University of Denver Alumni, Students, and Faculty Protest George Bush Award



DENVER-One hundred people holding signs and chanting, “How many people must you kill, to get an award from Dean Hill,” were standing outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel as they met invited guests outside the Colorado Convention Center.  The group was protesting the honoring of the 43rd US President George W. Bush who was being awarded with “Improving the Human Condition” annually bestowed by the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies.  Despite a petition campaign that began last June along with several other acts of protest, the Korbel School’s Dean Christopher Hill remained firm about the recipient.  Hill served as US ambassador to Macedonia, Poland, and Korea under Bush.

The crowd chanted, “Dean Hill can’t you see, this award shames our degree,”  “Brought a criminal to town, so were marching all around,”  “DU admin you’ve been told, Korbel values can’t be sold,“ and “We believe in human rights.  That is why we have to fight.”


It was on June 23, 2013 that Korbel graduate Christine Hart-whose master’s degree is in human rights- read an announcement of the 2013 recipient of the award.  Kiela Parks did also the next day.  She too was a student and former employee at the University Office of Alumni and External Relations but also worked at the 2011 and 2012 Korbel fundraising dinners.  She joined Hart in opposing the nomination.  Her response, “That George W. Bush, who is known to have authorized torture and numerous other crimes against humanity, is being given an award for ‘improving the human condition’ is a sick cruel joke.”  It was soon after that Hart began a petition calling for Dean Hill to reverse his decision because of Bush’s indictment for war crimes and human rights abuses.  Beyond the petition, two-thirds of Korbel’s faculty members signed an appeal to Hill and DU Chancellor Robert Coombe echoing the petition along with other  emails, phone calls, and letters from alumni and students.


In a statement released by Kim de Vigil Korbel communications director for the school, said that the school was in the process of renaming the award, perhaps to “Global Service”.  She emphasized Bush’s “remarkable work in Africa, both during his presidency and in his post-presidency.  His efforts fighting HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer and malaria, were all proof of improving the human condition by addressing the needs of vast populations around the globe.”  But students say that Hill merely changed the name to the “Global Service Award” without including any of his constituents in the decision-making process.  The annual dinner is the school’s biggest fundraising event.



A press conference was held at the protest where Korbel students, alumni and faculty told reporters why giving Bush a “Global Service Award” at such a prominent fundraising event undermines the core values, intellectual credibility and mission of the Josef Korbel School. Sara Fitouri is a member of the Colorado Student Power Alliance a group of Colorado youth who say they are reclaiming their voice in education, and are dedicated to a free, inclusive, and democratic education system.  She said at the press conference that the process of naming the recipient was anything but democratic,

“I’m a University of Denver Korbel and law student.  We are here today because we don’t believe George Bush has committed a global service.  We believe he’s committed war crimes.  DU has taught us to be leaders in our community, and leaders should be accountable to the people they represent.  Dean Hill has repeatedly shown that he is not accountable to the students and the faculty who stand against this award.  Over fourteen hundred people signed a petition following when the award was first announced saying that this award should not be given to George Bush.  Dean Hill changed the name of the award, but still insisted on awarding a war criminal.  He’s also ignored two thirds of the faculty at Korbel who similarly called on him to not award George Bush.”


Walter Barron said that he’s an alumnus of DU,

“I am embarrassed and disappointed that the chancellor of my university would allow our university to become a laughing stock for giving a man like George Bush an award for anything.  I am proud and honored to be working with these wonderful students and young people who feel they must stand against hypocrisy.  DU has now become the elitist institution we so hoped it wouldn’t.  A senior staff officer working with our troops in Kabul, Afghanistan contacted me to say, “I hope someone is talking about the real problem which is Chris Hill.  And for him to bring a war criminal to a great institution brings shame to it and to Colorado.  Bush is fortunate that he has not been tried for war crimes at the World Court.  So many lives lost and destroyed for nothing.  We have upset the balance of power in the Middle East.  Ambassador Hill was part of this.”


Former US Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albrght, Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson, and former US Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey Jr. are all former recipients of the award. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Outstanding Alumni Award at the Korbel School dinner in 2010 where students and community held signs also calling her a “war criminal.”

James Duncan protested the awarding of Condeleeza Rice the year she was awarded,

“It was a couple of years ago that CodePink held a protest when Condeleezza Rice was given a similar award.  There were three of us that came out for that protest and I was so proud because we all stood up strong against a lot of people who were giving a lot of ‘thumbs down’ but secretly behind people’s back, we saw a lot of ‘thumbs up.’  As they were walking away, people were giving us the thumbs up, secretly.  So it was very encouraging.”



The protesters said that they wanted to present a “Global Service Award” to an alternative honoree who has practiced international service, demonstrates Korbel’s foundational values, and that the choice of recipients is a democratic one involving in some capacity the entire Korbel community.

Kris Tetzlaff who teaches at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora suggested an alternative honoree,

“We think that George Bush deserves thirty-five years for all of his war crimes.  If he were to go to Switzerland or Italy or any other country he may be arrested for his crimes for his offenses.  Chelsea Manning deserves the award for Global Service.  She’s a true patriot.  She uncovered George Bush’s war crimes and the war crimes of the military complex and that’s why we’re here today.  Justice for Chelsea and jail for George Bush!”

One sign held by a protester read:  THE IRAQ WAR WAS NOT A GLOBAL SERVICE.

Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report


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