George W. Bush Library: Scholarly Archive or Ideological Center?

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Southern Methodist University has long been considered the front-runner in the competition to be the site of President Bush’s presidential library. Laura Bush is an alumna and trustee. Dick Cheney was a trustee before being elected vice president. And the university’s main challenge — a lack of space — may have been fixed this month when SMU won a court fight over its right to demolish a condo complex the university had purchased, in part to have land for the Bush project.

But now, as President Bush prepares to decide among SMU, Baylor University and the University of Dallas, a new issue has emerged. Professors at SMU are circulating an open letter calling for the university to have a full discussion of the implications of being host to the Bush library. Several recent press reports have quoted Bush advisers as saying that SMU has the edge and that the library’s affiliated think tank will encourage scholarship with a specific political agenda.

An article in the New York Daily News — much discussed on the SMU campus — quotes a “Bush insider” as saying that the center would hire conservative scholars and “give them money to write papers and books favorable to the president’s policies.” Other articles have said that the center will be designed to spread the president’s ideas about “compassionate conservatism.”

Faculty critics say that although many of them disagree with Preside nt Bush’s policies, they would not object to a library-oriented archive and museum — and they say that in discussions with professors, the university has discussed a vision for such a Bush center. But creating an academic center with a specific goal of boosting the Bush image and agenda strikes many professors as antithetical to a university’s academic values.

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