The Nixon Presidential Library

Writer: 
August 1, 2008

Duke University Archives

Reprinted with permission of The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

The debate last year over locating the George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University brought back memories of Duke's own presidential library controversy.

In the summer of 1981, Duke President Terry Sanford initiated talks with former President Richard Nixon LL.B. '37 about locating his presidential library at Duke.

With the Watergate scandal and Nixon's subsequent resignation still very much in the public consciousness, many faculty members objected, fearing such a memorial would have a negative impact on the university's reputation. Supporters of the Nixon Library argued that the scholarly and academic benefits would outweigh these concerns.

Fall semester meetings of the Academic Council (the faculty governing body) and board of trustees were dominated by the Nixon Library debate, launching an alphabet soup of groups arguing both sides of the issue: CANDL, the Committee Against the Nixon-Duke Library; CAABALL, Colleagues Against Any Backsliding at All; NUKES, the Nixon-University Committee for an Enormous Shrine; and SCANDL, the Student Committee Against the Nixon-Duke Library.

Political cartoonists also had a field day, with many delighting in pairing Nixon with the Blue Devil. The Raleigh News & Observer went so far as to have Nixon appearing as the Blue Devil at a football game. The Louisville Courier-Journal had a cartoon with the Blue Devil meeting his new "counterpart"—a red, white, and blue Richard Nixon dressed as a devil.

Although the Academic Council voted not to pursue further negotiations with Nixon, the board of trustees later voted to proceed. Perhaps as a result of the mixed feelings, negotiations stalled. In 1983, Nixon's representatives announced that Chapman College in San Clemente, California, had been chosen as the site for the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library.

—Pyatt '81 is a University Archivist with the Duke University Archives.