FOR A TIME last week, it seemed as if Duke University's Academic Council would succeed -- by its one-vote margin of disapproval -- in scuttling negotiations for a presidential library between the university and President Nixon's lawyers. Fortunately, the 9-to-2 Friday vote by Duke's board of trustees to support University President Terry Sanford's efforts strengthened the prospect that a properly run Nixon research library will be constructed eventually on the campus' outer fringe. Much professional hyperbole has been expected over the past few days at Durham on Mr. Nixon's alleged resemblance to tyrants and traitors of history, but the main issue in dispute has not changed since we last looked in on the matter.
Does the achievement of regularizing public access to Mr. Nixon's papers and tapes under rigorous archival supervision, which both sides agree would result from building a presidential library ("primarily a research facility," in Mr. Sandord's words), justify permitting what apparently even the former president now recognizes would be a modest and closely monitored memorial museum? We think it does, and we will spare you a rehash of all our arguments for this, noting only that among the many rich and splendid epithets that have been hurled at this paper over the years, soft-on-Nixon was never one.
At this point, faculty critics at Duke ought to devote themselves not to further public protests, but, instead, to working closely with Mr. Sanford to ensure that the university negotiates only for a research library that will permit no petty restrictions, closing of the records from scrutiny for excessive periods of time or incessant intrusions by relatives and friends of the Deposed. All these have marred the record of at least some other presidential libraries. Moreover, let Mr. Nixon be under no illusions about Duke's willingness to abet his effort at public rehabilitation. Each and every particular of the museum portion of the Nixon library, from architecture to artifact, should be subject to approval to the university authorities and an independent scholarly board.
As for the irreconcilables, before the immolate themselves, we urge them to reflect on the less desirable alternatives to this library. Would they prefer to assign preservation of the Nixon materials to a university whose faculty appeared less disturbed than Duke's by Mr. Nixon's mischievous manner with documents? President Sanford has acted in the national interest by offering the integrity of Duke as trustee for the Nixon files, and the university's reputation can only be strengthened in the public mnd should his negotiations succeed.
Ever mindful of Edward Evertt Hale's fable of a person who betrayed the United States only to suffer life-long punishment. "The Man Without a Country," undoubtedly there are Americans who would envision with pleasure a similar fate befalling Mr. Nixon and his records. And for the academic purists, presumably it would have been better that some "U.S.S. Nixon Presidential Library" cruise the coastal waters from Key Biscayne through the canal to San Clemente in endless transport of its cargo of Nixoniana. That way, we guess, several dozen Duke professors might have managed to avoid the "guilt by association" that they once condemned as a weapon in Mr. Nixon's political arsenal -- but that they now preach with respect to their own university's throughtful approach to a Nixon library.