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The fight over a presidential library

Editorial Observer: The George W. Bush Library: Scholarly Mecca or $500 Million Oxymoron?. Dorothy Samuels, New York Times, 1/28/07.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit in today’s NYT about Southern Methodist University (SMU) — where Laura Bush sits on the Board of Trustees — and their plan to host the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Policy Institute (similar to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University). There is growing concern within the SMU community that hosting Bush’s library is not in keeping with the university’s scholarly mission, governmental integrity and the rule of law.

On 1/12/07, 68 theologians, professors and other past and present faculty members, citing complaints about President Bush’s poor marks on civil liberties, the environment, gay rights and the war in Iraq, sent the university president a letter questioning whether visions of the library were “consistent with the school’s religious and academic values.” (“A Discordant Chorus Questions Visions for a Bush Library at Southern Methodist.” Ralph Blumenthal, NYT 1/14/07 Subscription required to access the archives).

Samuels, the NYT editorial observer, is calling on the SMU trustees (hopefully Laura will recuse herself!) to withhold the final OK unless two basic conditions are met:

  1. SMU should insist that Mr. Bush rescind Executive Order 13233, his 2001 directive that limits access to the records of former US Presidents.
  2. The trustees should insist on disclosure of contributions to the library complex.

I think Samuels has the right idea. Nobody wants Bush’s papers to end up in a black hole like the Nixon library, a private institute outside the NARA presidential library system where historians have struggled for years to gain access (see this article from the National Security Archives for more). Bush’s papers should be under the control of a university in order to assure the widest public access and analysis by scholars. But she’s also correct in calling for the university to set these conditions. What are the odds of Bush rescinding EO 13233?!

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