DENVER—President George W. Bush was honored Monday by the University of Denver despite a throng of protesters who rallied noisily outside the Hyatt Regency Denver and harassed guests as they attempted to enter the venue.
The Republican Bush received the Global Service Award from DU’s Korbel School of International Studies for his contributions to fighting disease in Africa both during and after his presidency.
“His efforts fighting HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer and malaria continue to improve the human condition by addressing the needs of vast populations around the globe,” said the university in a statement.
“As one of the country’s leading graduate schools in international studies, we strive to create an environment that fosters intellectual growth and the critical examination of ideas. Accordingly, we welcome speakers and dignitaries from around the globe who have a number of different perspectives,” said the statement.
That perspective was lost on the three dozen demonstrators who gathered on the sidewalk outside the downtown hotel, using megaphones to shout chants and insult guests lined up to enter the valet-parking loop.
“You guys are all sick, supporting George Bush!” said a man named Lee, directing his megaphone at a car waiting in the parking line.
Lee said he was with Global Equality, but the protesters came from a number of backgrounds. Some were DU students and alumni, while others identified themselves as so-called “truthers,” those who believe that the 9/11 terrorist attack was a White House plot.
The protest cast a pall on what was otherwise an important night for the university. Bush has avoided the spotlight since leaving office in January 2009 after serving two terms, and his agreeing to deliver the keynote address at the annual dinner was something of a plum for the school.
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli, who sits on the school’s Social Science Foundation Board, said in July that having Mr. Bush agree to appear at the dinner was a “huge coup.”
“It’s a huge honor for a school to have a presidential visit in itself, and obviously it has huge fundraising potential for the school,” said Ciruli. “In terms of his record, there are obviously still some controversial parts related to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, but there are other parts that are universally praised.”
DU alumnus Christine Hart posted a petition on Change.org over the summer calling on the university to uninvited Bush. The petition had 1,982 signatures as of Monday.
The honor was originally called the Improving the Human Condition Award, but later changed to the Global Service Award. A DU spokeswoman said the original name was used as a placeholder as university officials decided on a final award.
The Korbel School is headed by Christopher Hill, who served as ambassador to Iraq during the first year of the Obama administration and as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Bush administration.
Protesters also targeted Mr. Hill with chants like, “How many people must you kill to get an award from Dean Hill?”
Elizabeth Borneman, who graduated in June with a degree in international studies, said the school should have discussed the award first with students. She helped hold a banner that said, “Dean Hill, No Awards for War Criminals!”
“I’m here because students were not consulted, but this award is being given in our name,” said Borneman, who said she was with the Colorado Student Power Alliance.