By Richard Vedder
As the Bush Administration reaches the three-quarters mark, the President has begun to think about where he wants his presidential library. The earliest such libraries, such as those of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, were located in the hometowns of the president and were distinct from any academic institution. Lately, however, universities have entered into the bidding. Three Texas schools are in the running for the Bush library. It is noteworthy that all of them are decent quality private schools, but none of them is renowned as a top-flight research university. Moreover, all of the schools have a historical Christian religious orientation, ranging from fairly fundamental Protestant to Roman Catholic. This is, as far as I know, unique in the history of competition for presidential libraries.
Somethings never changes, however. Some faculty at Southern Methodist University (SMU) are concerned about the possibility that the Bush library might be located there. With the library might come a think tank with, horrors of horrors, a conservative orientation. This, to them, is unacceptable. One Methodist minister wonders how SMU can keep "Methodist" in its name if it has a library named after the nefarious George W. Bush. It seems that the academy may be showing its true colors --its left-wing orientation, its intolerance of intellectual diversity, etc.
For all my concerns about soaring college costs and the use of taxpayer funds to finance successful rent-seeking by some academics, probably bigger threats to academic excellence comes from the decline in academic tolerance and from efforts to enforce a mindless form of intellectual conformity that fits into the preconceptions of the scholarly elite. Great universities are always lively, disorderly places where there is lots of intellectual ferment. I always thought the University of Chicago was a great example --at their workshops sparks always fly, arguments are real and intense, etc. But a lot of true intellectual inquiry goes on there. I worry if we are losing this, and also where the pursuit of financial gain has similarly diluted the central role of intellectual discourse and dissenion on the American campus.