Monday, December 18, 2006

The Presidential Library Race

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you seriously believe that Bush wants an open freewheeling discussion of his presidency to occur? All you have to do is look at the secrecy and image polishing that this White House has engaged in for the past six years to understand that this is highly unlikely. This "Think Tank" should be no different. Here is what the what New York Daily News wrote when the story broke.
The legacy-polishing centerpiece is an institute, which several Bush insiders called the Institute for Democracy. Patterned after Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Bush's institute will hire conservative scholars and "give them money to write papers and books favorable to the President's policies," one Bush insider said.

Did you get that? The intent is to pay "scholars" to write nice things about the Bush policies. Like they paid Armstrong Williams to write nice thing about NCLB. Perhaps you have forgotten that and the other bogus news stories the White House has payed for. Or what about this oldie but goody from way back in the early days of the Bush administration.
The Bush White House has drafted an executive order that would usher in a new era of secrecy for presidential records and allow an incumbent president to withhold a former president's papers even if the former president wanted to make them public.

The five-page draft would also require members of the public seeking particular documents to show "at least a 'demonstrated, specific need' " for them before they would be considered for release.

Does that sound like a president that wants a free and open discussion? Of course it doesn't.

The problem is you don't want reality to get in the way of savoring your right to victimhood as a conservative.