The decision to forge ahead with plans for a Richard Nixon presidential library at Duke University has been neither simple nor unconditional. Before the furor surrounding the decision abated, the faculty had threatened open rebellion against the university administration, a compromise proposal was circulated to locate the library at a nearby research and industrial park, and one longtime Nixon supporter had presented plans for a five-story library combining the features of an Aztec pyramid and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
In the end, though, it was clear the decision on where and how the library would be built rested with the university's trustees and Mr. Nixon. While Duke reserves the right to withdraw from negotiations if its conditions are not met, the university's trustees have indicated there probably will be a Nixon library-museum on the Durham, N.C., campus by 1986.
To be a "great university," library proponents successfuly argued that Duke should provide what president Terry Sanford called "a proper academic setting" for the study of Mr. Nixon's disgraced presidency.
"What I'm deeply worried about it that as a nation we go around covering all our faults," said trustee Nancy Hanks, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, in arguing for the facility. "If you don't understand the bad part of ethics, then you don't understand ethics."
The decision to conditionally proceed came despite a 35-to-34 faculty vote asking that negotiations be dropped. After the trustees announced a decision Sept. 4, faculty representatives unanimously adopted a resolution that "categorically rejects the creation of any museum or memorial designed to foster the glorification of the former president as part of a 'Nixon Presidential Library.'"
Mr. Nixon's representatives had previously informed university officials th e library's archival and museum aspects were inseparable.
Critics of the library worried that the school would be hard-pressed to exercise such control when dealing with Mr. Nixon and the wealthy backers who would fund the project. "I think the faculty is going to be, to put it mildly, very active on the issue," said James David Barber, a political science professor and leading library opponent.
And they were further alarmed after the chairman of the board of trustees conceded the inclusion of a museum in the Nixon library was "quite likely."
The talks are currently in abeyance while faculty concerns are hewn into coherent negotiating guidelines.
If successful, the negotiations, expected to last up to three years, would establish a repository where some 36 million pages of documents, 880 reels of recorded conversations, and uncounted artifacts from Mr. Nixon's six-year presidency could be studied and displayed. Although the facility would contain pre-presidential materials, the bulk of the holdings would originate in the 1968 -74 period, and Duke officials made clear the former chief executive, a 1937 Duke Law School alumnus, would have no control over those.