Bush's Furman visit is opposed by some

COLUMBIA --- More than 200 Furman University students and faculty members are objecting to the school's first visit by a sitting U.S. president, criticizing the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war and environmental issues.

President Bush is scheduled to give the graduation speech May 31 at this fairly conservative school of 2,625 undergraduate students.

Earlier this month, 222 students and faculty members signed and posted on the school's Web site a statement that outlines objections to the visit. The statement cites the war in Iraq and the administration's "obstructing progress on reducing greenhouse gases while favoring billions in tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies."

"We are ashamed of the actions of this administration. The war in Iraq has cost the lives of over 4,000 brave and honorable U.S. military personnel," they wrote. "Because we love this country and the ideals it stands for, we accept our civic responsibility to speak out against these actions that violate American values."

The school said the event would mark the first time a sitting president has visited the school in its 182-year history. Some protesters said they will skip the Bush speech entirely; others said they plan to attend, perhaps wearing arm bands in protest.

Spokesman Blair Jones said Monday that the White House supports the protesters' rights to speak their mind.

"The cornerstone of our democracy is the right of the American people to peacefully express their views," he said. "The purpose of the president's visit is to congratulate and wish the graduates well as they finish one chapter in their lives and begin the next."

Furman President David Shi released a statement saying the university supported its members' rights to speak their minds.

The campus community is preparing for several events leading up to the president's visit. A seven-part lecture series, "Assessing the Bush Presidency," is set to begin Thursday, and some students who signed the statement are organizing a public reading of the names of U.S. troops killed in Iraq.

Bioethics professor Carmela Epright said she helped get the effort going after the visit was announced, sending an e-mail to professors she felt were in sync with her political views. Some students also took up the cause, but not all supported the notion.

"We underwent a tremendous amount of criticism, with students saying, 'Don't you dare ruin my graduation,' " Ms. Epright said, adding that she feels the student body is perhaps more conservative than the professors.