Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Five months after Southern Methodist University in Dallas entered into exclusive negotiations with the George W. Bush Presidential Library selection committee, faculty opponents of the plan to build a complex honoring Bush at SMU are still fighting. But their focus has shifted to preserving SMU’s independence from the proposed Bush policy institute–a conservative think tank modeled on the Hoover Institution at Stanford–rather than blocking the entire complex.
Critics are afraid that a highly partisan Bush institute would be too closely affiliated with SMU and out of sync with the principles of academic freedom and open inquiry. They also worry that a policy institute that will draw from a colossal endowment (reportedly $500 million) could dominate SMU’s public image and sully its reputation, especially given the Bush administration’s plummeting popularity.
Some faculty members don’t like the idea of an institute that would exist for the express purpose of burnishing Bush’s legacy, especially if institute scholars would be up for joint appointments in university departments.
“I am very concerned about the partisan nature of the institute,” SMU Spanish professor George Henson told Campus Progress. “Its mission is going to be to carry on the policy goals of the administration. That would have a very far-reaching impact on the university”
In a minor victory for critics of the plan, the Faculty Senate last month passed two non-binding resolutions calling for independence between the university and the institute and specifically asking that SMU’s name not be associated with the Bush think tank.
“To be honest, I’m really proud of the faculty. It’s not very easy having a progressive voice on a very conservative campus,” said Henson, who writes a liberal column for the Daily Campus, SMU’s student newspaper.
Everyone agrees SMU is a right-leaning campus. But on the library question, student opinion has been defined by apathy and disengagement more than pro- or anti-Bush sentiment.
The Young Conservatives of Texas, a group to the right of the College Republicans, tabled in favor of the Bush complex in front of SMU’s student center for one day in February. But that has been the sum total of student activism on the Bush library issue, Daily Campus Editor-in-Chief Mark Norris, a junior, told Campus Progress.