News Briefs, March 2005
Bruce Craig, March 2005
A new report from Princeton University's Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies claims that the museum programs in presidential libraries are not reaching their potential and that there is great risk in the National Archives policy that depends too much upon private organizations to fund these programs. The report reflects the findings and recommendations of a group of experts in museums, public history, and presidential libraries brought together last April at the center in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.
According to the report, "Exhibits and education and public programs can become much greater resources to the public." Among its recommendations are greater use of strategic planning, clearer policies on the development of exhibits and other programs, better use of resources, including more frequent collaboration among the presidential libraries, and stronger leadership on museum-related functions from the Office of Presidential Libraries in the National Archives.
The report also argues "that there is considerable risk to the present and future health of these presidential museums in current National Archives policy that requires the libraries to rely so heavily on support from non-profit partners for most or all funding for core museum functions serving the general public." The Princeton meeting participants concluded that, "Too little is known about the priorities, resources and influence of these key organizations," and proposes that the Congress and the National Archives give this matter increased attention, including more open and formal discussion of the issues.
The eight page report, "Museums in Presidential Libraries: A First Report on Policies, Practices and Performance," is available in PDF version at http://www.princeton.edu/culturalpolicy/mpl or in hard copy by contacting the center at 609-258-5180. A 37-page memo "Presidential Libraries A Background Paper on Their Museums and Their Public Programs," prepared for the Princeton meeting, is available through the same channel.
As regular readers of this column may recall, as part of the massive 3,000-page federal spending bill that Congress passed last year, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) added language to the measure requiring educational institutions across the nation that receive federal funding to offer annual educational programs on the study of the U.S. Constitution every 17 September. The new federal mandate has drawn considerable criticism across the nation with Yale University officials now going on record asserting that the law violates "academic freedom."
Yale officials and faculty members said that the Constitution is an important document for students to understand, but that the provision is difficult to implement; that mandating such programs is misguided and intrusive; that it negatively affects the government's relationship with educational institutions; and that it creates a bad precedent. If Yale does not to hold the required program, however, the university jeopardizes some $300 million in federal funding it currently receives. University officials declared they will comply with the law.
In defending his legislative mandate Senator Byrd stated, "While our educational system is good at ingraining feelings of respect and reverence for our Constitution, that same system is in need of great improvements in teaching what is actually in the Constitution and just why it is so important to our daily lives. That is the focus on my legislation."
Exactly how colleges and universities will comply with the spirit and letter of the mandate remains open to interpretation. Since the language of the rider does not specify how instruction should be carried out, colleges and universities may be able to comply with the mandate merely by offering some special Constitution-oriented academic event. Yale history professor emeritus Gaddis Smith, for example, suggests that Yale could comply with the law by organizing an open panel discussion on the Constitution on 17 September. The U.S. Department of Education is expected to issue a rule or letter of guidance to colleges and schools in the coming weeks.
In 1984 the CIA was granted limited protection from FOIA for operational records that are considered so sensitive that it is not productive to search them in response to FOIA requests. Every ten years, the CIA requests comments from the scholarly community and the general public on what Agency "operational" records should be opened. In February, the National Coalition for History (NCH) and several other government openness organizations, submitted comments on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) decennial review of the record categories that the agency has designated as exempt from search and review under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The NCH called for the opening of operational files older than 30 years because of diminished, or non-existent, security concerns and the great potential for scholars studying the history of U.S. intelligence. In the letter to the CIA the NCH stated, "Declassification serves the purpose of historical value stated in the CIA Information Act by enabling historians to gather a wide range of sources in their ongoing efforts to assess the past, such as the JFK assassination records and documents relating to Chile during the Cold War. It also serves the public interest by enhancing the credibility of the CIA, offering lessons for future policy makers, and setting the record straight about important, possibly controversial, historical events."
For years the denial of FOIA requests and unfulfilled promises by high-ranking CIA officials to release operational files has frustrated scholars. Recently, the CIA denied previously released information to researchers or refused additional information about previously declassified information. For example, the CIA declassified the Office of Electronic Intelligence information from 1962-66 in conjunction with the National Archives, but returned to refusing to release information and asserted the claim that these files are relevant again to current activities.
The NCH also stated that the CIA needed to reevaluate of the existent operational series file system and carefully review the designation of some materials as "operational" because they fall within the same file series as operational documents. Furthermore, "the DCI Historical Review Panel conclusions and recommendations from September 1996 seem to have gone largely unimplemented, but still have relevance today. The CIA should properly report this panel's findings and the CIA's response to these findings to appropriate congressional committees on intelligence."
The NCH also recommended that the CIA consider targeted declassification of selected files or parts of such operational files, and project a final date for declassification of the older documents passed over by this review as well.
On 2 February President George W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union (SOTU) address. Unlike his inaugural address, the SOTU had few references or appeals to history. What did catch the attention of the history and archival communities, however, was the president's 30 January interview on C-SPAN with Brian Lamb. During the interview, the president discussed his interests in American history and stated his intentions for his future presidential library.
Bush told Lamb that at Yale he was a history major and that he was particularly "fascinated by the [Franklin] Roosevelt era." Bush stated that today he still "reads a lot of history books" having most recently read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. Bush is currently reading Joseph Ellis's new biography of George Washington. The study of history, the president stated, "helps me keep a perspective of what's real and what–s possible...[and helps me] to grasp the realities of the situation based on some historical lessons." Bush reads about 20–30 pages "on a good night."
In the course of the conversation, Bush told Lamb that he wants his presidential library to be located somewhere in Texas, though the exact location has not been decided yet. The president seemed fully aware that establishing a presidential library is a long process and consequently, he wants "to be thoughtful about who we approach." The president was also aware of the need to "consider the legal obligations and allow time for interested parties to plan." Bush stated that the library will "not [be] just a collector of interesting artifacts, but in fact, hopefully . . . the library will cause there to be a dialogue, it will advance higher education or secondary education in some way."
Also during the interview Bush stated that he admires Ronald Reagan and considers him as his "ideological mentor." Bush considers Abraham Lincoln as the greatest president, and finds the precedents set by Franklin Roosevelt fascinating.
To access a recording of the broadcast or read the transcript, tap into C-SPAN at http://www.q-and-a.org/Program/?ProgramID=1008.