DENVER — Former President George W. Bush was honored Monday by the University of Denver as protesters rallied noisily outside, calling him a “war criminal” and saying he was undeserving of the award.
About three dozen protesters crowded the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Regency Denver waving signs, leading chants and yelling at the hundreds of guests attending the dinner as they drove up to the valet parking circle.
“You guys are all sick, supporting George Bush,” Lee, who said he was with Global Equality, shouted into a megaphone at the line of cars waiting to enter the hotel.
Mr. Bush was scheduled to deliver the keynote address and receive the Global Service Award from the university’s Korbel School of International Studies for his work in combating HIV, cervical cancer and malaria in Africa.
The dinner was a private fundraising event and closed to the press. The university released a statement beforehand saying it was “honored and delighted” to host Mr. Bush.
“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,” the university said in a statement. “Accordingly, we welcome speakers and dignitaries from around the globe who have a number of different perspectives.”
DU alumnus Christine Hart launched a petition drive in July calling on the university to revoke the invitation for Mr. Bush, saying the Republican ex-president “left behind a legacy of human rights abuses, including the torture of detainees in extra-territorial jails, preemptive war, domestic surveillance programs, and other egregious actions that deleteriously impact the human condition.”
The petition on Change.org gathered 1,982 signatures as of Monday.
Mr. Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, has ducked the spotlight since leaving office in 2008 after two terms, and his agreeing to speak at the dinner was seen as something of a plum for the university.
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli, who sits on the school’s Social Science Foundation Board, said in July that having Mr. Bush at the event 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 Mr. 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.”
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 what to call the 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.
Elizabeth Borneman, who graduated in June with a degree in international studies, said the school should have discussed the award first with students.
“I’m here because students were not consulted, but this award is being given in our name,” said Ms. Borneman, who helped display a banner that said, “Dean Hill, No Awards for War Criminals!”