Last Monday, about 100 protesters, mostly DU students and parts of the Denver community, gathered outside the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver were the award ceremony was being held. Protesters came to show their disapproval of DU’s Korbel School of International Studies’ awarding an annual “Global Service” award to George Bush Jr. The award goes out annually to humanitarians who has done exceptional global service around the world.
Although the University of Denver said it was for his programs to relieve AIDS, malaria and other diseases in Africa, protesters still heavily refuted the university’s humanitarian award to George W. Bush last week. Protesters were not in accordance with DU’s reasoning for the award, which was for his AIDS a prevention program initiated in Africa during his presidency. Bush was responsible for creating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Africa in 2003, which resulted in hundreds of millions of US dollars donated to Africa and the prevention of now 1m children from contracting AIDS, according to a March 2013 report.
Although the African work was worthy of some recognition, it paled in comparison to his administration’s convicted felonies for war crimes, protesters said. Most held signs at the protest read slogans regarding Bush’s administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the hundreds of thousands that have been killed in Iraq since then, and the inhumane torturing and abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, a camp in Baghdad.
“How many people must you kill? To get an award from Dean Hill!” protesters chanted again and again, referring to Christopher Hill, the Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, who made the decision to give G.W. Bush for the award.
Students and community were particularly outraged that that neither they, nor faculty from the school, were given the chance to nominate or vote for humanitarians that they felt were worthy of the award.
Protests began in June when Korbel announced it would award Bush with the “Improving the Human Condition Award”. Student groups organized and even generated a national petition signed by 2,000 people in order to reverse the decision to give the former president the award. Students also requested the ability to nominate someone else.
The university never reversed its decision, however, although it did change the name of the award to the “Global Services” award following initial outrage.
In response to why no students or faculty were involved in the decision, Kim DeVigil, DU’s senior director of communications, said in an emailed statement that it “has been tradition [that] the Josef Korbel School administration in conjunction with the University of Denver leadership make this decision each year,” and that it would “plan to work to find ways to engage students, faculty and staff in future events,” she wrote.
The Korbel Dinner award ceremony is Korbel’s largest fundraiser of the year, according to the institution. The dinner raised approximately $670,000 in one night, not including any gifts that may have come in through separate donations.
At this point, it is not clear what other donations were made during the ceremony. The university did, however, recently receive a large donation to build another part of the Korbel School from the Sie Family, a historic donor to the school. The donation has not been publicly announced yet, but will soon, according to a spokesperson for the Sie family.
The other main concern students have had is the credibility of the school (which is known internationally for its human rights program) following the humanitarian award to George W. Bush. The money raised is expected to affect scholarships, programs, and research at the school, according to DeVigil.
“This is not the kind of money we want coming into our school,” said Sarah Fitouri, co-leader of Colorado Student Power Alliance, a student group on campus. “We don’t want the influence of those who support a war criminal to affect the programs that are in our institution.”