thing to do. We're stuck with inching our way toward the Reign the God, while Superman can leap tall buildings on his way there. This situation illustrates the importance of not making more of our creaturely powers than we ought, while certainly not making less.

"To my mind, the "critically real" thing to do is to ask ourselves "what's most realistically 'winnable' at this point"? Getting rid of the whole affair is an idealistic goal, but unachievable. Gaining the right to appoint SMU faculty members and administrators to the Institute's Board of Directors is likely the most winnable change that could be brought about, but is the option likely to produce more sinister outcomes.

"I champion the notion of insisting that the Institute be located near but not on the SMU campus, set apart from the Library/Museum, and firewalled from SMU legally, administratively, and otherwise. The Institute would have to refer to itself as a "Dallas-based think tank." To my mind, this option allows all stakeholders to "win."

"Can I interest anyone else in not only going to bat for this option, but also working to build a large coalition of people "out there" who are willing to shift gears on this matter? We would aggressively work toward the option of an Institute that's both independent of SMU, and completely firewalled in some off-campus location.

"I invite you to share your thinking one way or another. Thanks.

"Earnestly yours,

P.S. This week an hoc group of faculty members will submit a request to the Faculty Senate to hold a faculty referendum, allowing faculty members to weigh in on the Institute "in its presently proposed form." A very possible outcome of the referendum could be a faculty movement to bring the Institute under SMU control. Eeek.

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