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Baylor jockeys for Bush library Add to ...

When the White House called Baylor University this month asking it to host last week's trilateral summit of NAFTA leaders, university officials jumped at the opportunity.

Not only was it an honour to host the international gathering, but university president Robert Sloan saw it as a perfect marketing opportunity for Baylor's bid to house George W. Bush's presidential library.

Mr. Bush is just months into his second four-year term, but competition is already heating up for the privilege of hosting the library, which will house the President's archives when he steps down.

Baylor, in Waco, is one of a handful of Texas universities vying for the library project, and is banking on its Baptist roots and its proximity to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford for the coveted designation. Yet it already looks like a tough fight, pitting Baylor against Laura Bush's alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"We gave Mr. Bush his first honorary doctorate when he was governor of Texas six or seven years ago," Mr. Sloan said, hopefully.

Baylor is also banking on the religion card to win the day. After all, its seal carries the motto Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (For Church, For Texas).

"Our university reflects very favourably his values, his moral commitment and his commitment to democracy," Mr. Sloan noted. He said the university's 14,000 students "love the President and overwhelmingly support him."

Being chosen as home for a presidential library involves far more than adding a few bookshelves and microfiche machines to a university library. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, which opened last November in Little Rock, Ark., cost $165-million (U.S.) to build. The museum portion includes a replica of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, plus interactive exhibits. It has already attracted 200,000 visitors.

Texas already is home to two presidential libraries: those of Lyndon Johnson, at the University of Texas in Austin, and Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, at Texas A & M University in College Park.

Baylor made its first offer to host the library in the fall of 2000, even before Mr. Bush was elected president. It hasn't let go since, hiring a long list of consultants for the project, including the retired director of presidential libraries at the U.S. National Archives.

Mr. Sloan's pitch for the library sounds like the campaign conducted by a boosterish mayor to lure a new car-assembly plant or a sports stadium to his town.

"It's location, location, location," he said, sitting in Baylor's Barfield Drawing Room before the start of a joint news conference featuring Mr. Bush, Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox, the three leaders of the North American free-trade agreement.

Mr. Sloan said that if Baylor were chosen, the university would create the George W. Bush School of Public Service as well as a centre for democracy and programs to study civil society, ethics and leadership.

Baylor would offer to help raise as much as $200-million from "friends of the President." Once completed, the library's operating costs, like those of the 11 existing facilities, would be borne by U.S. taxpayers.

But Baylor is facing strong competition, particularly from Southern Methodist. Mrs. Bush received an education degree from the school in 1968, and she is a also a trustee.

Perhaps reflecting its confidence, Southern Methodist is taking a decidedly less aggressive approach.

"We're obviously very interested in obtaining the presidential library, but unlike some of the other institutions, we've chosen not to conduct the process in the public square," said Brad Cheaves, the university's vice-president of external affairs.

Southern Methodist's website notes that the Bush family donated $250,000 in 1999 to help build the Laura Bush Promenade, a garden outside the university library. Mr. Bush is reported to have said at the time: "The best decision I made in life is to marry into the SMU family."

In pushing its case for the presidential library, Southern Methodist points out that the Bushes used to make their home in Dallas and that noteworthy graduates include former Bush aide Karen Hughes and the president's onetime family pastor, James Lee Mayfield.

There have been rumours that Mr. Bush has decided on SMU for the library, but the White House has declined to confirm that and formal bidding isn't expected to open until spring.

Among the other reported bidders are the city of Midland, where Mr. Bush grew up; Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers baseball club, which Mr. Bush used to co-own; the University of Texas; and Texas A & M.

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