Southern Methodist University is almost assured the George W. Bush Presidential Library. This is a fantastic opportunity for the university. However, some who claim the mantle of liberalism are practicing extreme close-mindedness as they agitate to scuttle the project.
To be fair to liberals involved in the library debate, most haven’t engaged in third grade, ad hominem attacks. Most of the informed argument is about a think tank, part of the proposed library package. Indeed, the anti-library petition, started by Andrew Weaver and George Crawford, states: “the operation of the think tank will not be accountable to SMU or the United Methodist Church that owns the University.” (source) Read between the lines: “we don’t like dissenting thought if we can’t control it.”
The irony with Andrew Weaver is particularly rich. In a 2005 review of a book about the religious right, he slammed institutions where “debate and dissent are discouraged,” and he whined about tactics of “political hardball and takeover bid.” What else is he trying to do with this 11th hour, anti-library campaign but squelch even the possibility of a dissenting viewpoint? What else is this campaign besides “political hardball and [a] takeover bid” to hijack the will of SMU’s Board of Trustees? Andrew whines about others, then does what they do wrong with even greater fervor? According to an account of hardball tactics bordering on harassment, this isn’t Andrew’s first time at this.
Fortunately, the overall picture is looking good:
- People are not taking the anti-library petition seriously, and it isn’t commanding respect. Even a silly “impeach Bush” petition has far more signatures! “‘To reach the conclusion that this petition represents an overwhelming expression of concern would not be accurate,’ said Patti LaSalle, associate vice president for public affairs at SMU. ‘We’ve also received many letters from United Methodist members and leaders expressing favor for the presidential library.'” (source)
- Student support appears to be strong. No organized, student-based opposition has taken off, and the Student Senate fully endorsed the entire package.
- There is no sign of any Trustee dissent. To wit, Rev. Mark Craig, an SMU trustee and Senior Pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church, said that the library opponents are “a fringe group, a marginal group without any standing other than the fact they happen to be one of 8 million United Methodists[.]” (source)
- Faculty opposition is going nowhere, does not appear to represent anywhere near a majority of the faculty, and is even being viewed by some as an untimely, 11th hour revolt. The only credible movement within the Faculty Senate is to oppose an executive order established early in the Bush presidency. Indeed, the entire SMU History Department, which includes library supporters, is concerned about this order.
- There is no credible movement to separate the think tank from the rest of the package. SMU President Gerald Turner has made it clear that “the library complex is an all or nothing venture.” (source)
- Many faculty members have clearly stated their support of the library:
- Individual political views shouldn’t influence Library, James K. Hopkins (Chair of SMU History Department) and Dennis Ippolito (Chair of SMU Political Science Department)
- Faculty should welcome debate with conservatives, David J. Weber (Dedman Professor of History & Director, Clements Center for Southwest Studies)
- The Biggest Man on Campus, James F. Hollifield (professor of political science and the director of the Tower Center for Political Studies)
- Letter to the Editor, Eugene Herrin (Shuler-Foscue Professor of Geological Sciences)
- Passionate debate shows SMU’s good side, Barbara Kincaid (senior lecturer in Business Law)
- Let’s not forget the importance of Religion, William J. Abraham (Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies and an Althshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor in Perkins School of Theology)
- Even Bush opponents can gain from library, Rebekah Miles (Associate Professor of Ethics, Perkins School of Theology and avowed Democrat)
- There is introspection on prior opportunities SMU frittered away, including losing what eventually became University of Texas at Dallas because of prior objections to conservative views.
- The last recalcitrant, lawsuit-happy tenants of the University Gardens complex, where the library might be built, has been evicted. While his case is technically on appeal, it is unlikely to go anywhere now because SMU’s ownership of the property is clear.
As a lifelong, active United Methodist and an alumnus of SMU three times over, I am thrilled that SMU has been selected to receive the Bush library. I strongly support this, and I am glad that the opposition has had little effect on the debate.