The Secret History

Should SMU have reservations about proceeding with the Bush presidential library? Yes—but not for the reason most of its critics have cited.

AT THE SAME TIME THAT a discussion of George W. Bush’s legacy is taking place in our pages (see “ The Test of Time,”), a parallel conversation has Dallas and the rest of the country buzzing. The likelihood that the Bush presidential library, along with a museum and a think tank, will be located on the campus of Southern Methodist University has drawn students and faculty alike into heated debate over whether the project is, to quote its critics, “an asset or an albatross.”

The controversy began last November, when two professors at the Perkins School of Theology published a piece in the Daily Campus that questioned whether SMU’s leadership should weigh the record of the Bush administration in considering whether to bid for the library. “What does it mean ethically for SMU to say a war violating international law makes no difference?” wrote William K. McElvaney, professor emeritus of preaching and worship, and Susanne Johnson, associate professor of Christian education. “What moral justification supports SMU’s providing a haven for a legacy of environmental predation and denial of global warming, shameful exploitation of gay rights and the most critical erosion of habeas corpus in memory?”

A month later, Texas Monthly was leaked a draft of a letter originating at the Perkins School in which administrators, faculty, and staff urged SMU president R. Gerald Turner and the university’s board of trustees to reject the library on moral grounds. Many of the arguments for rejection were those mentioned in McElvaney and Johnson’s article in the Daily Campus. I posted a short commentary about the letter on my blog, burkablog.com, expressing my opinion that the decision was an academic issue, not a

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