Two leading opponents have softened their stance against building George W. Bush's presidential library and museum at Southern Methodist University but say they still object to the accompanying public policy institute.
Susanne Johnson, associate professor of Christian education, and William McElvaney, a retired theology professor, said Wednesday that SMU's president addressed some of their concerns at faculty meetings.
"I think the library is not the offensive issue that the institute remains to be with a number of the faculty," McElvaney said after a meeting.
However, SMU President R. Gerald Turner said the library, museum and institute were a package deal that would benefit the university.
"It's all or nothing," Turner said. "The question is, does the asset outweigh what you consider the liabilities? I think it does."
He said that most people on campus support the project but that he would consider professors' concerns when setting up the agreement with the Bush Foundation, which will run the institute.
SMU became the front-runner in the library competition last month when the site selection committee said it was entering into further discussions with the 11,000-student, private university, which is first lady Laura Bush's alma mater. The Bushes are Methodist.
Johnson said she wanted to encourage others in supporting only the library and museum, until she heard that the project had to include the think tank, which opponents fear will further the views of the Bush administration.
Among concerns raised at the meeting were how faculty would be able to counter the viewpoints of the Bush Foundation when the agenda would be already set, she said. She also said institute fellows would be published automatically, which is not the case for SMU professors.
Rebekah Miles, an ethicist in SMU's Perkins School of Theology, called the project a "gold mine" for graduate students and others.
"I welcome this kind of debate for the same reason I welcome the Bush library," Miles said. "We need to take on these ideas."
Turner said some professors asked why the entire faculty was not informed of SMU's proposal from the beginning. He said faculty members on planning committees were tightlipped because the process was competitive.
Turner said he will meet "within days or weeks" with the library site selection committee to discuss exactly where the complex would be built on campus.
A final decision on the library is expected within months, after Bush receives a recommendation from the committee.
If negotiations with SMU fail, the remaining finalist is Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The other finalist, the University of Dallas, recently withdrew its bid.