Laura Bush's alma mater likely to house presidential library

Times Staff Writer

Southern Methodist University has all but won the competition to host the George W. Bush presidential library, with officials announcing this week that the school will be the "sole focus" of talks next month.

That means the two other finalists -- Baylor University and the University of Dallas -- will wait on the sidelines as the selection committee enters what Chairman Don Evans in a statement called the "next phase of deliberations."

A final decision may come in late January or early February.

SMU, in an upscale area north of downtown Dallas, had an edge from the start, largely because of its Bush connections. Laura Bush is an SMU graduate and a member of the school's board of trustees. Vice President Dick Cheney also served on the trustee board and was a diplomat in residence at the school's John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. The university is also the alma mater of Bush advisor Karen Hughes and onetime White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers.

The Bushes lived in Dallas from 1988-1994 and have indicated they'll return after leaving the White House in 2009. The university is in an area where some of Bush's most generous political donors reside.

The president's plans for a possible think tank on campus prompted SMU faculty to circulate a letter this week asking for details and open discussion.

"There are reasonable people with legitimate questions," political science professor Cal Jillson said. Most want to know "more about the relationship between an institute that might have a partisan or ideological cast and a university dedicated to research and discussion. People want to know how they will relate to each other and how comfortable that relationship will be."

A small group "would take the view that the president's policy choices won't reflect well on this or any other university," he said.

University President Gerald Turner will meet with the faculty Jan. 9. "I think that meeting will resolve most, but not all, of those concerns," Jillson said.

School officials declined to talk about the library's design or even where on campus it might be built.

One possible area includes land east of campus that was purchased by the school, presumably to help make room for the library. Until recent court rulings in SMU's favor, the land was mired in a lawsuit brought by residents who said they were intimidated into selling.

The library, which may cost over $200 million, will be financed with private donations. When completed, it will be the third presidential library in Texas. The others are the Lyndon B. Johnson library at the University of Texas at Austin and the George H.W. Bush library at Texas A&M; University.

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