Historians ask SMU to reject presidential library unless Bush voids privacy order

Historians in the News

Archivists and historians are urging Southern Methodist University to reject the Bush presidential library unless the administration reverses an executive order that gives former presidents and their heirs the right to keep White House papers secret in perpetuity.

"If the Bush folks are going to play games with the records, no self-respecting academic institution should cooperate," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The policy triggered outrage and a still-pending lawsuit when President Bush issued it about seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now, as SMU officials try to complete a deal for a Bush library, museum and policy institute, the Society of American Archivists plans a public relations offensive meant to pressure Congress and the university to force a change.

"Whether they like it or not, they have become a player in that discussion," said Mark Greene, president-elect of the archivists and director of the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center. "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."

SMU Vice President Brad Cheves said the university is well aware of the debate but is mindful that rules regarding release of presidential papers have evolved in the last 30 years. He said SMU is taking the long view as it tries to land a facility that will stand "for generations to come as a storehouse of history."

"It's not realistic to expect one university to get an executive order signed. ... Public policy should be debated in the public square and the halls of Congress," he said....
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