RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Some professors at Southern Methodist University in Dallas are speaking out. They are embroiled in a debate over a planned library for President George W. Bush. These professors don't want to be linked to the Bush presidency. They worry about a public policy think tank that will be at SMU, but independent of the university.
From member station KERA in Dallas, Catherine Cuellar reports.
(Soundbite of cafeteria noises)
CATHERINE CUELLAR: Southern Methodist University is home to 11,000 students. Among its alumni are First Lady Laura Bush. The Bushes also lived in the ritzy Park Cities neighborhood of Dallas where SMU is located. So when it came time to find a site for the George W. Bush presidential library, SMU was a natural. During lunch yesterday, students Thomas Phillips(ph) and Navela Chattery(ph) talked about the split on campus.
Mr. THOMAS PHILLIPS (Student, Southern Methodist University): Well, SMU has a great reputation to begin with, but you know, if we get the library, I think that will bring even more students in.
Ms. NAVELA CHATTERY (Student, Southern Methodist University): I think student-wise it's going to bring more people who are conservative. Faculty-wise, I would think more faculty would be hesitant to come to a university that's one-sided, if that's what eventually happens.
CUELLAR: The library would be privately funded. Early estimates range from $200 million up to a half billion dollars. While most agree it would raise the school's profile, they're concerned about the companion Bush Institute, a conservative think tank. It's been compared to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. But unlike Stanford, SMU would have no control over the institute. Rhonda Blair is SMU's Faculty Senate president.
Professor RHONDA BLAIR (President, Faculty Senate, Southern Methodist University): The faculty as a whole are most concerned that academic freedom in all of its forms be protected as much as possible, and supported as much as possible, which to my mind means respect for positions across the entire political spectrum.
CUELLAR: Liberal-leaning faculty have been the Bush Institute's most vocal opponents. Jim Hollifield, director of SMU's Tower Center for Political Studies, sees similarities to concerns in 1969 about President Lyndon Johnson's library and school.
Professor JIM HOLLIFIELD (Director, Tower Center for Political Studies, Southern Methodist University): Today these are among the most prominent institutions in higher education, and scholars from all over the country and all over the world trek to the University of Texas at Austin to study the Johnson presidency and the Johnson years.
CUELLAR: Hollifield also worked at Duke University in the 1980s when faculty fought the Nixon Presidential Library.
Prof. HOLLIFIELD: In the end, the university there decided not to take the papers, which I think was a mistake. Of course he was a very controversial political figure, and had Duke agreed to take those papers and build that library, scholars would be going to Duke.
CUELLAR: University officials say the library's opponents are a small and vocal minority within the faculty, but most professors who don't have tenure are leery of going on the record. For that reason, SMU professor emeritus and alumnus Bill McElvaney, a United Methodist minister, was one of the first to speak out against the Bush Library and Institute.
Professor BILL MCELVANEY (Southern Methodist University): Initiating a pre-emptive war against Iraq, the American public being misled, shock-and-awe bombing in order to establish a democracy - all that is very alien to United Methodist ethos.
CUELLAR: SMU is now nonsectarian, but the Reverend McElvaney and his colleagues want a nonpartisan, transparent dialogue about political, historical and moral issues relating to the presidential library and Bush Institute.
Prof. MCELVANEY: It's not that we don't see a big picture, we just see a different big picture, and the big picture we see is an ongoing presence of a Bush philosophy and institute which makes SMU a partisan school in certain ways.
CUELLAR: University President Gerald Turner will address some of those criticisms when he speaks to SMU faculty for the first time about the library this afternoon.
For NPR News, I'm Catherine Cuellar in Dallas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.