The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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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Protest as affirmation of SMU’s future

What are the values for SMU’s future we protestors of the Bush library/policy institute seek to affirm?

Protest, from the Latin root protestari, is to affirm, to testify. In other words what are we for as we challenge the Bush complex? What do we seek to preserve or restore for SMU’s future?

Transparency: When people who are affected by institutional decisions are not offered the right to influence those decisions, the guaranteed result is resentment and resistance. In more than 50 years of organizational experience, both religious and secular, I have never seen an exception. This is not to say that all matters should be transparent. For example, access to various personnel decisions and records is forbidden by privacy laws as well as by common sense. Furthermore, the right to influence decisions does not necessarily confer the right to make those decisions. But a momentous decision of long-term implications absolutely demands invitation of all affected parties to the dialogue table at the earliest opportunity.

Virtual silence and secrecy in SMU’s bid for the Bush legacy have been justified by SMU’s leadership as a requirement of competition. But it is doubtful Baylor lost their bid, if indeed that proves to be the case, because they held open forums inviting discussion. If SMU becomes the host of the Bush complex, it will be due mainly to long-standing connections between SMU trustees and the Bush family. SMU’s silence did prevent opposition and serious campus discussion until November 2006. Predictably the hesitancy by legitimate authority to act with greater collegiality has raised fear among some faculty about the practice of dissent without repercussion. Administrative lack of openness has communicated disrespect for the university’s most valuable on-campus assets, namely, faculty, staff and students.

Protest seeks to affirm the university’s motto for the whole campus: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Is it asking too much for SMU trustees to live up to the university’s motto?

Academic Integrity: Academic integrity is closely linked to transparency. President Bush’s 2001 Executive Order by which presidential papers of his choice may be permanently restricted from the library offers SMU a library under threat of permanent censorship. The issue here is not partisan affiliation; rather the very definition of a library is at stake. What self-respecting university would accept these conditions?

As for the institute, an academy worthy of the name is based on critical reflection seeking truth unencumbered by partisan requirement. A presidential think tank, especially one reporting solely to its own foundation, is inherently inimical to academic principles and standards of truth seeking.

In various interviews with the media I have consistently expressed objections to any presidential think tank on the campus, whether liberal, conservative, left-wing, or right-wing, for the reasons stated above. Said in another way, I do not believe that any presidential institute can truly honor SMU’s mission: “The University is dedicated to the values of academic freedom and open inquiry and to its United Methodist heritage.” Faithfulness to this portion of SMU’s mission statement is what some of us seek to affirm by protesting the very idea of a presidential policy institute.

International Respect: Any university seeking to fulfill its promise in the 21st century must think and act globally. Some of us who challenge SMU’s hosting the institute and the library as it is currently presented are told that we don’t see the big picture. We see a big picture, in fact a very large one. The Bush complex is not just about the Park Cities, or Dallas, or even the Southwest. I believe SMU will take a huge nosedive internationally if and when the Bush complex is located on our campus. How could we believe otherwise if we have been attuned to most of the world especially during the past several years?

As for the long haul, one of my SMU colleagues likes to say the Bush complex will be a “tacit curriculum” likely influencing the direction and perception of the university for years to come. Only time will tell if this will be the case. Protest is on behalf of an SMU highly respected, not only in the Park Cities but also throughout the academic world.

Conclusion: One of the questions resurfacing in the midst of campus discussion has to do with SMU’s roots in the Methodist Church. Specifically, what does the term Methodist mean in the university’s name? We all know what we don’t want it to mean, namely, a sectarian institution. John Wesley’s “think and let think” has been quoted as descriptive of our essence, yet the quote has little relevance unaccompanied by Wesley’s broader theological and ethical grounding. I encourage the university to sponsor opportunities for exploring what Methodist implies in our name.

Let all stakeholders be invited . . . trustees, administration, students, faculty, staff, alumni and other SMU lovers. Who knows, we might discover a deeper and clearer identity that honors both the intent of SMU’s founders as well as the demands of a rapidly changing multifaith and multicultural world.

About the writer:

William K. McElvaney is a Professor Emeritus of preaching and worship of the Perkins School of Theology and an SMU alumnus.

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