Writing in the NYT, James Traub provides a good summary of what’s going on with the Bush presidential library at Southern Methodist University. There’s a controversy over its governance–i.e., the question of whether the library and (in particular) a policy center should report to the school’s academic hierarchy or to the Bush Foundation. Who can blame the Bush Foundation for wanting to protect itself from the tenured radicals? Consider this graf from Traub’s article:
To critics, then, the institute sounds like a walled preserve within which the strange ideological growths of the Bush era will proliferate — with S.M.U.’s good name affording them intellectual legitimacy. “You can be sure that there will be a book on the privatization of Social Security,” predicts Thomas Knock, a professor of American history, “or on creationism, or on the doctrine of pre-emptive war.”
Imagine that! A book on Social Security privatization! Such things shall not be discussed on campus!
The bit about creationism is just plain weird. What evidence is there that a Bush policy center would take an interest in such things? (Again, an interesting window on the academy, which appears to think that all churchgoers are also ram-it-down-your-throat, flat-Earth, knuckle-dragging creationists.) And the doctrine of pre-emptive war? Clearly a subject that could use more academic treatment, not less, and with all sides represented (including Bush’s).
Conservative philanthropists have learned, at enormous expense, that universities are poor investments unless the gifts to them are carefully targeted and relentlessly guarded. The Bush Foundation would be not just crazy but also irresponsible to cede any authority to the likes of Prof. Thomas Knock and his illiberal views on what is worthy of academic debate and what is not.