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

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Why the Bush Library is a place of learning for students, faculty alike

In speaking of one of the greatest gifts ever given to SMU, chair of the SMU Board of Trustees Carl Sewell had this to say: “At SMU, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will be associated with a university that is on the rise. With this added benefit to an SMU education, we will attract additional outstanding students and faculty. Securing this library represents an important step forward in academic achievement for SMU and for our service to Dallas and the nation.”

I agree completely with Mr. Sewell, in that I recognize that the George W. Bush Library, Museum and Policy Institute will offer unparalleled opportunities to the students, faculty, administrators and scholars of this campus. Yet, despite the generosity of such a gift, I have heard a great deal of criticism against the decision to acquire the library.

A formal petition signed by dozens of members of the SMU faculty contends, “A partisan think tank located at any school, college, or university is contradictory to education as approached within a free and democratic society. The precedent set by it would put the values of open inquiry and academic freedom at risk not only for SMU but also for all academic institutions.”

I found the spirit of this statement ultimately misguided, and I attribute its contradictory nature to the lack of a single signatory from the political science department who could clarify the petitioners the definition of the words they use so loosely: “a free and democratic society.”

The signatories speak of academic freedom, yet the liberty that they compel so fervently is a freedom from choice, not a freedom of choice. Universities are a battleground in which ideas are meant to CLASH, not a vacuum in which they are absent. Do we not seek diversity and a variety of studies in close proximity, so that we might gain insight into our own problems from another perspective?

The Bush Institute may be partisan, but I disagree wholeheartedly that its promotion to a defined set of principles is inherently threatening to a place of learning. Universities promote the creation of ideas so that students might be allowed to hear them and then think for themselves. Has the faculty truly assumed the presumptuous position of censor in order to protect us impressionable and weak-minded students from the whirlwind of ideas in the real world?

If they desire this position, then let them also bar shut the doors of Perkins Chapel to protect students from the influence of the church, and let them burn books by those authors they deem “harmful.” When did it become the faculty’s duty, or even their right, to decide what ideas are presented to the student body?

Some students also express their disapproval of the institution. Many students claim that the George W. Bush Presidential Center and the regular visits by the former president are an unnecessary nuisance to college life. An article published in this very paper earlier this year entitled “Trying to Learn Amidst the Bush Disruption” explained that, to a simple freshman who is trying to maintain a “typical college life,” visits from this “celebrity” were a distraction and ultimately harmful.

This line of thinking has a great deal of support. After all, I’m sure students from UCLA, toiling away in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, were pretty annoyed when they had to stop working on their papers to make room for the 2008 Republican primary debates. I’m amazed that students at UMKC didn’t protest when their study time at the Truman Library was interrupted by a visit and speech by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

What the author of this article fails to recognize is that visits from people like these and the opportunity to hear them speak, while not part of “typical college life,” is an educational experience many students would kill for.

The other primary argument that I’ve heard from students is that the establishment of the Bush Center will only further perpetuate the conservative stereotype of SMU. I understand their logic. Furthermore, I would advocate on these students’ behalf that we simply become Southern University, that we might not suggest religious bias. Moreover, let us strike “Southern” from our name so that we do not appear to be regional in any way.

Would any of you, liberal or conservative, pass up acceptance from Stanford University because of the presence of the Herbert Hoover Institution? After all, he was extremely unpopular in his day. But as journalist Lee Cullum points out, there will be as little thought of Bush’s mistakes 75 years from now as there is today of Hoover’s.

Alex Ehmke is a sophomore economics, public policy and political science triple major. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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