Methodist Panel Backs Bush Library

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; 7:01 PM

DALLAS -- A church council on Wednesday approved land on the campus of Southern Methodist University for George W. Bush's presidential library, complete with a partisan think tank.

The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church voted 10-4 in favor of leasing the land, including 36 acres that now includes some dorms and a parking lot.

One council member, the Rev. Eddie Allsup of Lubbock, asked the school's president, R. Gerald Turner, whether the presidential complex had to include the private institute aimed at furthering Bush's views.

"It's a package deal," Turner said. "It's enormously valuable."

Another member, Gil Hanke of Nacogdoches, asked whether SMU's accreditation would be hurt by its association with the partisan institute, which will be run by a private foundation. Turner said no.

The institute has drawn criticism from some faculty members. The project would also include a museum.

The alma mater of first lady Laura Bush became the apparent front-runner in the library competition in December, when a site selection committee said it was entering into further talks with the 11,000-student private school.

Bush has said he is leaning toward SMU. The site selection committee must now make a recommendation to the president. The committee's talks with SMU continue.

"We hope it's weeks rather than months," said Brad Cheves, SMU's vice president for external affairs and development.

The school's Board of Regents has already approved the project.

In his presentation to the church council, Turner said the library, museum and Bush institute may be built on one of two sites on the land. He said plans are not finalized, so "that's why we're not asking for one or the other (parcel)."

William McElvaney, a retired professor in SMU's Perkins School of Theology, had urged the church council to reject the request based on some faculty members' opposition to the Bush institute.

"The future of SMU's soul is at stake," McElvaney said.

The project will be financed through a private fund drive aimed at raising at least $200 million, and some estimate the cost could soar to $500 million.

If negotiations with SMU fail, the other remaining finalist is Baylor University in Waco, near the Bushes' Crawford ranch. The University of Dallas withdrew its bid in January.

© 2007 The Associated Press