Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Some SMU staff worry about the political agenda of the Bush Institute
The institute is one sector of the Bush Presidential Center that enacts non-partisan programs concerning global issues.
UNIVERSITY PARK The Bush Center opens in less than a month, but many of its programs are already well underway.
The Bush Institute at the Presidential Center began its work in 2009.
Several professors at SMU have been outspoken with their reservations surrounding the “think tank” run under the Bush Administration—a sentiment shared by a number of SMU students.
As political science professor Cal Jillson said in a recent interview on the topic, many of these concerns come from the fact that the institute and its work is “significantly outside the standard control of the university.”
Although the institute is officially nonpartisan, some find it hard to imagine that will be the case given the people overseeing it were close to President Bush during his administration.
However, fellow political science professor Matthew Wilson said, “[The institute is] a positive part of the overall library project.”
“What we’ve seen so far from [the Bush Institute] is that their programs have been nonpartisan,” Wilson said. “Their major emphases have been on global human rights and education policies.”
Mentioning a recent program focused on empowering Afghan women and a second on educational improvements, Wilson said many of the institute’s initiatives aren’t conservative concerns but much more broad-based.
“It seems that the emphases are directed to reach across and transcend those ideological and partisan lines,” Wilson said.
Hannah Abney, director of communications at the Presidential Center, provided commentary on how the institute will tie into the university and engage its students, regardless of being run by a separate party and not SMU itself.
“Most interns hired by the Bush Institute are SMU students,” Abney explained. “We view our internship program as an important learning opportunity for students and our staff.”
Interns have the opportunity to experience and observe directly the work of the institute and its progress. Abney said that the institute focuses on issues such as “education reform, economic growth, human freedom and global health, women’s empowerment issues [and] veteran support.”
While student interns will likely not have significant input in deciding which topics to investigate and explore, Abney said that the institute does appreciate their perspective.
“We encourage our interns to become immersed in the projects and issues they are working on,” Abney said.
Jillson sees the presidential center as an overall positive for SMU. His caution is in what he calls reactionary research that is inspired by conservative ideology. When the Bush Institute originally opened, faculty members, including Jillson, opposed the institute.
“That’s where the danger lies,” Jillson said, referring to politically biased research that could come from the institute.
However, the overall product of the institute, and whether or not fears of partisanship will surface, will become evident over time.
“I think the institute, essentially a policy think tank with a grassroots angle, will make make a positive impact on campus,” sophomore Mehdi Hami said.
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