The seven Texas institutions that competed to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center sought the historical resource in part because of the scholars and dignitaries it would attract for research, programs and interaction. But perhaps few expected that Bush Center activities would begin as early as 2010, three years before the facility would be completed in spring 2013.
The quick start was provided by the George W. Bush Institute, the independent, action-oriented think tank housed in the Bush Center and reporting to the Bush Foundation. The Center also includes the Library and Museum to be operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Library will contain the documents, artifacts and electronic records of the Bush administration, while the Museum will feature permanent and traveling exhibits.
The Institute’s programs took full advantage of the assets that SMU promoted in competing for the center – the University’s convenient Dallas location and experience hosting national and world leaders. Using the Collins Executive Education Center at the Cox School of Business, the Institute has sponsored 12 symposia attracting more than 2,500 participants and panelists, including SMU faculty, staff and students.
In March 2010 SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development co-sponsored the two inaugural symposia, the first focusing on U.S. education and the second on educating the women and girls of Afghanistan, presented in collaboration with the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.
“The single most effective investment in developing countries is to educate a girl,” said speaker Melanne Verveer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and co-chair of the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council. “Because when you educate a girl, you educate a family and a community.”
Another 2010 conference, on natural gas development, was co-sponsored by the Maguire Energy Institute in Cox and included SMU faculty and students from business, law, engineering and geology.
Human rights students participated in the Bush Institute’s inaugural human freedom symposium, focusing on how “cyber dissidents” in repressive societies use the tools of technology in their nonviolent freedom movements. Participating dissidents “spoke about the daily efforts, both big and small, of the people most affected” by lack of freedom, said SMU student Adriana Martinez ’12 from Mexico, then a sophomore. She was asked to serve as a translator for a Cuban dissident scheduled to participate by phone from Havana, but the connection was lost. “If the cause was censorship by the Cuban government, then in my mind, there could not have been a more poignant statement made right at the beginning of this conference,” Martinez said.
Other Institute programming included:
- Middle School Matters, aimed at increasing the number of children who enter and graduate from high school, in partnership with the Simmons School.
- Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL), which focuses on recruiting and training school principals. The Simmons School’s Ed-Entrepreneur Center, focusing on urban schools, is a part of the AREL Network.
- A conference on the Arab Spring in the Middle East, focusing on the recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and other nations in the region.
- Pink Ribbon, Red Ribbon, a program to address cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS through screening and treatment for women in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
- A symposium on America’s First Ladies, featuring Barbara Bush and Laura Bush ’68, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and journalist Cokie Roberts.
- A symposium on the Institute’s 4% Project on the economy. At the symposium’s luncheon, student Haynes Strader ’11 found himself seated with one of the three Nobel laureates at the symposium. “It was a unique and special learning opportunity.”
- A visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in May 2011. He participated in a Bush Center event and SMU’s Hart Global Leaders Forum, involving more than 250 high school students along with SMU students.
In February 2012 SMU played an integral role in the inaugural session of the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program, which brought 14 Egyptian women to the United States for a year-long program of leadership training, networking and travel. It included six days of courses developed and taught by 17 SMU faculty in business, anthropology, communications, political science, law and education.
SMU’s setting as the home of the Bush Center also brought to campus the directors of presidential libraries throughout the nation for a meeting in May 2010 convened by Archivist of the United States David Ferriero. In October 2011 he returned for a speech sponsored by SMU libraries and the Book Club of Texas. The Bush Center “will be the jewel in the crown among the nation’s 13 presidential libraries,” he said, “because it was designed by a librarian – Laura Bush.”
Over the past two years, President Bush has spoken in SMU classes at the invitation of faculty; more than 100 students have served as interns at the Bush Foundation and Office of the President; and several student groups have toured the Bush Library’s storage facility in Lewisville.
Such opportunities are precisely what SMU President R. Gerald Turner envisioned when he led the effort to obtain the Bush Center. “SMU has a strong track record of bringing national and international leaders to campus. But without Bush Center programs, never would so many be assembling at SMU in such a short period of time, interacting with faculty and students and becoming familiar with the strengths of SMU. The opportunities will only increase when the entire Bush Center opens in 2013.”