The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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SMU and the United Methodist Church

Some of the public statements and opinions bandied about in the debate over the proposed Bush Library and Institute are inaccurate. Therefore, below are relevant excerpts from SMU’s “Articles of Incorporation” and from the 2004 “Structure and Rules” of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) of the United Methodist Church, with some brief notes.

Last March, the SCJC’s Mission Council voted to approve the lease of SMU property for the Bush Library, Museum and Institute. During his presentation, SMU President R. Gerald Turner asserted that the university needed SCJC approval only for the sale or lease of property that was within the boundaries of the original 1911 campus, saying that the proposed lease might include a small portion of that property. Recently, the Bush Foundation and SMU administration officials approached the SCJ’s Council of Bishops to obtain a decision from them that the Mission Council’s vote last March approving the lease should be considered final and binding, and that not only was the approval of the full conference unnecessary but that its potential rejection of the lease was not legally binding. They indeed got such agreement from the bishops (with one abstention). Presiding bishop Scott Jones has been quoted in several publications as asserting that full conference ratification is a mere formality and cannot undo the Mission Council’s decision, and that the Council of Bishops has final say over the division of authority between the SCJC and its Mission Council, respectively.

However, the excerpts below demonstrate that (1) the approval of the full SCJC, not just of its Mission Council, is needed for the sale or lease of university property; (2) the SCJC must approve the sale of any property owned and used by SMU, not just property that was part of the original 1911 campus; and (3) the independently governed, ideological policy institute which the George W. Bush Presidential Library Search Committee insists must be part of the library complex violates SMU’s Articles of Incorporation both because of the Library Search Committee’s insistence on the institute’s independence from university oversight and because of the partisan, ideological mission of the institute.

Article III.A.3.1.h of the SCJ’s Structure and Rules: The Mission Council is to “[r]eceive and consider all matters of policy and proposals coming from any source calling for action by the Conference.”

Article III.A.3.1.l of the Structure and Rules: The Mission Council shall “deal with new matters and emergencies of a Jurisdictional nature between sessions of the quadrennial meeting.”

Article III.A.3.2.a of the Structure and Rules: “All actions taken by The Council shall be valid and in full effect until the next regular session of the Conference. Policy decisions and elections to Boards of Directors or Trustees shall not extend beyond the next regular session of The Conference unless approved by action of The Conference.”

These sections from the SCJ’s Structure and Rules are important because they elucidate whether the SCJ’s Mission Council may be considered an “agency” created by the SCJ to approve the sale or lease of SMU property, as stipulated in SMU’s Article XIII (see below). It seems clear from these provisions, taken together, that the Mission Council is not such an agency, for two reasons: (1) in matters of policy, it has authority only to “receive and consider” proposals (the presidential library process, which has been ongoing for several years, is neither a “new matter” nor an “emergency” which did not allow time for a specially-convoked Conference), and (2) any decisions it takes must be ratified by the full Conference at its next meeting (which will be held in July 2008) in order to remain effective. It is difficult to imagine any reasonable person seriously arguing that the decision about leasing university property for the Bush Library – and especially for the Bush Institute – is not to be considered a policy decision subject to the time limitation and ratification requirement stated above.

However, the SCJ’s Council of Bishops has now, at the behest of SMU officials and the Bush Library committee, asserted exactly that. In response, several SCJC members (delegates) have challenged not only the bishops’ decision but their underlying authority even to make such a decision. These SCJC members have written to SMU and the Bush Foundation, notifying them of their intention to appeal the bishops’ decision to the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC), citing the Judicial Council’s authority – under Division Four, paragraph 56, Article II.4 (page 38) of the UMC’s Constitution – to “hear and determine the legality of any action taken therein by any jurisdictional conference board or body” and the provision in the same section for appeal of a jurisdictional conference body’s action by a vote of one-third of the full jurisdictional conference members (see also paragraph 2609.4 and paragraph 2610,1.2 and 2.f). Since, according to church law, the delegates cannot file the appeal until the Conference meets (i.e., in July), it is unknown at this time when or how the Judicial Council will decide on this challenge to the Council of Bishops’ and the Mission Council’s decisions.

Article XIII of SMU’s Articles of Incorporation: “The real estate of the corporation [i.e., of SMU] shall be subject to the control of the Board of Trustees, who may dispose same through the officers thereof, except the campus property and such other property as may be used for the conduct of the business of the corporation [SMU], or matters incident thereto, and such property may be sold or leased only by consent of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, or such agency as it may create therefore, and then only for use for religious or educational purposes or for dormitories or fraternity or sorority houses under the immediate discipline and control of the University authorities and with provision for reversion to the University on cessation of such use.”

Note that Article XIII of SMU’s Articles of Incorporation requires SCJC approval for the sale or lease of any property owned by SMU which is used for the business of the university (e.g., the university’s use of the old Mrs. Baird’s Bakery for storage, or especially the use of storefront space for the university’s bookstore in the strip mall at Mockingbird and Central Expressway), not just for the sale or lease of property that was part of the original 1911 campus.

Note, too, that leased or sold university property must be “under the immediate discipline and control of the University authorities.” This requirement is contradicted by the Bush Library committee’s insistence that the Bush institute come under the complete control of the Bush Foundation, with no oversight by SMU. (The lack of subdividing punctuation in the last several lines of Article XIII means that the requirements for university oversight and for reversion of sold and leased property to SMU apply to all leased or sold university property).

Perhaps most importantly, campus property can be sold or leased only “for religious or educational purposes [or for student housing].” Given the explicitly partisan and ideological nature of the proposed Bush institute, this provision raises two huge issues: (1) the tax-exempt status of the university, and, underlying this issue, (2) the inconsistency of the proposed institute with legitimately educational purposes. These issues arise because, according to Marvin Bush and Don Evans in their cover letter to the Bush Library committee’s call for proposals, part of the mission of the proposed Bush institute is to be to “further the domestic and international goals of the Bush Administration.” According to §1.501(c)(3)-1(b)(3) and 1(c)(3) of the IRS Code, an organization (e.g., SMU) is not tax-exempt if its articles of incorporation empower it to promote or oppose legislation or to intervene in political campaigns (e.g., by “the publishing or distributing of statements”). It could thus be argued that, if SMU and the SCJ approve the independent Bush institute – i.e., consider it to fulfill the definition of “educational” – then the school and the SCJ have interpreted SMU’s articles of incorporation to define “educational” to include ideological and partisan political advocacy, and thus potentially to violate the IRS’s organizational and operational tests for tax-exempt organizations.

More fundamentally, an institute with a politically ideological focus and, even worse, with complete independence from university oversight is inconsistent not only with SMU’s Articles of Incorporation but also with the fundamental mission of an institution of higher education. As Schubert M. Ogden, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology wrote in a March 2, 2007, op-ed in The Daily Campus: “Whereas the university exists, above all, to criticize all such teachings and policies, such an institute’s sole purpose is to rationalize them. And it is for this reason that there is ‘a great gulf fixed’ between the purpose that SMU professes to serve in calling itself a university and the purpose to be served by the proposed Bush institute.”

A final, historical note: The Bush Library committee’s proposal is not the first time that politics has tried to piggyback on academia. In fact, very similar proposals were made to Harvard and Stanford for independent, ideological institutes to accompany presidential libraries honoring Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, respectively. Both universities categorically rejected these proposals. Will SMU’s and the SCJ’s commitment to their own legal documents and binding internal rules and, most importantly, to SMU’s academic integrity really be less than that of Harvard and Stanford?

Valerie A. Karras, Th.D., Ph.D. is an assistant professor of church history in SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. She can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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