Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Korbel Dinner sparks protest

Current chair and former Newmont Mining CEO Wayne Murdy received a coveted DU award at Thursday’s Korbel Dinner for all he’s done to promote social responsibility in the gold mining industry and his own company.

Outside the Marriott City Center in downtown Denver, nearly 100 people waved signs and shouted slogans to insist that Murdy hasn’t done nearly enough.

Those inside, attending the 10th annual dinner in recognition of Josef Korbel, founder of DU’s Graduate School of International Studies, heard Murdy say that Newmont’s moral obligation to help people where the company operates was not new.

“Social responsibility is part of our culture,” he said in accepting the International Bridge Builder Award on behalf of Newmont’s 15,000 employees.

Outside, protesters such as Glenn Morris of the American Indian Movement said Newmont and other mining companies are “despoiling the land and violating the rights of indigenous people.” He emphasized that he and others had a social responsibility to confront the company.

The protest was initiated by the Denver Justice and Peace Committee, which mobilized a patchwork of individuals that included students, retirees, activists and American Indians.

The outpouring began haltingly about 6 p.m. but gathered steam for about 30 minutes of concerted marching, sign waving and shouting, enhanced with theatrics. A demonic figure on stilts blindly stalked an impish character dangling a drawing of a carrot and holding a sign that said: “Follow the carat, Wayne.”

AIM members chanted and drummed, while other demonstrators unfurled banners bearing messages such as: “Newmont Mining: Our lives are more precious than gold” and “Newmont Mining: Making a killing.”

Many of the protestors were from Boulder or other parts of the state, but some hailed from the DU community, including Dean Saitta, professor of anthropology and Faculty Senate president. Saitta said he attended in “solidarity” and thought Newmont hadn’t shown the “substantial track record of success” to deserve the award. 

Saitta was joined by two other DU faculty members and at least one DU student, Sasha Breger, a PhD candidate at GSIS. Breger decried Newmont’s environmental record and called the Bridge Builder award “shameful.”

Inside the hotel, Murdy acknowledged that his award “has caused controversy in some circles.” But he insisted that Newmont was “a catalyst for building economies” in areas of the world where “the real disease is poverty.”

Protesters cited a multitude of perceived ills: objections to mining as an industry and gold mining in particular; Newmont’s operations overseas and on land in Nevada claimed by the Western Shoshone; Murdy’s record; and DU for seeing “humanitarianism” in Newmont’s corporate behavior that the protesters could not.

“We believe the leadership shown by Wayne Murdy in instilling the importance of corporate social responsibility in his company made him worthy of being honored by the University,” said Jim Berscheidt, associate vice chancellor of Communications and Marketing.

“I have to believe we all want the same thing,” said Newmont Communications Director Omar Jabara. “Unfortunately, there is no magic solution to getting us there overnight. It will take hard work and genuine cooperation. If we can get past the shrill discourse and hyperbole, there’s no reason why we can’t succeed.”

Outside, at least one protestor embraced the ambiguity of the evening. Sarah Haynes, an environmental policy major at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said she had joined her “first protest” because she couldn’t understand why DU would honor a company linked to environmental problems related to gold.

“You could honor others,” she said. Then she paused and described how the same morning her dentist had capped one of her teeth with a gold crown.

“I don’t know where it came from,” she said, admitting to both embarrassment and ironic confusion.

Haynes’ guilt might have been eased had she heard the remarks of Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and Korbel keynote speaker. Albright said her father, Josef, had always insisted that education means asking questions and considering all points of view, an alternative that succumbed to tension over the announced protest.

“He had no patience for those who didn’t open their minds to the perspectives of others,” she said. “Real education makes demands.”

Read about Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s speech.

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