Many of the students and faculty at Mrs President’s alma mater apparently aren’t too thrilled with the idea of having Hubby’s presidential library on campus. A small tempest has arisen, somewhat larger than a teapot but smaller than a breadbox, during which certain views were expressed and swirls of dust raised. I’ve read a couple of short articles (AP and Reuters), heard one radio report (PBS), and seen one tv segment (ABC) dealing with the alleged controversy, and they were all what you might call circumspect – short on detail and as gentle as a llama’s kiss.
The president, who I don’t have to tell you, THINKS BIG when it comes to himself and if money is involved, has raised – I can hardly bear to write the numbers – $$$500 Million $$$, the most money ever spent on a presidential library, to build it and – and – yet another neoconservative think tank. In all the news reports, the reason for the discomfort expressed by the dissenters was something along the lines of a fear that the school would be “overshadowed” by the Bush “policy institute”.
Putting aside for the moment the hilariously ironic concept of building a library in honor of a man who not only doesn’t read books but actively scorns their usefulness and announces it publicly, why would the faculty at Southern Methodist University take umbrage at having a Kennedy School of Government-like “policy intitute” on their front door step? Wouldn’t it be a boon? Wouldn’t it attract attention and students and prestige to a school that could use all three? What could there be to object to?
One reason given in the news stories was that it was going to be BIG – BIG BIG BIG, so big that it will dwarf the university itself. Physically. All alone, it will span more than 100 acres (the exact size is being kept secret), which is a problem since many of the acres in question are already occupied by a large condominium and dozens of private homes which would have to be taken by eminent domain. (Um, Republicans are against the seizure of private property by the government, aren’t they?)
Another was the issue of interference in the normal business of educating students. To have a busy, (no doubt) world-renowned center of conservative thinking and (let’s not forget) training ground of the next generation of neoconservatives to carry on the Mission, it was said, might detract from the school’s natural focus. You know – education?
What the reports I saw never said was that nobody (except the potential evictees) really objected to a library or a policy institute. They were objecting – in Texas, mind you – specifically to the fact that it was to be Bush’s library and institute. A sample of concerns raised at a recent meeting with SMU President R Gerald Turner:
- The institute will conduct research on issues that will be determined by Bush.
- Many of the questioners wondered whether such a powerful institution on campus will influence the type of research that can be conducted by SMU faculty and whether it will have an impact on the university’s reputation.
- “We’re worried about a group of people on campus with a lot of money and a lot of power who aren’t concerned for our values as an academy,” Dennis Foster, a professor of English and a faculty senate member said.
Aren’t “concerned”? This is a group of people who sneer at such things. Your “values as an academy”, indeed. Ivory-tower rubbish. And again, from an earlier meeting:
- [F]aculty members, complaining of being bypassed, are raising sharp questions about the school’s identification with his presidency.
- About 150 of the university’s 600 faculty members attended the meeting, voicing a range of concerns, particularly on whether the school’s academic freedom and political independence might appear compromised by an association with not only the Bush library but also a museum that would accompany it.
- “There’s been a lack of transparency from the beginning,” said Tony Pederson of the journalism faculty.
Sounds like W.
In fact, the whole dust-up began with a letter printed on the op-ed page of the student newspaper.
“Asset or albatross?” asked William McElvaney, a retired professor at SMU’s theology school, while last week a letter from staff said Bush associates wanted to “spread the gospel of a presidency that now gets poor marks.”
The letter adds: “The ‘poor marks’ come from those Americans who question the wisdom of certain attitudes and actions of President Bush during his term in office. Among things they’ve so named: erosion of habeas corpus, denial of global warming, disrespect of international treaties, alienation of long-time U.S. allies, environmental predation, disregard for rights of gay persons, a pre-emptive war based on false premises, and other perceived forms of disrespect for the created order and global community.”
Golly, why would a university object to stuff like that?
Then a bunch of Methodist ministers had to throw in their 2 cents’ worth by getting up some petition thing.
The petition, on a newly created Web site, http://www.protectsmu.orgexternal link, says that “as United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate.”
“Methodists have a long history of social conscience, so questions about the conduct of this president are very concerning,” said one of the petition’s organizers, the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver of New York, who graduated from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology.
Nosy Parkers. Who asked them?
Meanwhile, the NY Sun takes note of those potential evictees I mentioned. They’re suing. Why? Because, in the best tradition of the Bush Family (think “Texas Rangers Stadium”), “the school has improperly seized local homes in order to secure land for the proposed library site”.
Amid increasing outrage among Republicans over the use of eminent domain and other coercive measures to obtain private property for public projects, a case in Dallas County’s 134th Civil District Court, which is set to begin on Tuesday, will determine whether the university violated its legal obligations to local homeowners in an effort to secure the land currently occupied by the University Gardens condominium complex, a potential library site.”They’re taking my home,” said Gary Vodicka, one of the litigants and a University Gardens owner and resident, yesterday.
Mr. Vodicka’s lawsuit, filed in the fall, seeks to prevent the university, which officially bought the property in mid-December but issued vacate notices last spring, from destroying the condominiums by declaring the university’s actions in obtaining the property to be illegal.
According to Mr. Vodicka, who is also a Dallas-based litigation attorney, SMU has progressively stacked the board of University Gardens with university employees since around four years ago, and the board has since failed to perform maintenance on the complex. At the same time, the school has been purchasing units in University Gardens, and according to an SMU “fact sheet” about the land deal, the school owned 93% of the complex’s 347 units when “SMU moved that the property be declared obsolete and put up for sale.”
Mr. Vodicka said the board’s failure to maintain the complex was part of a comprehensive tactic used by SMU to drive owners out of University Gardens. The school has used the building for student housing and, Mr. Vodicka said, told tenants their property values would go down owing to the increased noise, greater traffic, and greater exposure to crime and vandalism that would likely result from student use – even as Mr. Vodicka says condos have been purchased by SMU for progressively higher per-square-foot prices.
Ultimately, SMU commissioned a study saying the cost of performing necessary upgrades to the complex would be $12 million, an expense that obliterated justifications for the condominiums’ continued existence.
The lawsuit alleges that these tactics, as well as an alleged violation of the Univeristy Gardens bylaws in order to put the complex up for sale, mean the land deal was illegitimate and that a jury should recognize the remaining independent owners’ rights to keep their homes.
“To acquire the land to build the Bush Library they have breached numerous legal obligations, they’ve intimidated, misrepresented things, kicked old people out of their homes,” said Mr. Vodicka, who owns four units in the complex. “It’s amazing to see how ruthless a Christian university can be.”
It all sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? What a perfect illustration of Bushian tactics – and an equally perfect illustration of the anger and even disgust experienced by anybody who runs afoul of them.
The Bush Library (possibly the first library in the world to have no books) and Policy Institute for the Training of Junior League Neoconservative Attack Dogs is going to be built, and it is going to be built at SMU, no matter what it costs, who gets hurt, or what it does to the university’s reputation.
And so it goes.