In the wake of resistance to the selection of Southern Methodist University in Dallas as the site for a George W. Bush Presidential Library and Policy Institute by a group of SMU faculty, some archivists and historians are trying to broaden the debate. The Society of American Archivists has urged SMU officials to reject the library unless the administration reverses Executive Order 13233, an edict signed by President Bush November 1, 2001, that allows incumbent or former presidents and their heirs to withhold the release of presidential papers that would otherwise be made public after 12 years, even if national security matters are not involved.
SAA President-Elect Mark Greene said in the February 5 Dallas Morning News, “There’s been no indication from the Bush administration that they have in any way rethought the executive order, and it is our hope that these negotiations provide a possible pivot point.”
Librarians and historians had expressed concern about the order after it was issued, and the public-interest group Public Citizen filed a still-pending lawsuit that claims the order violates the 1978 Presidential Records Act.
Benjamin Hofbauer, associate professor of art history at the University of Louisville, said in the February 6 Inside Higher Education that it wasn’t fair for SMU officials to argue that the university would acquire a valuable scholarly resource as the site of the Bush Presidential Library. “But if you don’t have all the papers,” he asserted, “instead you have just a museum of political propaganda.”
Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington Office, told the Morning News that some of the finest scholarship in recent years—Robert Caro’s work on Lyndon Johnson and David McCullough’s book on Harry Truman—depended on access to official papers that let them “understand much more deeply and report much more thoroughly how decisions were made.”
Posted February 9, 2007.