Getting Schooled

A group of former condo owners say SMU defrauded them of their homes to make way for the new Bush library.

"What Ray did was select a good CEO and then gave him his support," says Peter Winship, an SMU law professor. "Ray helped Ken reorganize things at a difficult time."

Pye was only president for seven years before he passed away from cancer in 1994. To replace him, the board tapped Gerald Turner, who lacked Pye's scholarly credentials but earned the trust of the faculty — even those who adamantly opposed the Bush library.

Some faculty feel the Board of Trustees orchestrated the push for the library complex, while Turner merely executed their wishes. The board boasts a long list of loyal and wealthy Republicans, including Hunt, Laura Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney, who was a trustee until Bush tapped him as his running mate, as well as during the time trustees decided to begin buying units at the University Gardens.

Attorney Larry Friedman, who represents former resident Robert Tafel, claims that once SMU started stacking the condo board with its employees, those board members had a duty to protect the interests of the condominiums' residents.
Mark Graham
Attorney Larry Friedman, who represents former resident Robert Tafel, claims that once SMU started stacking the condo board with its employees, those board members had a duty to protect the interests of the condominiums' residents.

"I think what has gone on with the Bush library, from the planning to the real estate part of it, has come at the behest of the Board of Trustees," says Alexis McCrossen, an associate professor of history, who opposed the think tank. "It was said openly amongst faculty members that if SMU did not receive the bid for the presidential library, Turner would be fired. That was common knowledge."

Other professors take issue with that assessment, or at least part of it. "I wouldn't put it that baldly," says Dennis Foster, the outgoing president of the faculty senate and a professor of English. "There are very, very strong supporters of Bush on the Board of Trustees. It was unquestionable that they wanted the library here, but early on Turner looked at this as a way to bring recognition to SMU that I don't think had much to do with his politics or fear of the trustees."

That Turner had set his sights on bringing the Bush library to campus was evident from an e-mail he sent to Pierre Mawet, a Dallas consultant, in February 2001, one month after Bush's inauguration. In the e-mail, Turner notes that SMU has "a lot of interest" in the project and administrators "certainly have been making preliminary plans for approximately one year." This would put SMU in the planning stages six months after Bennett told University Gardens residents that their homes were safe with SMU — and six months before Bush received his party's nomination.

"The major challenge we have is land," Turner wrote in February. "We are currently underway with efforts to obtain land on the east side of campus and will be developing plans for the presidential library there."

One month earlier, on January 2, 2001, Turner e-mailed a local architect and wrote that one possible site for the Bush library was where "University Gardens now sits." But at this point, SMU had yet to acquire a controlling interest in the complex. SMU would later use the condo site in its architectural renderings as a part of its November 2005 proposal for the Bush library.

Although the school never revealed its plans to the residents of the complex, likely to keep down the asking price, it didn't take long for SMU to make its intentions known to the Bush administration. Ray Hunt became SMU's pitchman for the project, bringing up the subject when he and his wife were invited to dine at the White House with the president and first lady shortly after the inauguration. According to Hunt's deposition, the two couples retired to the living room, and "it was five minutes or so of me suggesting that when the time came for him to consider a library, SMU, I would hope, would be on the list."

Bush was "interested," Hunt recalled, noting that Laura Bush, who sat on the SMU Board of Trustees, was a librarian. There was a "nexus there" that the president hadn't really focused on before, Hunt said.

Though Hunt and Bush were contemporaries, the two men didn't really know each other until Bush ran for governor in 1994. Six years later, Hunt was one of the biggest fund-raisers of Bush's presidential campaign. The oil scion had even closer ties to Cheney: The two served as SMU trustees together, and Hunt once served as a member of the corporate board of Halliburton, where Cheney was CEO from 1995 to 2000. Hunt, through a spokesperson, declined to comment for this story.

By the summer of 2002, while the school was leaning on condo residents to sell, Hunt continued to push the library project. On a sizzling day in August of that year, Hunt and Gerald Turner met with Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Harriet Miers, then-Assistant to the President and a former Locke Liddell partner, was also there. This time, the group spent 90 minutes discussing the details of the proposed library.

Toward the end of Bush's first term, as he was locked in a razor-tight re-­election campaign with John Kerry, SMU was finalizing its proposal. And, as the presidential campaign drew to a frenzied close, the school made arrangements to meet with Bush to talk with him again about the library — even if he lost the election.

Of course, there was only one problem. SMU hadn't secured one of the proposed sites. The school hadn't finished buying out all the residents of University Gardens.

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