In response to my item on the ongoing George W. Bush presidential library controversy at SMU, which is now focused solely on the proposed Bush Institute, Suzanne Johnson, associate professor of Christian education at the Perkins School of Theology, posted a comment that I think will interest and enlighten readers. Professor Johnson writes: Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the policies of President Bush is totally beside the point in the controversy at SMU. While many people are unhappy with prospective plans to build a George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the SMU campus (since it might appear to endorse and enshrine his legacy), that issue is also beside the point. The real issue at stake in this matter is the fact that it is so utterly inappropriate for George Bush to demand that Southern Methodist University agree to dovetail a politically partisan policy center into the presidential library and museum. Not only is this an assault on freedom of academic inquiry (the center will be devoted to “polishing” the GWB legacy), such a center is EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED by SMU’s own Articles of Incorporation which stipulate that church-owned land can be leased for religious and educational purposes only. President Gerald Turner insisted to his administration and faculty that refusing the partisan center while accepting the library/museum would be a “deal-breaker” with the Bush Foundation, that the proposal is “all or nothing” and therefore it is okay for the school to ignore and violate (and disrespect) its own by-laws. What kind of “curriculum” does this constitute for SMU’s impressionable young people? I’m tired of the jokes about how many books the library will contain (one copy of My Pet Goat); the library/museum is not the crux of the problem. The real problem is with the inappropriateness of a politically partisan policy center on the campus of a university in a free, democratic society; the real problem is with a university administration being willing to tramp over its own rules of governance; the real problem is with a university that strong-arms church leaders into making decisions that are inappropriate to SMU’s by-laws as well as inconsistent with its academic mission. The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is the governing body which has the final say-so on this matter when it convenes in July. Why, then, did SMU move ahead with sealing-the-deal, signing a contract, and holding a press conference? In this, SMU thumbed its nose at the grassroots church, preempted the power and prerogative of lay people, and “stole” from them their right to vote and to decide on this matter. This was a psychological trump card on ordinary grassroots people, and an assault on their dignity. (When the public party has already been held, when legal contracts are already signed–-will the average, ordinary lay person be willing to reverse these actions? Probably not.) Again I ask, what curriculum is thereby being taught to SMU’s impressionable young people? There are profound issues at stake here; let’s keep them at the heart of the discussion. Note: Professor Johnson was named one of two “SMU Persons of the Year” by the student newspaper, The Daily Campus. Further comments appear on her blog, www.smirkingchimp.com.
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