Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

DU should give George W. Bush the Denver Boone Award, not the humanitarian award

No matter how sensitive the University of Denver is these days, it keeps getting spanked. First, the school got bashed by boosters of Denver Boone, the onetime Pioneer mascot. Then some loyalists griped about a commission to investigate the role of John Evans, the territorial governor who founded the school, in the Sand Creek Massacre. And now DU is taking hits for attempting to honor former President George W. Bush with an award for "Improving the Human Condition."

The former president is scheduled to give the keynote on September 9 at the sixteenth annual Korbel Dinner, a fundraiser for the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at DU. The award has been given to Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, among others, and some students did not think that Bush deserved the same honor.

"We do not believe that George W. Bush reflects the values, character, and leadership of an appropriate 'Improving the Human Condition' awardee," wrote 2012 Korbel grad Christine Hart in the online petition she started last month to protest the award. Within ten days, she'd collected more than a thousand signatures. The petition reads:
To: Christopher Hill, Dean, Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver Robert Coombe, Chancellor, University of Denver

As students, alumni, faculty, and supporters of the Josef Korbel School and the University of Denver, we urge you to choose an alternative recipient of the 2013 "Improving the Human Condition Award" who better represents a humanitarian spirit, a commitment to human rights and human dignity, and whose contributions and leadership have truly resulted in positive change.

We do not believe that George W. Bush reflects the values, character, and leadership of an appropriate "Improving the Human Condition" awardee. Moreover, we do not feel that he represents the values promoted by the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the University of Denver or embodied by its students, faculty, and alumni.

We fail to see how this choice does justice to the talents, aspirations, and values of the students, faculty, and alumni of the Josef Korbel School and the University of Denver. As President, George W. Bush's choices resulted in greater instability and economic hardship worldwide, while even his laudable achievements, like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were sullied by the promotion of an agenda that hampered prevention and treatment efforts. This is evidenced in the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled certain requirements of the PEPFAR program unconstitutional.

Further, as President of the United States, George W. Bush left behind a legacy of human rights abuses, including the torture of detainees in extra-territorial jails, preemptive war, domestic surveillance programs, and other egregious actions that deleteriously impact the human condition.

Korbel lecturer Rob Prince urged people to sign the petition in a blog on the subject:
From what I can glean, this decision to honor George Bush -- cynical in its extreme but logical from the point of view of locating future funding sources -- included neither faculty, nor student input and was largely agreed to at a higher level.

I would note, that it is one thing to offer Bush a platform to speak, hard as it is for him to give a talk using complete sentences, and a horse of different color to honor him with a humanitarian award from what is, in this part of the country, a prestigious institution.

Other faculty members were drafting their own statement on the award last week. "Bush is an unrepentant war criminal who violated the convention against torture," says Alan Gilbert, a Korbel professor and John Evans scholar. "This was a terrible mistake but I hope, with many others that the award will be cancelled."

And by week's end, it had been -- sort of. President Bush will still give the keynote at the dinner and will be presented with an award, but it will have a different name. The administration is still deciding what that name will be.

Given the current controversy, why not the Denver Boone Award?

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Jackalope, elk or explorer? DU is pioneering a new mascot."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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