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Bishop rules request for SMU library decision 'moot'

Plans to build the George W. Bush presidential library complex on the campus of Southern Methodist University have taken another step forward with a decision of law by United Methodist Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. on questions related to the lease agreement. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Sept. 12, 2008

A United Methodist bishop has ruled that a request for a decision of law about Southern Methodist University's right to lease campus property to the Bush Foundation is "improper, moot and hypothetical."

Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr

Oklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. rendered the decision after examining actions of the church's South Central Jurisdictional Conference in favor of the private Dallas school's lease agreement for the President George W. Bush Presidential Center. The jurisdiction owns SMU, and the school’s bylaws require the church to approve the sale or lease of campus land.

Conference delegates voted 158-118 on July 17 to affirm the lease for the Bush presidential library, museum and policy institute. The jurisdiction's executive committee, called the mission council, initially gave the green light to the lease in March 2007, and school officials approved the agreement last February. The lease charges the Bush Foundation $1,000 for 99 years, renewable for up to 250 years.

Hayes, who presided during the jurisdictional vote, was asked by the Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie, director of the Mexican-American program at SMU's Perkins School of Theology, for a decision of law on the lease.

Specifically, Trevino-Teddlie asked: "Is the approval of the lease of property of Southern Methodist University by the South Central Jurisdiction and Southern Methodist University, at less than market value, to the Bush Foundation for the purpose of establishing a policy institute, in conflict with the articles of incorporation of Southern Methodist University, the rules of the South Central Jurisdiction and/or The Book of Discipline, specifically (Paragraph) 2503.4, which requires all United Methodist property to be ‘kept, maintained … for the benefit of The United Methodist Church and subject to the usages and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church' and said lease would subsidize a specific political and ideological point of view?"

In his Aug. 12 ruling that was recently obtained by United Methodist News Service, Hayes said the first portion of Trevino-Teddlie's request goes beyond church law and involves secular, corporate and real estate law. "I do not believe I have before me a proper request for a ruling on church law," he wrote.

Decision to be reviewed

Decisions of law from bishops are automatically reviewed by the United Methodist Judicial Council, the church's supreme court, and Hayes has forwarded his ruling to that body for its decision. However, as of Sept. 12, the issue had not been placed on the council's docket for this October. After that, the Judicial Council is scheduled to meet again in the spring of 2009.

Trevino-Teddlie said she was disappointed but not surprised by Hayes' ruling. She noted that most of the jurisdiction's bishops had supported the actions of the mission council, which in a closed executive session voted 10-4, with one abstention, in favor of the lease.

" It did not surprise me that Bishop Hayes would rule the way he did," she said. "I look forward to the Judicial Council reviewing the decision."

“The request for a decision of law is posed in a manner that asks if things were done correctly. And they were. Everything was in order.”
–Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
Officials at SMU were pleased with Hayes' decision.

Since "we followed established procedures in obtaining permission of the mission council to lease the land in question, we obviously concur with the bishop's decision," said Brad Cheves, the school's vice president for development and external affairs.

The library proposal has been debated since SMU was placed on the Bush Foundation's short list of potential sites in December of 2006. Critics have questioned the appropriateness of linking the Bush presidency with the 11,000-student, United Methodist-founded school. They argue that many policies of the Bush administration, particularly the war in Iraq, are contrary to United Methodist teaching.

Library opponents have argued that the mission council did not follow church procedure and that the matter should have gone before the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, which meets once every four years.

Extensively debated

In a Sept. 11 interview with UMNS, Hayes said the substance of Trevino-Teddlie's request was not a question that would hinder the continuation of the Bush library project. "It was a question on whether SMU had the right to use it the way they did," he said. "It was not a direct dispute but whether the approval was in conflict with the articles of incorporation of SMU."

The Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie

Hayes wrote that the request had been extensively debated by the jurisdictional conference, and that the vote affirming the lease "is in opposition to the position of the person submitting this request for a Decision of Law." He stated that the conference did not concur with other petitions on the SMU issue, including one referred by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body.

The bishop also ruled that the request for a decision of law was framed in a manner that suggests "matters of purported fact that seem to me to be hypothetical and speculative," he wrote.

"The request for a decision of law is posed in a manner that asks if things were done correctly," he told UMNS. "And they were. Everything was in order."

The jurisdictional conference vote affirmed that the regional mission council, which conducts business on behalf of the conference in between its sessions, was authorized to act on the lease.

Hayes said that his "decision of law was mindful and respectful to previous Judicial Council decisions regarding the right of trustees to have unlimited power in deposition of real property."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, e-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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