Methodists: No Bush Library at SMU

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 5:50 PM

DALLAS -- A group of Methodist ministers from across the nation launched an online petition drive Thursday urging Southern Methodist University to stop trying to land George W. Bush's presidential library.

The petition, on a new Web site,, says that "as United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate."

"Methodists have a long history of social conscience, so questions about the conduct of this president are very concerning," said one of the petition's organizers, the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver of New York, who graduated from SMU's Perkins School of Theology.

Brad Cheves, SMU's vice president for external affairs and development, said Thursday that the Methodist church is diverse in its membership and opinions and that those involved with the petition reflect only one view.

"We believe the vast majority of the Methodist membership, university and community support the library and that it will benefit the faculty, students and community for generations to come," Cheves said.

SMU emerged as the apparent winner in the library competition last month when the site selection committee said it was entering into further discussions with just SMU, the 11,000-student, private university, which is first lady Laura Bush's alma mater. The Bushes are Methodists.

President Bush said Thursday that he was "leaning heavily toward SMU" and was close to a decision.

"I understand there are some who have reservations, and my advice to them is understand that a library and institution would enhance education, be a place for interesting discussion and be a place for people to express their views and write and think, and these universities I think understand that and are excited about the prospects, and so am I," he told Belo Corp. television.

Some SMU professors have opposed Bush's foreign policy, mainly the war in Iraq. Some faculty members also have complained that the library complex's think tank dedicated to the philosophy of the Bush administration would hurt the school's reputation.

But at a faculty meeting Wednesday, SMU President R. Gerald Turner said those fears were unfounded. He said among the library's benefits were increasing the school's visibility nationwide and spurring economic development in the city.

The Rev. Mark Craig _ an SMU trustee and senior minister of Highland Park United Methodist Church, where the Bushes are members _ said that the petition organizers' views do not reflect the opinion of most church members and that the petition would not affect decisions about the library.

"The library is not about politics," Craig said. "The library is about history, having U.S. history from a period of eight years and that conveyed to a great academic institution."

The project will be financed with a private fund drive aimed at raising at least $200 million.

While SMU's president said his university's exclusive talks with the selection committee would resume in a few days, the other finalists are Baylor University in Waco and the University of Dallas. A decision is expected in a few months, when Bush receives a recommendation from the committee.

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