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Bush Commencement Speech at Furman Prompts Protest


Some faculty members at Furman University have suggested they won’t attend graduation ceremonies because President Bush is scheduled to speak, but a group of conservative students wants the university to step in and block the protest.

Bush is scheduled to give Furman’s graduation speech May 31 at the fairly conservative school of 2,625 undergraduate students with Baptist roots.

More than 500 members of the Furman community signed a letter released Monday asking that administrators refuse to allow faculty members to skip ceremonies in protest of the Bush visit. The move comes after more than 200 students and faculty members signed a statement earlier this month criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war and environmental issues.

“Some professors seem intent on turning what should be a celebration of their students’ accomplishments into a forum to air their political differences with President Bush,” said the letter, released Monday by Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow.

Christopher Mills, a junior leading up the Conservative Students effort, said Tuesday that no faculty members had signed the letter, which also asks that the petition opposing the visit be removed from the university’s public Web site.

“Their letter doesn’t really have anything to do with commencement,” said Mills, 21, an economics major. “We were just disappointed that they were putting publicity above professionalism and above the students that they’ve taught for four years.”

Dr. Judy Grisel, a neuroscience professor who signed the petition opposing Bush’s visit, said she and other faculty members were merely exercising what they see as their obligation to share their viewpoints and ideas.

“At a liberal arts college, we really try to train people to think critically and respect other peoples views,” said Grisel. “And we have been expressing our views in very civil ways.”

Spokesman Vince Moore said the administration planned to meet with Mills’ group to discuss posting its letter on the university’s Web site.

The Furman address is one of three Bush is giving this year. The president spoke May 4 at a Greensburg, Kan., high school that was ripped to pieces last year by a strong tornado. He also is scheduled to speak at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 28.

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