Denver university in uproar over plans to honor George W. Bush

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Former President George W. Bush will be honored in September by the University of Denver, but not for “Improving the Human Condition,” as previously planned.

The university’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies scrapped the idea after students and faculty expressed outrage over the designation.

“Former President George W. Bush left behind a legacy of human rights abuses, including the torture of detainees in extraterritorial jails, preemptive war, domestic surveillance programs and other egregious actions that deleteriously impact the human condition,” wrote Christine Hart, an alum of the college, in an online petition that has been signed by more than 1,100 people since June 23.

In addition, about 20 faculty members circulated a letter to university officials saying they were “shocked, disappointed and embarrassed” that Bush would be considered an appropriate recipient for a humanitarian award, according to the Denver Post.

Bush is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Korbel School’s annual fundraising dinner on Sept. 9. The blowup creates an awkward situation not just for Bush, but also for the school. The annual dinner is its biggest fundraiser.

“To have the former President attend is a tremendous opportunity to use the occasion of this dinner to raise much needed funds for our school,” Korbel School Dean Christopher Hill wrote in an email to staff and faculty, according to the Colorado Independent.

Attendees who donate between $4,000 and $50,000 get special scholarship benefits, the paper reported.

But the outcry has proven hard to ignore.

Even a former employee at the University’s Office of Alumni and External Relations blasted the award on a Facebook page set up to oppose it, calling it a “sick, cruel joke” that Bush would be considered to receive it.

Because of the controversy, university officials are working on a replacement award to give the former president and trying to figure out what to call it.

“We are in the process of considering several names,” a spokeswoman told the Post.

Hill, a former ambassador to Poland and Korea, said in his email to staff and faculty that the new award will probably be named “along the lines of ‘The Chancellor’s Award’ or the ‘Presidential Award’ or something similar.”

The honor has previously been given to former U.S. secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Army chief of staff George Casey. The school is named after Albright’s father.

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