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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Let’s not allow politics to get the better of Bush Library discourse

Among the many gifts left us by the late Molly Ivins is this great truth: “You can’t ignore politics-no matter how much you’d like to.”

At the moment, I would like nothing better than to ignore politics – especially the politics involved in the decisions and debates around the Bush Library and Institute. And I was doing just that -ignoring it -when I came upon an opinion piece written by a colleague and friend in the theological school that contained inaccuracies. It did not reflect well on some of us at SMU and the United Methodist Church who make up the membership of the Mission Council that recently approved SMU’s request for the use of land for the Bush Library and Institute. I simply wanted to correct inaccuracies in this opinion piece and speak a word for those – including myself – whose integrity was questioned.

First, the author of this opinion piece reported that she found the Mission Council’s decision “incomprehensible” and then added the following: “Even more mystifying is the fact that the theology school dean and a professor of theological ethics spoke in favor of the Mission Council voting in a way that runs completely counter to SMU’s bylaws. But then, they spoke at the behest of President Turner.”

As the theological ethics professor in question, I simply wanted to clear up the record. I did not speak at the behest of President Turner and had not even talked with him about the Mission Council meeting until the meeting was actually underway. I volunteered several months ago to help in any way – particularly with United Methodist constituencies. As a United Methodist clergy person who is very active in the national and regional life of the United Methodist Church and who was aware of the upcoming Mission Council meeting, I wanted to be there. And, if President Turner had asked me to come to the meeting, I would never have said something I did not believe. Surely this is true as well for the dean of our theological school, who is also an active United Methodist clergy person. And surely, too, President Turner would never ask me, the dean, or any other member of our community to say something we did not believe.

Second, the author of the opinion piece compared the Mission Council’s decision to that of an irresponsible friend who would “hand over their car keys and car for the evening” to an “unlicensed driver.” She went on to question the “thoroughness” of the Mission Council’s “deliberations,” writing, “Either the good folks on the United Methodist Mission Council are quicker learners than I am, or else they have a direct pipeline to God, for they were able to hear the various sides of the issue and then deliberate behind closed doors for only 30 minutes before rendering their decision. Whew. Compare those 30 minutes to the extended Faculty Senate discussions and the series of two-hour faculty discussions with President Turner. “Gosh, it sure makes all of us seem slow, doesn’t it?”

The members of the Mission Council received many documents before the meeting – including what one member described as a large packet of documents from a group of people who opposed SMU’s recommendation. The members who spoke with me had read the documents, considered them carefully, and had talked to people on various sides of the various issues. Having worked with many of the members of the Mission Council, I can promise you that they took their job very seriously. These are the very last people you would expect to hand over keys to unlicensed drivers or fail to give sufficient attention to an important decision.

They walked into the room already having thought through many of the arguments. Once in the room, they listened carefully. Yes, as the author observed, their deliberations were much shorter than faculty discussions on the same issue. Honestly, it does not at all surprise me that a group of ordinary clergy and lay people would talk through an issue and come to an agreement many times faster than a similar group of ordinary faculty people. We like to argue about ideas – and then to keep arguing about them. This is what we do for fun. It is what we do for a living. It’s our vocation.

We can do better at our vocation. On reading SMU e-mails and opinion pieces over the last few weeks – including the one questioning my integrity and the integrity and commitment of colleagues, – I have noticed that the fight is not as clean now as it was even a few weeks ago, that the language is sharper, and the tone less civil. Arguments and disagreements are not bad for the community; indeed, they are at the heart of what we do. But we can argue hard and long without questioning the integrity or the commitment of those with whom we disagree. We can have a hard fight that is still a fair fight.

About the writer:

Rebekah Miles is an associate professor of ethics in the Perkins School of Theology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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