|SMU, Bush Foundation approve presidential library |
Trustees of Southern Methodist University in Dallas have
approved a resolution to bring the George W. Bush Presidential Library
to the campus. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.
A UMNS Report
By Marta W. Aldrich
Feb. 22, 2008
Thanking U.S. President George W. Bush for entrusting Southern
Methodist University with an important national resource, the school's
board of trustees unanimously approved an agreement to locate the Bush
presidential library, museum and policy institute on the Dallas campus.
The Feb. 22 vote came hours after an official announcement that the Bush
Presidential Library Foundation had chosen the United Methodist-related
school as home of the planned facility. The school had been in
exclusive negotiations with the foundation for more than a year.
"It’s a great honor for SMU to be chosen as the site of this tremendous
resource for historical research, dialogue and public programs," said
SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "… We thank President Bush for
entrusting this important long-term resource to our community, and for
the opportunity for SMU to serve the nation in this special way."
R. Gerald Turner
In a letter to Turner, Bush expressed his happiness with the SMU choice
and echoed President Franklin D. Roosevelt's comments that presidential
libraries can be used by the public to "learn from the past" and "gain
in judgment in creating their own future."
"I look forward to the day when both the general public and scholars
come and explore the important and challenging issues our nation has
faced during my presidency––from economic and homeland security to
fighting terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy," Bush wrote.
'This fight is not over'
Opponents of the Bush library campaign for SMU quickly responded by vowing to fight the school's lease agreement in court.
"This fight is not over," said the Rev. Andrew Weaver, a United
Methodist pastor and SMU alumnus who has led a petition against the
library plan. "SMU has signed something that is totally out of bounds,
and it's only a matter of going to court with them. It will be David vs.
Goliath, but David won the first time."
Critics have questioned the appropriateness of linking the Bush
presidency with the private, 11,000-student school founded in 1911 by
what is now The United Methodist Church. They argue that many policies
of the Bush administration, particularly the war in Iraq, are contrary
to United Methodist teaching.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation and
Southern Methodist University have been in exclusive negotiations since
2006. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.
Weaver and some church leaders have questioned the process through which
the school has obtained approval from the church's South Central
Jurisdiction for the 99-year lease on the library property.
In a closed executive session last March, the jurisdiction's 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 Mission
Council is the executive committee of the jurisdictional conference,
which meets once every four years and is scheduled to meet this July in
Weaver argues that only the full jurisdictional conference can give final approval for the lease.
"SMU is owned lock, stock and barrel by the church's South Central
Jurisdiction. No one can sign a lease without their permission," Weaver
told United Methodist News Service. "Cutting the delegates out of the
vote over their own property is not going to stand in the church law
and, more important, the lawyers tell us it will never stand in civil
Weaver said the decision by school administrators to sign the lease five
months before the jurisdictional conference meeting indicates "they are
really concerned by the outcome of the vote."
However, Bishop Scott Jones, president of the jurisdiction's College of
Bishops, said the Mission Council was the proper body to vote on the
matter in between jurisdictional meetings.
Bishop Scott Jones
"There is precedence for this, and the Mission Council has the
authority," said Jones, an SMU trustee and former professor at SMU's
Perkins School of Theology. "The Mission Council must report its actions
to the jurisdictional conference, and I'm sure there will be
conversation at that time. But SMU has the authority to enter this
agreement regarding the lease, and they have executed that agreement."
An academic asset
Jones called the agreement "a great step forward for SMU."
"For scholars who want to talk about the 20th century and conflict in
the Middle East, hunger in Africa, and other important aspects of our
country's history during this time, the Bush presidential library is a
huge academic asset," said Jones.
Throughout much of Bush's two presidential terms, SMU has lobbied to
serve as host for the presidential center. Bush and his wife, Laura, are
both United Methodists, and the first lady is a graduate of SMU and a
member of its board of trustees.
Foundation officials said SMU was chosen because of its academic
reputation, its Dallas location, SMU's willingness to lease the land for
the project and the "strong support of the university's leaders, alumni
They said they expect to break ground on the complex in 2009 and
complete construction within five years. Cost estimates have ranged from
$200 million to $500 million, and fundraising will be conducted by the
foundation in collaboration with SMU.
The presidential center will consist of the presidential library that
contains documents and artifacts of the Bush administration; a museum
with permanent and traveling exhibits; and a public policy institute.
The library and museum will be operated by the National Archives and
Critics have expressed concern that SMU would have no control over the
Bush institute, a partisan think tank that would further his
SMU officials said the institute will be governed by a board of
directors of from three to nine members, elected annually. If that board
has five or fewer members, SMU will appoint one member; if more than
five, SMU will appoint two members.
"I'm confident that the proper steps have been taken by SMU to guarantee
academic freedom and a proper relationship between SMU and the Bush
Foundation," said Jones. "I am fully confident that this is in SMU's
A friendly crowd of about 200 people attended the school's news
conference at Hughes-Trigg Student Center on the SMU campus after school
and foundation officials signed the agreement.
"This is a big deal, a very big deal," said Don Evans, chairman of the foundation, in a Dallas Morning News story. "We are at a defining moment in our history."
The Rev. William McElvaney
The Rev. William McElvaney, a professor emeritus at SMU's Perkins School
of Theology, attended the news conference and told UMNS later that the
planned policy institute "constitutes a major change of direction of
SMU's previously nonpartisan educational history and practice."
He also lamented the process by which the school reached its agreement
with the foundation. "There was a lack of transparency characterizing
the university's process from the inception of seeking the Bush legacy
to be on our campus," he said.
Dallas business leader Carl Sewell, who leads the SMU trustees board,
said the presidential center will add benefit to an SMU education and
attract outstanding students and faculty to the Dallas campus. "Securing
this library represents an important step forward in academic
achievement for SMU and for our service to Dallas and the nation."
*Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction