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One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies to grant George W. Bush with its “Improving The Human Condition Award” – Part One (of an open-ended series)

July 1, 2013
Abu Ghraib

Geoge W. Bush’s human rights legacy: Abu Ghraib



Part Two of the Series

Part Three of the Series

Part Four of the Series

Part Five of the Series

Part Six of the Series


(Introductory Note: The University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, where I teach and work, has decided to give George W. Bush a humanitarian award at its annual `Korbel Dinner’ for “Improving The Human Condition”, proving once again that reality is often more convoluted than fiction. 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. What’s the deal? I hope to explore this in a number of blog entries on the subject.

Also I would ask those of you who read this to sign and circulate the petition protesting the award)


Some Background on the Korbel Dinners; Personal Impressions…

Every summer since I have been associated with the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, nearly twenty years now,  there has been an annual fund-raising dinner that brings together the broader Colorado community. This year, surrealistically, the humanitarian award recipient is George W. Bush, the country’s 43rd president. He will be `honored’ for `improving the human condition.’


This year, surrealistically, the humanitarian award recipient is George W. Bush, the country’s 43rd president. He will be `honored’ for `improving the human condition.’


Korbel dinners are big affairs, “events” , held at fancy downtown hotels – usually the Hyatt Regency, one of Denver’s finest –  and many of them that I have attended, have been enjoyable and interesting enough, a time and place to mingle with some of Colorado’s `upper crust’, and those with an interest in international affairs, either for business or human rights reasons.  As the tickets have always been pricey – it is after all a fund raiser – it turns out to be the `not-so’ broader Colorado community, but still it has usually been worth attending. Despite a drumbeat of talk, commitment to diversity, minority and labor participation has usually been scant; not many small business types either from what I could tell. Still…

The dinners always include the granting of one or two awards; over the years the awards have tended to alternate between Republican and Democratic `heavyweights’, some more liberal, others tilting towards the neo-con side. That way the university can cover its different possible funding sources. Among recent recipients have been George Soros, Condoleezza Rice, John Sie. The food is generally pretty good, the free drinks are wonderful and the company interesting enough.

Often I have found myself sitting next to locally based commercial real estate developers, financiers, people that I would not normally run into in daily life. The exchange of ideas has usually been relaxed, and not without some interest. What became something of a ritual followed: trying to be polite, my commercial realtor or developer associate inquires rather gingerly on such matters of global importance such as whether or not they should invest in Chinese commercial real estate, the stability of the African uranium and coltan industries. We play `pretend’, a game I rather like. They pretend to be carefully listening to me and I pretend to know how to advise them.

While I feel quite comfortable with the content of the courses that I teach, giving advice on commercial real estate in East Asia is not one of my strong points. But that is what usually interests them. By the evening’s end, the `pretend game’ is over; many of them can go back to exploiting the Third World economically and  I can return to exploring  the consequences many of their investments have produced in terms of human suffering and environmental degradation. A nice mix. In a few cases despite our differences in approach, it has led to enduring relations…for which I am happy.

All that changed a few years ago when Korbel – which had already changed its name from its original title the `Graduate School of International Studies’ – gave a human rights award to a Newmont Mining executive. As the song goes, that was, for me, frankly `one toke over the line‘. The company, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, has come under fire for its environmental practices worldwide, most especially in Indonesia, but also elsewhere. A human rights award to Newmont? Please!

That was it. So much for the Korbel dinners.

At the time, a number of DU administrators and faculty rationalized the Newmont award as a form of positive reinforcement, ie, they did not try to deny Newmont’s poor environmental record, but suggested that  by giving the company’s c.e.o. an award that it would change both his and the company’s behavior. So wasn’t it worth the effort? However that particular line of argument  did not win over the hearts and minds of many students and faculty. As usual – and as is the case with the Bush award, neither the faculty nor the students were involved in the award recipient choice. There was protest, but the award and the dinner proceeded anyway. And indeed, ironically, the protest itself might have given needed publicity boosting attendance to the dinner.


At the time, a number of DU administrators and faculty rationalized the Newmont award as a form of positive reinforcement, ie, they did not try to deny Newmont’s poor environmental record, but suggested that  by giving the company’s c.e.o. an award that it would change both his and the company’s behavior.


Other than to sign a petition, I was not involved in the Newmont protest effort. I was too pre-occupied with following the twists and turns of the Arab Spring, most especially as it was affecting Tunisia, a country with which I have a long history. But, still, something snapped and that was it for the Korbel dinners. Mine was a quiet protest, a personal boycott, if you will. I don’t remember there being an organized call to boycott the dinner in any event. Nor did I ask anyone but wife Nancy to join me. I just couldn’t sit through watching a company that has done its fair share of raping the earth, get a human rights award.

I do remember commenting to Nancy at the time, something along the lines of `this year Newmont, next year Bush? Cheney, Rumsfeld?” But those comments were made in jest as I couldn’t imagine the university giving the platform to persons who cannot travel to many countries because they would be indicted as war criminals on stepping off the plane. But then I have often been accused of lacking imagination, of failing to see that the impossible – like defending torture and drone assassinations – often transforms itself over time in the `probable’.

By the way, Nancy was disappointed; she so enjoyed the food, the drink, the company at the Korbel dinners. But being the old curmudgeon that I have become, that was it. Haven’t gone to a dinner since, don’t intend to in the future. Even before the announcement of this year’s recipient, I had lost all interest in the Korbel dinners; For better or worse,  I saw the Newmont award as something of a passage rite: Korbel’s loss of soul.



DU Draws Heat For Plan To Present Bush With “Improving Human Condition Award’. Colorado Independent. July 3, 2013; also reprinted at Huffington Post 

Award For What? Inside Higher Education. July 5, 2013

DU Should Give George W. Bush The Denver Boone Award, Not The Humanitarian AwardWestword. July 8, 2013

A Sick Cruel Joke: Bush Award For Improving The Human ConditionCommon Dreams. July 8, 2013

University Renames George W. Bush Award Following Protests. MSN News. July 11, 2013

George Bush To Get University Humanitarian Award Despite Faculty-Student ProtestsWashington Times. July 10, 2013.

The Carpenters. `We’ve Only Just Begun’ (you can skip the ad)

To be continued…

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2013 3:10 pm

    Bush delivered us two major wars, Guantanamo, and the superboosted surveillance state. His administration funded the torture regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Columbia.

    What an insult to world intelligence that anyone would be awarding Bush for anything other than doing the devil’s work.

    Does the school need to provide evidence to back its decision? What human on earth, –besides oil executives, autocrats, and military contractors–had their condition improved?

  2. Jim permalink
    July 1, 2013 3:26 pm

    D U might consider the award for Cheney, next year, after all, he has observed
    ” deficits don’t matter, Reagan taught us that”.
    The Human condition was changed under
    Bush, the award is for those who greatly impacted the ” human condition”.
    The greatest negative impact is seen as
    warranting an award.
    Was it all worth it.
    The 100,000 or so dead Iraq woman and
    Childern was worth it to Maddy
    Albright., she do exclaimed, as the world dropped its jaw in awe, shock almost
    at such a cold comment.
    It would be only fitting that she has to hand
    the award to George, and maybe do a high
    5 like George Tenet, on a smriking high
    5, decreeing; Slam Dunk.

  3. July 2, 2013 6:59 am

    Let’s not forget the “Patriot” Act. Human rights? I don’t think so!

  4. Irene permalink
    July 2, 2013 12:53 pm

    I thought I was reading The Onion at first. This cannot be true…WTF?!

  5. July 2, 2013 3:23 pm

    I suppose Korbel will cite the efforts to address the African Aids epidemic. I know very little about this but have heard in the MSM that “millions of lives” were saved by this. When you consider the perhaps billions who will lose their lives because the Bush administration contributed to Climate Change Denial, this effort magnified by “millions” makes giving Bush a humanitarian award even more inane than giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. What it makes DU and Korbel look like a Koch Brothers lackey rather than an institution of higher learning professing that searching for truth is a human and moral imperative. Makes the giver look ignorant and lacking in any academic rigor.

  6. kay joy permalink
    July 5, 2013 9:28 am

    Pres. GW Bush appointed Gonzalez, twice, to top positions AFTER he approved torture [specifically, redefined it!]. I deserve the HR Award more than he does! & what has he done post-retirement? Clinton founded Foundation & volunteers w/Haiti; Carter founded Foundation & volunteers Worldwide for Human Rights. What is GW’s legacy???

