Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Bush Presidential Library In the News Again

Many members of the faculty at Southern Methodist University are against plans to build the George W. Bush Presidential Library on their campus, reports today's issue of Inside Higher Education. The object of their opposition is not the library itself, but rather "a policy institute to be affiliated with it that would have as its mission promoting the Bush philosophy." This institute would have "an explicitly ideological identity" and would report to the "president's foundation instead of to the university"; this situation would run "counter to academic values," according to the critics. The university, predictably, argues that the library would have a great deal of scholarly value and bring long-term gains to the campus.

Enter "national groups of archivists and historians" who are attempting to expand the debate to the question of access to presidential papers. They argue that a presidential library that does not contain all the papers of a particular president is nothing more than "a museum of political propaganda." The reason for their concern is Executive Order 13233 signed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This executive order gives "presidents and former presidents much more control over their records" and extends "that right to a family member when a former presisdent dies"; in effect "the Bush order goes beyond the control asserted by any president since Nixon (whose efforts to control his papers led to various laws to promote access)."

According to Benjamin Hufbauer, an associate professor of art history at the University of Louisville and author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory, as long as the executive order stands, SMU has no justification for arguing that the Bush Library will be a great scholarly resource. Groups such as the Society of American Archivists and the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists are pushing SMU to reject the library unless Bush reverses the executive order. "Steven Aftergood, director of the [Project on Government Secrecy], said, 'I think the decision about where to locate the library has the potential to merge with a larger debate regarding Bush administration information policy.'" There is no indication that SMU will rethink its position on the presidential library, however.

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