Howard University students are debating whether President Bush is a suitable candidate for commencement speaker or recipient of an honorary degree after the university’s board of trustees approved him as a possibility.
“If the board could make such a decision knowing that the majority of students would oppose, I am concerned about other decisions they are making that are out of line with the desires of students and the Howard tradition,” said Stefanie Brown, the former Student Association president.
Bush was invited to speak at Howard University during the 2000 presidential campaign and declined.
Brown, who is the Undergraduate Student Assembly representative for the School of Business, mentioned Bush’s failure to appear at two national NAACP conventions after being invited, as well as his policies, in explaining her opposition.
“We just protested with Jesse Jackson about the Bush administration’s closed-door policy,” Brown said. “The university wants to give a man who has been ignoring African-American issues and leaders an honorary degree from the best HBCU in the country. I strongly oppose.”
Artis Hampshire-Cowan, the secretary of the board of trustees, said members of the university community nominate people they think are suitable candidates for honorary degrees and the board makes a decision.
“As a board, we look at the outstanding contributions the candidate has made to society and certainly the president of the United States fits that criteria,” she said.
Hampshire-Cowan said no final decision had been made about who will definitely receive an honorary degree or speak at commencement.
Ja’Ron Smith, a junior finance major, is a member of the newly formed chapter of the College Republicans and disagreed with the anti-Bush sentiment.
“A lot of students are upset with Bush possibly receiving a honorary degree and they don’t know why,” Smith said. “I am Republican, but not a fan of Bush; however, Republican or Democrat, he is our president.”
Hampshire-Cowan insisted the university is bipartisan and said the Bush family has been a major supporter of Howard.
“The university has a history with the Bush family, with Bush Senior and now the current president,” Hampshire-Cowan said. “As a university we don’t have permanent friends, but permanent interests.”
In 1989, the student body protested Howard’s ties to the Bush family because Lee Atwater, the manager for George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, was appointed to the Howard University Board of Trustees.
On Atwater’s watch, the Republicans used ads featuring Willie Horton, a black man convicted of raping a white woman, in campaigns.
The student body took over an administration building in a protest that drew national support from Jesse Jackson and others.
The event prompted Atwater’s resignation from the board.
Hampshire-Cowan said she was alarmed by the student response to Bush’s approved nomination.
“George Bush is our president and leader of the free world,” Hampshire-Cowan said. “He will also bring prestige to our university.”
Howard students are not the only ones who have protested Bush speaking at a commencement. Last year, Notre Dame University students picketed with placards, citing Bush’s 152 executions as governor, his renouncement of the Kyoto agreement on the environment, what they called his disregard for workers’ rights and what they said was his failure to support domestic manufacturing industries.
Kerry-Ann Hamilton is a student at Howard University and campus editor of The Hilltop. Lauren Anderson contributed to this report.