While presidential libraries are usually seen as a coup for any university, bringing with them prestige and tourists, the Bush library has provoked anger among academics and religious leaders.
A number of academics at SMU and elsewhere in the US believe the war on Iraq and the president’s views on issues such as gay rights and torture made the university an unsuitable location.
Alarm has also been expressed over the independent institute that will fund research promoting Bush’s ideas and vision. Academics have also said that an executive order, signed by Bush, which gives presidents and their families more control over presidential papers, could result in material being censored.
Benjamin Hufbauer, an associate professor of art history at the University of Louisville, said the agreement at SMU was “totally different” to that of other universities hosting presidential libraries, reports the Inside Higher Ed website.
“Academics everywhere should be concerned about this. Clearly this goes against the idea of dispassionate inquiry, of looking at things on the basis of fact and merit. If it’s ideological, that’s opposed to the mission of a university,” Hufbauer said.
The Rev William McElvaney, a professor emeritus of preaching and worship at SMU’s theology school, added: “As long as that executive order is in place, it’s really a censored library. What self-respecting university would accept a censored library?”
The religious thinktank Ekklesia said some Christians believed Bush’s views were against church teachings, and reported that those opposed to the library would continue their fight in court.
The Rev Andrew J Weaver, a united Methodist pastor and SMU alumnus who has led a petition against the library plan, said: “SMU has signed something that is totally out of bounds, and it’s only a matter of going to court with them. It will be David vs Goliath, but David won the first time.”
Announcing the decision on Friday to house the centre at SMU, which counts the first lady Laura Bush among its alumni, the university’s president, R Gerald Turner, said it was a “great honour to be chosen as the site of this tremendous resource for historical research, dialogue and public programmes”.
The library will contain documents and artefacts from the Bush administration, while the museum will house permanent and travelling exhibitions. Both will be operated by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The institute will be run by the George W Bush Presidential Library Foundation. It will have its own board and at least one seat will be allocated to the university. Joint programmes may be run between SMU and the institute.
In a letter to the university, Bush said: “I look forward to the day when both the general public and scholars come and explore the important and challenging issues our nation has faced during my presidency – from economic and homeland security to fighting terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy.”
It must be such an honour for the Southern Methodist University in Dallas.