DALLAS - Negotiations to build George W. Bush's presidential library at Southern Methodist University have divided the campus, pitting the administration and some alumni against members of the liberal-leaning faculty who say the project would be an embarrassment to the school.
Some professors have complained that the combined library, museum and think tank would celebrate a presidency that unnecessarily took the country into a war.
The fear is that the library "will continue to espouse the philosophy and practice of the Bush administration, which has seriously divided our nation and has brought the ire of other countries," said William McElvaney, a retired professor at SMU's theology school and co-author of a November opinion piece in the campus newspaper titled "The George W. Bush Library: Asset or Albatross?"
SMU emerged as the front-runner in the competition last month when the library site-selection committee said it was entering further discussions with the 11,000-student private university in one of Dallas' wealthiest neighborhoods. The project will be financed with a private fund drive aimed at raising at least $200 million.
Bush ties to SMU run deep. Laura Bush is a graduate and is on the board of trustees. Vice President Cheney previously served on the board. Presidential adviser Karen Hughes and departing White House counsel Harriet Miers are graduates.
SMU officials said that the project was unlikely to be derailed by the faculty opposition and that the professors opposed to it were in the minority.
Brad Cheves, vice president for external affairs and development, said the library could help recruit students, attract visitors, and increase giving.
"It raises the profile of SMU no matter how people feel about President Bush," he said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment. A spokesman for Donald Evans, a former commerce secretary in the Bush administration and now chairman of the library search committee, would not comment on whether the objections from some of the 600 faculty members would affect the panel's final decision, which is expected in a few months.
As for students, junior Luis Arango, 21, a political-science major, said on campus yesterday: "This school has a very conservative vibe, and most of the students like Bush. The only people who don't seem to be the faculty. I know for a fact that some are real liberal and I don't think should be teaching here."
Many SMU alumni are wealthy and conservative. Mike Boone, an SMU trustee who earned undergraduate and law degrees from the university, said an overwhelming majority of alumni supported the Bush library project.
"It's prestigious and brings a lot of value to a university," said Boone, a Dallas lawyer who has known Bush since he was Texas governor.
Universities often compete to host presidential libraries. But this is not the first time political passions have stirred resistance to such a project.