Bush founds own library and museum at SMU
On Friday, Feb. 22, Southern Methodist University (SMU) announced that it will host the Bush Library Center. This will include a presidential library, a collection of archives related to a president’s tenure, and an institute, which members from the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation have expressed will “celebrate” the president’s terms in office, according to a Feb. 25 article from Inside Higher Ed.
Overseen by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, presidential libraries hold the papers, collections, and other relevant records of U.S. presidents. The tradition of presidential libraries began with Herbert Hoover, the 31st president.
SMU is significant to the Bush administration for a variety of reasons.
Laura Bush graduated from the university with a degree in education, and Dick Cheney served as a trustee before he became vice president.
Additionally, the university is located near Dallas, Texas, where President Bush and his family will likely live after his second term in office is over, according to The New York Times.
Since its proposal in late 2006, the Bush Library Center has garnered mixed reactions from SMU faculty members.
“SMU’s faculty is deeply divided about the library. Many of the faculty have opposed the plans out of concern not only for SMU but for academia as a whole,” stated Alexis McCrossen, an associate professor of history at SMU, in an e-mail.
“The Bush Institute introduces outright partisanship to the university.”
Indeed, most of the controversy surrounding the Bush Library Center pertains specifically to the institute. Unlike the presidential library, which should offer non-biased records of Bush’s terms in office, the institute has an agenda to explore and further the president’s ideas, as reported in Inside Higher Ed.
“The deal was that it would be independent of the school and yet on school property,” said Mark W. Norris, the former editor-in-chief of The Daily Campus, SMU’s student newspaper.
The Bush Institute will include one or two board members from the university, but some faculty members are worried that it will not be enough.
In a Feb. 26 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, SMU history professor Edward S. Countryman cited the foundation’s ability to deny SMU’s board nominees as a dangerous loophole. In theory, the foundation could repeatedly deny nominees until the university proposed a board member that the foundation approved of.
“The veto power seems absolute and discretionary on the Bush Foundation’s part,” Countryman wrote, as quoted in The Chronicle.
Still, some faculty argue that the benefits of the Bush Library Center, particularly the presidential library, make it a worthwhile endeavor for the university.
“I think that SMU has made the right decision,” said James F. Hollifield, a professor of political science at the university. “I think it’s good for us to put these kinds of institutes on university campuses,” he added, noting the potential for presidential libraries to attract scholarly study.
As a graduate student and professor at Duke University, Hollifield witnessed a debate for another presidential library, that of Richard Nixon. Following controversy on campus, the university announced that it would not house the Nixon library in 1982.
“My argument was that that was a mistake on the part of Duke,” Hollifield said, speaking of an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times on Jan. 20, 2007.
Hollifield added that it would be valuable, over 25 years after the Nixon library’s controversy, for a university to have the Nixon tapes on its campus.
“I think that over time all these institutes are good institutes to have,” he said. “We forget that there were ... other controversial presidents.”
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, was another highly debated presidential library in its time, Hollifield added.
Although SMU faculty members have been vocal about the Bush Library Center, Norris said that students are less concerned about the issue.
“Student on the campus didn’t care [when the center was first proposed],” he said. “The character of students here is passively supportive of the library.”