Late last year, the New York Daily News reported that "Bush sources with direct knowledge of library plans" said that "Bush fund-raisers hope to get half of the half billion [needed to build the project] from what they call 'megadonations' of $10 - 20 million a pop."
While presidential libraries are run by the National Archives and Records Administration, the cost of building the project must come from private donations.
For example, contributors to President George H.W. Bush's library -- located on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station -- included a sheik from the United Arab Emirates, who contributed at least a million dollars, the state of Kuwait, the Bandar bin Sultan family, the Sultanate of Oman, King Hassan II of Morocco, the emir of Qatar, and the former Korean prime minister, according to an Associated Press report.
China also donated tens of thousands of dollars, and funds were also received from the late Kenneth Lay, the former head of now bankrupt Enron Corporation, and Vice President Dick Cheney.
SMU, which had been competing for the latest Bush project with Baylor University and the University of Dallas, appeared to have cleared the final hurdle by winning a court battle granting it the right to demolish a condo complex the university had purchased to use for part of the Bush project. The site was bought with a 35-million-dollar gift from Ray L. Hunt, a university trustee and son of the oil magnate H. L. Hunt.
Then came another, and unexpected, hurdle; university faculty, administrators, staff, alumni and distinguished members of the Methodist Church began to question the appropriateness of the library and its attached conservative think tank.
The struggle over building the library and think tank has gone through several permutations, from questions raised about the suitability of housing any Bush-honoring project to separating out the building of a research library from the highly partisan think tank.
In mid-January, critics launched an Internet petition drive expressing their total opposition to the project. "We've had an outpouring of support so far for our drive," the Rev. Andrew Weaver, a pastor from New York who graduated from SMU's Perkins School of Theology, told IPS. "Since it started, the petition drive has garnered more than 10,000 signatures including 9,000 United Methodists and over 600 clergy from across the United States and Canada."
"The impetus for our petition drive," explained Weaver, who is also a research psychologist, "is the Bush administration's policies surrounding torture of prisoners under the custody of the military, 19 of whom have been tortured to death, a policy that is completely against Methodist teachings. Torture plays a central role in our faith and it is not a Methodist value; we don't want our university to lend its good name to a president who has authorized torture."
Other faculty critics maintain that while they oppose Bush's policies, "they would not object to a library-oriented archive and museum," Inside Higher Ed reported. "But creating an academic center with a specific goal of boosting the Bush image and agenda strikes many professors as antithetical to a university's academic values."
In early February, Andy Hemming, an SMU student and executive director of SMU Young Conservatives of Texas, reported on The Bush Library Blog that a petition drive in support of the entire project had gathered some 500 signatures from mostly students.
In recent days, the debate has broadened even further to include a demand by opponents that the university reject the presidential library unless the Bush administration reverses an executive order giving former presidents and their heirs the right to keep White House papers secret in perpetuity; an order issued about seven weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The president's executive order triggered a lawsuit that is still pending.
"If the Bush folks are going to play games with the records, no self-respecting academic institution should cooperate," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
"Whether they like it or not, they have become a player in that discussion," said Mark Greene, president-elect of the archivists and director of the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center. "There's been no indication from the Bush administration that they have in any way rethought the executive order, and it is our hope that these negotiations provide a possible pivot point."
SMU Vice President Brad Cheves said that it was unrealistic "to expect one university to get an executive order signed. Public policy should be debated in the public square and the halls of Congress."
Emily Lawrimore, a Bush spokesperson, claimed that the National Archives had already released two million pages since the executive order was issued. "President Bush issued this executive order to ensure that we have an orderly system in place that encourages public disclosure while also respecting constitutionally granted executive authorities."
News of the Bush library has also hit the late-night television talk circuit: Noting that the president's team was aiming to raise $500 million for the project, NBC's Conan O'Brien joked that this would "work out to $100 million a book."
Other talk show hosts, political commentators and comedians will no doubt find humour, irony and outrage in this project. Given the track record of the president's supporters, there is little doubt that the money will be raised. Whether opponents can prevent the president's tower from rising on the SMU campus remains to be seen.
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Albion Monitor February
11, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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