In Nov. 2006, President Bush launched “an eye-popping, half-billion-dollar drive for the Bush presidential library. That campaign finally paid off last week when officials at Southern Methodist University announced that the Dallas-based university will be home to Bush’s $200 million library — despite protests from faculty, administrators and staff.
However, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will come with a catch. It “will also feature an institute — independent of academic governance of the university — to sponsor research and programs designed to promote the vision of the president” and “celebrate” Bush’s presidency. One university professor said that “[a]cademics everywhere should be concerned about this” adding that it “goes against the idea of dispassionate inquiry”:
Benjamin Hufbauer, an associate professor of art history at the University of Louisville and author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory (University Press of Kansas), said that the model agreed to at SMU was “totally different” from the approaches at other universities with presidential libraries. The institute that is part of the complex “has a partisan agenda — that’s very significant,” he said.
“Academics everywhere should be concerned about this. Clearly this goes against the idea of dispassionate inquiry, of looking at things on the basis of fact and merit. If it’s ideological, that’s opposed to the mission of a university,” Hufbauer said.
Unfortunately, the caveats to Bush’s library don’t end there. The executive order Bush signed in 2001 “which gives presidents and their families more control over presidential papers, could result in material being censored.”
Referring to the executive order, Rev. William McElvaney — professor emeritus of preaching and worship at SMU’s theology school — asked: “What self-respecting university would accept a censored library?” Susanne Johnson, an associate professor of Christian education at SMU, said the point of a presidential library is to reflect, academically, on the presidency, “not to cheer-lead for a particular president”:
“The whole purpose of a library is for unfettered, unbiased, critically reflective academic inquiry into the administration of a given presidency. It’s not to cheer-lead for a particular president. It’s not to be groupies,” she said. “We all know very well that this institute — which has no lines of accountability to the faculty — is about getting some scholars lined up to put window dressing on the presidency of George Bush.”
While it seems Bush is not interested allowing his presidential library to explore the truth about his administration, at least he is showing consistency.
UPDATE: d at LGM has more.