CHICAGO (CBS) – President Barack Obama’s term in office is not yet half over, but two universities are already vying for his presidential library.
The University of Chicago is one of them. Officials there started inquiring about a year ago.
U of C President Robert Zimmer told Bloomberg last year he was studying the benefits of having a presidential library on campus.
But last week, spokesman Jeremy Manier would say only that the university was fortunate to have once had Obama on its law school faculty and Michelle Obama in several senior administrative roles.
“It is premature to discuss a presidential library,” Manier added.
Obama was a lecturer on constitutional law at the U of C Law School from 1992 until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He has also made his permanent home in the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods near the U of C since 1991.
But the U of C has competition. The University of Hawaii is well into early preparations — including preliminary searches for potential sites, talks with National Archives officials and deliberations on what if any new academic center might accompany an Obama library and museum. Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961.
This is something that presidents typically think about toward the end of their presidency, and Obama hopefully is still toward the beginning of his presidency,” said Robert Perkinson, an American Studies professor who is helping lead UH’s effort.
“So it’s not surprising that (Obama) doesn’t want to think about it. But those of us who are interested in bidding, we have to think about it a lot earlier than he does,” Perkinson said.
Obama has declined to weigh in on the subject. Asked to discuss Obama’s views about a presidential library, a White House spokesman simply said, “No comment.”
There currently are 13 presidential libraries, spanning from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. The groundbreaking for Bush’s facility at Southern Methodist University in Dallas is scheduled for Tuesday.
Presidents aren’t required to establish libraries to house their records. But if they do, there are several rules on how that’s accomplished.
For one, presidential libraries have to be privately financed — typically by a nonprofit foundation. Once built, they are turned over to the National Archives. Some libraries have received financial aid from state and local governments.
A law that took effect with Bush’s library also requires the foundations to establish an endowment to help with operating expenses.
The hosting institution may develop educational and cultural programs to be conducted at the library. It also can build an accompanying academic center akin to the John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson schools that were created in conjunction with their respective presidential libraries.
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