Faculty member fighting proposal hopes officials will reach compromise that excludes “‘think tank’
Associate Christian education professor Susanne Johnson says she is now resigned to the prospect of the Bush Library being built on Southern Methodist University’s campus but with limitations.
Johnson, who launched a letter-writing campaign opposing the library to the school’s trustees in December, said she hopes to achieve a compromise. The library is inevitable, she said, so the best that can be hoped for is the creation of a presidential library and museum without the proposed conservative policy institute attached to it.
“I’ve changed positions out of some pessimistic realism,” Johnson said. “This is a bitter pill, but I’ll swallow it. That’s compromise.”
Johnson said continued opposition to the total project would likely result in the “whole package” coming to town.
“I would rather say to others, let’s compromise,” Johnson said. “Let’s accept the museum and the library but not the institution.”
Johnson said the library and museum would be historical in nature, but the policy institute would be a platform for Bush to continue his political agenda after he leaves office.
“I think it is inappropriate for us to extend that to him,” Johnson said. “We should be studying history but not promoting his political agenda. This is not a partisan issue. It is an academic issue.”
Johnson said the institute would be more appropriate for a campus like the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., rather than a reputable liberal arts college like Southern Methodist University.
“By design, the institute would fulfill its own mission and purpose by telling people what to think and to influence people to align with a particular agenda,” Johnson said. “That runs counter to open inquiry and academic freedom.”
The Rev. Michael Piazza, president of Hope for Peace and Justice and dean of the Cathedral of Hope, wrote in an opinion piece that he has been concerned about the debate taking place almost exclusively on the school’s campus.
Piazza said Bush’s “think tank” would tarnish the reputation of the city at a time when it is just becoming to be known as “inclusive and progressive in its composition and vision” across the country.
“What frightens me is that the city of Dallas has watched this debate with detached interest, but we have yet to engage the issue ourselves,” Piazza said. “What frightens me is that our leaders are completely unaware that the city is about to become forever associated with what history may record as one of the worst presidencies ever.”
Johnson said the recent announcement by a small group of United Methodist bishops and ministers that they were launching a petition drive asking Southern Methodist University to withdraw as a site for the library could help drive a compromise.
“If it comes down to one large pressure group saying, “‘Let’s drop the entire package,’ it actually makes a compromise seem like a potentially more attractive solution,” she said.
Johnson said she is disappointed that the school’s students have stayed out the debate.
“The students think we’re a bunch of pointy-headed liberals,” Johnson said. “I haven’t run across a student yet that think it’s a bad idea.”
Johnson said she knows there is a group of progressive students on campus, but they have yet to surface.
“We need the support of a group of students,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping they would do something like we grown-up adults can’t do, like a sit-in or a march with placards. I think that would be great. If it started, some faculty might join.”
Johnson said most of the student body appears to be influenced by a “combination of apathy, quietism and conservatism.”
Johnson said she is pleased by the results of her letter-writing campaign because it helped lead to discussion between faculty members and the school’s administration. The faculty learned that the school’s original proposal omitted the partisan policy institute, but Bush’s planning committee stipulated it must be included for Southern Methodist University to be considered as a site, she said.
“Perhaps, at the behest of the faculty, there is some chance they might decide to go back to the planning committee and say, “‘Let’s negotiate on this some more,’” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that regular meetings between the university’s faculty and administration are scheduled, and she is hopeful that will result in progress for her cause.
But at a meeting with 125 faculty members Wednesday night, Jan. 24, the school’s president Gerald Turner reiterated that the planned presidential library is a three-component package deal that includes the policy institute.
Turner told the faculty members that the competitiveness for the Bush Library among several universities had led the administration to be secretive about the plans for the project. Southern Methodist University was recently named as the preferred site.
Patricia Ann LaSalle, the school’s associate vice president and executive director of public affairs, said in a statement that the library, the museum and the institute “are not separable but are part of a package.”
“The George W. Bush Library would be a tremendous resource for research helping generations of students and scholars examine presidential decision-making during this era in U.S. history,” she said. The Bush Institute would bring speakers, officials and dignitaries for interaction, creating opportunities for our faculty, students and the public to engage in dialogue on key issues. As has been said, the institute would report to the Bush Foundation and would appoint fellows. Any institute fellows who wish to have a joint appointment to SMU in some capacity would be considered according to SMU’s academic standards, policies and procedures through the appropriate academic department and school within SMU.”
For information about the opposition to the Bush Library visit www.stopthelibrary.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 26, 2007