    • Cas permalink
      July 8, 2013 4:25 pm

      Clinton founded his initiative as a sop to his enormous ego. I have no doubt you are an Obama voter. Obama is waging war in six or eight countries, continued rendition, and turned countless civilians and two Americans, one a teenager, into clouds of red dust via drone. Bono credited Bush with saving 8 million lives in Africa. He continues his work to fund Aids prevention and treatment there. He is now spearheading the fight against breast and cervical cancer among African women. You are an idiot, and an Obama voter – but I repeat myself.

  7. July 8, 2013 7:02 pm

    This one from a Rob Warram (, received by email. I googled the name and there is a Rob Warram who is a Tampa, Florida lawyer, perhaps it is him?..Warram contrasts my low level education with George W. Bush’s impressive credentials. Thought it worth sharing. rjp

    “Enjoy your minor moment in the spotlight – you will soon be back to trying to impress recent high school graduates with your deep intellect and worldliness. I can only hope that your University’s administrators finally decide that having yet another hippy turned bitter, self-important professor spouting off in the press is too detrimental for an already marginal (at best) institutional reputation. You are a shining example of the adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Now, go curl up with your hash pipe, put on some Grateful Dead, and keep telling yourself that St. Lawrence undergrad with a master’s degree from UC-Denver is every bit as impressive as Yale undergrad with an MBA from Harvard. Dolt.”

  8. July 8, 2013 7:08 pm

    I like this one a lot – also sent to me by email, this one by a GJ Stratman ( . There is a George J. Stratman who, it seems, now lives in Melbourne Florida. This particular Stratman is a bit younger than me – he is 66, if it is the right one. I particularly like his last line about Denver’s Weed Day. rjp

    “It is one thing to try to impress over-educated colleagues with your Leftist superficiality; it is another to try to convince people that articulate banter (aka from BO) is more substantive and impressive than less articulate substance (W). Surely you have more intelligence than to fall for the superficial over the substantive. Or did you fall off your perch during Denver’s Weed Day? And BTW, George W. never stumbled during a debate like your doll BO did.”

  9. July 8, 2013 8:29 pm

    This from a retired prof who taught for decades at Korbel, in an email. rjp

    “If I were still a member of the Faculty of the Korbel School I would
    protest the granting of a Humanitarian award to George W. Bush too. He
    is more of a War Criminal with the violation of torture and other laws
    which the U.S is a party, than a humanitarian. If he had been President
    of a small African State he would be up before the ICC now.
    When I was there during the Vietnam War several of us faculty protested
    in 1965 inviting the then Secretary of State Dean Rusk to give the
    opening lecture of the School. We were given the opportunity to confront
    him personally and did so and made it clear what a mistake he was making
    in Vietnam. It took many years before the U.S. withdrew but Pres.
    Johnson did not run again because of this colossal failure. Why don’t
    you invite Kofi Anan or Ban ki Moon to get a humanitarian award? I
    should think that Hillary Clinton has earned a humanitarian award with
    her advocacy of the rights of women and many generous donors to the
    University would agree..”

  10. Jason permalink
    July 11, 2013 11:48 am

    The aware highlights President Bush’s largely overlooked contributions to the continent Africa in humanitarian, economic, and medical aid that was more than his father’s, President Clinton’s, and President Obama’s aid combined. I’m amazed how ill informed you choose to leave your students because you do not enjoy someone’s politics.

    You are an Alinksy Liberal. A true Liberal would embrace why the award is being given on the contribution President Bush is receiving the award. But as an Alinsky Liberal expectedly the ultimate destruction of character and standing of your ‘enemy’ is needed to continue the regressive policies of “Progressives.”

    It’s a shame that the students of the University of Denver are being duped by a partisan hack.

    • Jason permalink
      July 11, 2013 11:52 am

      And to those who cite the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, and other “atrocities” you like to espouse. Remember that a large majority of Liberals and Democrats supported AND voted for these policies. And they themselves are television today defending the use of said policies before your very faces, including Presiden Obama, Vice President Biden, Senators Reid, Feinstein, Shumer, and Boxer for examples.


  1. One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George W. Bush an `International Service’ Award (Part Two of an open ended series) | Rob Prince's Blog
  2. One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George W. Bush an International Service Award: Part Four of an Open Series | Rob Prince's Blog
  3. One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George. W. Bush An International Service Award: Part Three of an Open Ended Series | Rob Prince's Blog
  4. One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George W. Bush an `International Service’ Award (Part Two of an open ended series) |

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