SMU Profs to Bush: Bring the Library if You Must, But Keep the "Think Tank"

Last week, Texas Monthly's Paul Burka got a copy of a December 16 missive that the "Faculty, Administrators, & Staff" of SMU's Perkins School of Theology sent to R. Gerald Turner, president of the Board of Trustees. In this letter, which is making the rounds among the SMU staff and the writers of various journals of higher education, the profs are begging the board to "reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of the presidential library." Seems they're not entirely opposed to George W. Bush setting up a $500 million library at the school; they just don't want Bush to bring that "think tank"with him if and when Bush sets up shop in what most figure to be his once-and-future hometown.

Seems the profs don't dig Dubya's fine body of work: "We count ourselves among those who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends." Damned hippies.

But in yesterday's Inside Higher Ed article "Scholarly Archive or Ideological Center?" some SMU professors insist they're all for a library where scholars can study the policies of the president. They just don't want the think tank, because, like, this president's not really all about the thinking, and they believe Bush -- or his people, really -- will just set up a conservative-agena promotions machine on the hallowed Hilltop of academia.

They just think it's hypocritical -- or a conflict of interest, at the very least -- and wanna talk about it with the board. They're more about the "possible erosion of academic values, not politics," they insist. Writes Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed:

In the debate at SMU, critics of the library plans are trying hard to frame the question as about academic standards for open research and debate, not about Bush-bashing. Susanne Johnson, an associate professor of Christian education, said that she would understand the value of an archive of the Bush administration, and sees how many SMU scholars would benefit from having such a collection on campus. But she said that the campus has been left "uninformed and naive" about President Bush's plans to create a policy center to promote his view of the world.

Johnson said that earlier drafts of the letter -- some of which have been publicized in Texas -- were more critical of President Bush. Organizers of the letter decided to keep the document more focused on the library's mission, she said, to build support and to emphasize possible erosion of academic values, not politics....

Johnson said that there are also real problems with the message the library could send. SMU historically has had a reputation for attracting wealthy students — a reputation that the university has tried to fight in recent years by offering generous scholarship to low-income students. "I think it might be a setback in terms of trying to attract a different constituency among students," Johnson said. "Children of wealthy, leading Republicans in this state come to SMU, and then they are groomed here to become Republican leaders in all sectors of society. We shouldn't be in the business of just replicating Republicans."

But it's not just present Perkins faculty members who want Bush to keep his think tank off SMU land; two Perkins School of Theology grads are also demanding the school give Bush the brush-off, lest the university have to take the "Methodist" out of Southern Methodist University. In a letter published last week by The United Methodist Reporter, New York-based Andrew J. Weaver, a United Methodist minister, and Fred W. Kandeler, a retired United Methodist pastor from New Braunfels, are opposed to the Bush library because the man's pro-torture. And torture, they write, "is as profound a moral issue in our day as was slavery in the 19th century. It represents a betrayal of our deepest human and religious values as a civilized society."

C'mon, fellas. Ever heard of hazing? Maybe they could just put the whole thing in a fraternity house and save the $500 million.

Me, I just like the person who left in the Inside Higher Ed comment sections the note that the Bush library should have inscribed upon its archway one of the president's more inspirational quotes, as it relates to both the presidency and education: "And to the C students, I say, you too can be President of the United States." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky