Faculty dominates Bush Library forum
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 16:11
Students, faculty and staff gathered in the Hughes-Trigg Commons Monday to participate in an open forum about the George W. Bush Library and Institute. The University Honors Program, the SMU Young Conservatives of Texas and the SMU Democrats sponsored the forum.
The forum was moderated by Political Science Professor Joseph Kobylka.
"The forum is not a debate or verbal jousting-it's a discussion within our university family designed to educate about the Bush triad - the museum, library and institute - and how educated people converse even when they differ," Kobylka said.
A panel of two professors and two students gave brief presentations of their views on the subject and responded to questions and comments posed by audience members.
Senior Christine Dougherty, who jumped at the chance to attend the forum and "finally have a say in what's going on with the Bush Library complex," thought the panelists and moderator Kobylka effectively presented "the various viewpoints so that the whole discussion was not one-sided."
"Professor Kobylka cut off one panelist when he detracted from the question, and told them when their three minutes were up, and I greatly respected Kobylka's dedication of staying on topic without resorting to personal passions . . . to ensure that no one panelist dominated the discussion," Dougherty said.
Perkins theology professor Valerie Karras and senior Kathryn Rowe presented arguments against the Bush Institute, while Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson and junior Andrew Hemming presented arguments in favor of the Bush Complex in its totality.
Hemming argued that the presence of the Bush Library and Institute would increase the academic reputation of the school, giving it "name recognition." Hemming began his presentation by reading the university's mission statement, which states, in part, that the university "is to be a leading private institution of higher learning that expands knowledge through research and teaching."
"The library would draw more scholars from around the country and the world, and they will increase the knowledge base of both the campus and the community," Hemming said.
While Hemming thinks that the Bush Complex fits with the mission statement of the school because of its potential to expand knowledge, Karras contended that the institute should not be allowed at SMU precisely because it is incongruent with another part of SMU's mission statement, which says that "the university is dedicated to the values of academic freedom and open inquiry and to its United Methodist heritage."
"For almost none of the faculty is this a political issue," Karras said. "It is a matter of how committed the university is to what it states in its mission. This is why you find broad support for the library and museum, which are open. By the same standards, the institute is incompatible with the mission of SMU or of any university."
Wilson began his presentation with a response to Karras.
"I'm glad to say that the debate has evolved, but some of the initial objections were political and were directed at the library as well as the institution," Wilson said. "It's useful to keep in mind that there are other grounds that may fuel objections of having the institution here. Clearly, what we envision of the institution is a policy institute that will focus on the issues of interest to President Bush."
Wilson believes that although the institute will certainly deal with issues of interest to President Bush, "it's not really safe to assume that it will be the monolithically conservative place" some are expecting it to be. He discussed the fact that there are liberals at conservative institutes such as the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, just as there are conservatives at some liberal institutes.
Rowe doesn't agree that the political bias of the institute will be so innocuous.
"It would be the same as SMU sanctioning these as the values and ideas that belong on this campus, and if these aren't your own values or ideas, then you don't belong on campus," Rowe said.
For all the discussion about the political bias of the proposed institute, the panelists generally agreed that ideology should not be a part of the debate regarding the Bush complex.
"Political bias shouldn't come into this debate," Rowe said. "It shouldn't be about whether Bush is a bad president. It shouldn't be about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It should be more about how it's going to affect the campus and the academic departments on campus."
Rowe, who is in favor of the library but not the institute, feels that the administration should be clearer about how they are making decisions about the Bush Library and Institute, and "should tell students how the complex is going to affect issues like tuition, housing or parking."
Hemming also agreed that political biases were not pertinent to the debate.
"If this was the FDR Library or the Clinton Library, I would be out there just as fast pulling bricks at University Gardens," Hemming said.
Another issue discussed at the forum was whether Bush's executive order, which allows for presidents or their heirs to refuse to release presidential papers for any reason, should be of concern.
Both Wilson and Karras agreed that this is unconstitutional and will most likely be ruled so by the Supreme Court. For this reason, Wilson believes that this executive order shouldn't be a deal-breaker for SMU's acceptance of the Bush Library and Institute.
"We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater," Wilson said.
Karras, on the other hand, believes that the order is "indicative of the secretiveness and lack of openness" of the Bush administration and proposed institute.
"There's no way for us to ensure that that institute acts in openness," Karras said.