By Marta W. Aldrich
A UMNS Report

Thanking U.S. President George W. Bush for entrusting United Methodist-related Southern Methodist University with an important national resource, the school's board of trustees unanimously approved an agreement to locate the Bush presidential library, museum and policy institute on the Dallas campus.

The Feb. 22 vote came hours after an official announcement that the Bush Presidential Library Foundation had chosen the United Methodist-related school as home of the planned facility. The school had been in exclusive negotiations with the foundation for more than a year.

"It's a great honor for SMU to be chosen as the site of this tremendous resource for historical research, dialogue and public programs," said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. ". We thank President Bush for entrusting this important long-term resource to our community, and for the opportunity for SMU to serve the nation in this special way."

Bush wrote in response to the announcement, "I look forward to the day when both the general public and scholars come and explore the important and challenging issues our nation has faced during my presidency - from economic and homeland security to fighting terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy,"

Opponents of the Bush library campaign for SMU quickly responded by vowing to fight the school's lease agreement in court.

"This fight is not over," said the Rev. Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and SMU alumnus who has led a petition against the library plan.

Critics have questioned the appropriateness of linking the Bush presidency with the private, 11,000-student school founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church. They argue that many policies of the Bush administration, particularly the war in Iraq, are contrary to United Methodist teaching.

Weaver and some church leaders have questioned the process through which the school has obtained approval from the church's South Central Jurisdiction for the 99-year lease on the library property.

In a closed executive session last March, the jurisdiction's Mission Council voted 10-4, with one abstention, to allow SMU to lease to the foundation up to 36 acres on the southeast side of campus. The Mission Council is the executive committee of the jurisdictional conference, which meets once every four years and is scheduled to meet this July in Dallas.

Weaver argues that only the full jurisdictional conference can give final approval for the lease.

However, Bishop Scott Jones, president of the jurisdiction's College of Bishops, said the Mission Council was the proper body to vote on the matter in between jurisdictional meetings.

Jones called the agreement "a great step forward for SMU."

Bush and his wife, Laura, are both United Methodists, and the first lady is a graduate of SMU and a member of its board of trustees.

Foundation officials said they expect to break ground on the complex in 2009 and complete construction within five years. Cost estimates have ranged from $200 million to $500 million, and fundraising will be conducted by the foundation in collaboration with SMU.

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Marta Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service