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 “Fantastic Failure Institute” will undermine SMU

Elected delegates of the United Methodist Church will meet in Dallas in July and will be asked by SMU to give final approval to the use of university land for the proposed Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Institute. The 290 delegates represent the 1.83 million United Methodists living in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Louisiana who founded in 1911 and own SMU – “lock, stock and barrel.” Should a majority of them vote to allow SMU to use the land to build the partisan Bush institute, it will be a lamentable precedent in higher education.

While the wisdom of establishing a library and museum may be debatable, establishing an autonomous, partisan think tank will unquestionably damage the academic reputation of a quality university. The partisan mission and independent structure of the proposed institute, which has been obscured in the debate, is a bona fide threat to the academic integrity of SMU.

How do we know the shape the institute will take? According to a Bush Foundation document signed by the president’s brother, Marvin Bush, the institute’s mission is “to further the Bush Administration’s domestic and international goals,” which precisely defines partisanship. Further highlighting its partisan nature is the likely appointment of republican mastermind Karl Rove to “take charge…of the design, fundraising, and planning” for the institute, according to U.S. News and World Report.

SMU President R. Gerald Turner admits that the Bush institute will engage in partisan hiring procedures and staffing. He explained to the SMU faculty that “the institute will want to hire independently its fellows to address its areas of focus…. [T]his approach would fall outside of university practices and standards.” One can only imagine what this might bring to campus: How about Scooter Libby as distinguished fellow in political ethics?

SMU History Professor Alexis McCrossen, who has researched the topic and gave a comprehensive report to the SMU faculty, wrote in 2007:

“There are 12 presidential libraries, all of which are administered and run by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Only three of them are associated with universities: the LBJ Library and Museum (University of Texas), the Gerald Ford Library (University of Michigan), and the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum (Texas A & M). None have associated institutes, although public policy schools are attached to the two presidential libraries in Texas.”

Schools of public policy at Harvard and the University of Arkansas were established when the presidential libraries of JFK and Bill Clinton were established nearby (though not in affiliation with the universities). The explicitly non-partisan Carter Center is under the oversight of Emory University, although not located on the campus. Emory’s trustees appoint half of the Carter Center’s trustees and the university human relations department oversees all of the Carter Center’s hiring.

The four public policy schools are under the complete oversight of their respective universities. The schools report to the university president and trustees, all follow university personnel procedures, and each is pledged to the same goals as its host institution.

Although the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has been presented as similar to the proposed “Freedom Institute,” it is a misleading analogy. First, the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum are not at Stanford, but in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Second, while the Hoover Institution has a reputation for sponsoring scholars with conservative agendas, its directors insist that it is a nonpartisan think tank. Most importantly, the Hoover Institution is owned by Stanford and reports directly to the president of the university.

A more accurate comparison for the anticipated Bush Institute is the project that was proposed to Harvard in 1963-1964 in relation to its bid for the presidential library of John F. Kennedy. In the emotional aftermath of the assassination, the Kennedy circle of friends proposed to Harvard a partisan institute that would be “a memorial to President Kennedy.” It would have been administered by its own board, independent of oversight by either Harvard or NARA. Harvard rejected the proposal, but did build the JFK School of Government, which houses the bipartisan “Institute of Politics” (IOP). The IOP reports to the Kennedy School’s dean, who in turn reports to the president and Board of Overseers of the university.

There are various political institutes on U.S. campuses. What they share in common is university oversight and nonpartisan or bipartisan agendas. These standards insure academic freedom and the unfettered pursuit of truth. If the SMU trustees establish an autonomous, partisan Bush Institute on campus, it will undermine the university’s reputation and good-standing in the academy.

In part, as a response to this concern, 28 bishops and 11,200 plus individuals, mostly representing United Methodist laity and clergy, SMU alumni, faculty and people with strong university connections, have signed a Petition of Protest that you can review and sign at

About the writer:

Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D. is a United Methodist pastor and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology.

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