|Bush library opponents question process for approval|
The George W. Bush Foundation wants to build the Bush
presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in
Dallas. Opponents say a United Methodist jurisdictional conference must
approve the lease first. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist
By J. Richard Peck*
Feb. 1, 2008 | DALLAS (UMNS)
Officials of Southern Methodist University say they have approval to
give the George W. Bush Foundation a 99-year lease to build a
presidential library, museum and policy institute on school property.
The lease is renewable up to 249 years.
Bishop Scott Jones
However, United Methodists who oppose building the library and
institute here argue that only the church's South Central Jurisdictional
Conference can give final approval for the lease. The jurisdictional
conference, which meets once every four years, is scheduled to
meet this July in Dallas.
University officials and 10 bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction
say jurisdictional rules permit its Mission Council, which is the
executive committee of the jurisdictional conference, to make decisions
between sessions. In a closed executive session last March, the Mission
Council voted 10-4, with one abstention, to allow SMU to lease to the
foundation up to 36 acres on the southeast side of campus.
The opposing opinions suggest that the project's future may depend on interpretation of church law.
The library and museum would be
administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. The
policy institute––over which the school would have no control––would be
run by an independent board. The project is to be financed with a
private fund drive conducted by the George Bush Presidential Library
Foundation. Cost estimates hover around $500 million.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, are United Methodists, and the first lady is a 1968 graduate of SMU.
Opponents have questioned the appropriateness of linking the Bush
presidency with SMU, an 11,000-student school founded in 1911 by what is
now The United Methodist Church. Critics argue that many policies of
the Bush administration have been contrary to United Methodist teaching.
Proponents say the library would be an invaluable and prestigious
resource for scholarly research and would enhance SMU's educational
mission, as well as help the local economy.
Special session considered
The church's South Central Jurisdiction
includes 1.83 million United Methodists living in Arkansas, Louisiana,
Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.
"We, as bishops, considered convening a
special session of the jurisdictional conference. The proposal was
rejected because that is not the normal way we make decisions." –Bishop Scott Jones
The South Central College of Bishops considered convening a special
session of the jurisdictional conference over the matter, according to
Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones, the body's president. "The proposal was
rejected because that is not the normal way we make decisions," he told
United Methodist News Service.
Jones said that after the bishops considered the cost and time to
gather 290 delegates from eight states, they decided to follow "normal
procedures" that empower the Mission Council to make the decision.
Jurisdictional conference rules require the chairperson of the
Mission Council to submit a "written report of all actions taken by the
council" over the previous four years to the jurisdictional conference.
The South Central conference is scheduled to meet July16-19.
David Severe, secretary of the jurisdiction, said it is not clear
whether the library lease decision needs to be ratified by the
conference gathering or just reported to it. "It’s a matter of
interpretation," he said, "and I’m only the secretary."
Severe said it might be possible for one-third of the conference
members to seek a Judicial Council ruling (based on Paragraph 56.4 of
the Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of rules and
bylaws). If the nine-member council were to declare that the lease must
be ratified, and if no other action were taken by conference delegates,
the jurisdiction would have to hold a special session to consider the
Jones said the Judicial Council only could rule on whether the conference had violated the Book of Discipline––not on administrative matters within the jurisdiction.
The Bush Foundation asked SMU for evidence
of its authority to approve the lease, so the school asked the South
Central College of Bishops to explain the process to Bush attorneys.
Jones drafted a letter describing rules that empower the Mission Council
to make decisions between sessions of the jurisdictional conference.
During a Jan. 9 conference phone call, the letter was approved by 10 of
the active bishops with one abstention.
The letter was signed by Jones, a member of the SMU trustees, and
Arkansas Bishop Charles Crutchfield, secretary of the South Central
College of Bishops.
During the January conference call, some retired bishops said the
matter should be left to jurisdictional conference delegates. Retired
bishops have voice but no vote in meetings of the College of Bishops,
which are jurisdictional meetings, or the Council of Bishops, which are
"I think the bishops should have sought legal counsel before writing
the letter," said retired Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks in an interview with
UMNS. Hicks said it "is important that the delegates of the
jurisdictional conference be given the opportunity to approve the
actions of the Mission Council." He said a $500 million library would
dominate the SMU campus and would give it a new identity.
Differing points of view
Rev. Andrew Weaver
The Rev. Andrew Weaver, a research
psychologist in New York and a graduate of Perkins School of Theology on
the SMU campus, has led the effort against the proposed library to
honor President Bush. Weaver launched an online petition that has
collected the signatures of 28 bishops and more than 11,200 individuals.
"'Methodist’ is one of the most trusted 'brand names' in the world.
An association with SMU is an attempt by Bush to re-brand himself with
the good name of our church," Weaver said. "Unfortunately, what Bush
will do is re-brand our trusted name and damage our ability to proclaim
Christ to the world."
"The placement of the George W. Bush library and the establishment of
an institute to promote the policies of this president at SMU would be a
tragedy," said retired Bishop William Boyd Grove of Charleston, W.Va.
"The policies of the Bush administration are in direct conflict with the
Social Principles of The United Methodist Church on issues of war and
peace, civil liberties and human rights, care for the environment, and
Schubert M. Ogden, SMU professor emeritus, said establishing a
"partisan think tank will unquestionably damage the integrity and the
reputation of SMU. … Delegates to the South Central Jurisdiction should
in no way be deprived of their legal right to vote."
SMU President R. Gerald Turner sent an e-mail to students and faculty
saying that fears that the institute would become another Hoover
Institution—the right-leaning think tank at Stanford University—were
needless because the Bush institute would not be part of SMU.
Turner promoted the benefits to scholarship of being host to the Bush
center. "For SMU to be associated with the repository of historical
documents on a pivotal presidency and era in U.S. history would be a
service to the nation transcending political interests," he wrote.
"Universities, like the scholars they nurture, must take the long view
in assessing their potential for impact."
Marvin P. Bush, a brother of the president, and Donald J. Evans, a
foundation official, said, "Part of (the institute’s) mission will be to
further the domestic and international goals of the Bush
administration," including "compassionate conservatism" and "defeating
Questions of control
"(It) is important that the delegates of
the jurisdictional conference be given the opportunity to approve the
actions of the Mission Council." –Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks
The fact that the library and the institute would not be controlled
by the university did not comfort faculty members opposing the library,
Alexis McCrossen, a professor of history, reviewed policies of the 12
presidential libraries. All of them are administered and run by the
National Archives and Records Administration. "What they share in common
is university oversight and non-partisan or bi-partisan agendas," said
McCrossen. "These standards ensure 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."
McCrossen noted that one other United Methodist school––Emory
University in Atlanta––currently oversees a presidential policy center.
In 1982, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn
Carter established the Carter Center in cooperation with Emory. Although
not located on the Emory campus, the school appoints half of the Carter
Center trustees, and Emory’s human relations department oversees all of
the Carter Center hiring. Emory is owned by the Southeastern
Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church.
*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference and serves as a free-lance journalist in Nashville.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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