This article was first published by the SMU Daily Campus newspaper on Jan. 16, 2008 on the Opinion page. That publication has granted permission for the author to publish it here.
A few months ago as I was rereading the exciting book, “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate,” by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, I was unable to avoid thinking of the conflicts that have been stirred up over the prospect of having the Bush Institute as part of the SMU campus. The authors identify five core concerns that apply in all human relationships – to some degree. They do a masterful job of demonstrating how satisfying those concerns can greatly facilitate finding optimum solutions in a negotiation. Conversely, ignoring those concerns can seriously damage negotiations. What are they? Appreciation – as acknowledging that the thoughts, feelings and actions of others have merit; affiliation – treating others as colleagues rather than as adversaries; autonomy – respecting the freedom of others to decide important matters; status – the standing of others is given full recognition where deserved; and role – one that is chosen to be fulfilling, not one that requires acting or pretense.
I have given a lot of thought to the question, “What if?” What if SMU President Turner, the members of the faculty, President Bush’s negotiators, concerned alumni, the SMU Board, concerned Methodist clergy and laity, and that body of the Methodist Church having ownership of SMU real estate had all been trained in acknowledging and respecting the five core concerns as they apply to the anticipated Bush Library, Museum and Institute? What if the core concerns of all parties would have been recognized, if not fully satisfied? Under those conditions, it seems entirely possible that a more optimum solution would have resulted, and much animosity would have been avoided. Instead, what we seem to be heading toward are deep wounds whose scars will be with us for decades.
Is there still time to view the situation through the lens of the transforming wisdom of those five core concerns, and to come to a more optimal solution? What harm would there be in trying?
Let us begin with appreciation. Early last February, Perkins School of Theology Assistant Professor Valerie A. Karras made a compelling case that all institutes of the type contemplated and all universities are incompatible. There is no way they can be amalgamated without a loss of integrity. That concern is totally free of even the slightest hint of partisan politics. It has merit that deserves recognition by all interested parties. Others have argued that SMU must insist on greater involvement in the administration of the institute. No amount of SMU involvement in a Bush-SMU institute solves the integrity problem. If anything, more involvement makes the problem worse. I believe I am correct that Dr. Karras opposes the Bush Institute, but not the library and museum, on the SMU campus.
Moving on to affiliation. Imagine, if you will, that all parties decided for a brief moment to unite as colleagues with a common goal of maintaining the integrity of SMU, while respecting the desires of the Bush family and all those who are in favor of the Bush Library coming to SMU. Would it be possible to apply autonomy, status and role toward a solution? President Turner has stated repeatedly that this is a three-part package deal that can not be broken apart. Does that inflexible statement impinge on the autonomy of President Bush’s chief negotiator? Does it diminish their status and role? Perhaps. Or, does it diminish the status and role of President Turner? Perhaps. In either case, suppose President Turner were to offer to sell a portion of land to the Bush Institute – located adjacent to the portion of the campus where the library and museum would be built. Let the institute be entirely autonomous, entirely separate from SMU in every way – yet close enough logistically that visitors to any and all three entities would be accommodated.
If I have neglected any of the core concerns of any of the interested parties who have status in this matter, I encourage you to articulate your concern in a manner that considers all of the core concerns of all other parties having status in this negotiation.
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