UNT students threaten boycott over Abbott as grad. speaker

Some students at the University of North Texas are not happy that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will be speaking at graduation next month.

The President of UNT told FOX 4 Monday that the school put out requests to a number of potential speakers, including Michael J. Fox, but most of them were either booked already or were too expensive.

However, the decision to invite Gov. Abbott drew immediate response -- negative, and loud.

Christy Medrano set up a Facebook page called Abbott Free UNT soon after learning the governor would be the commencement speaker.

"He does not value what we value," said Medrano.

It calls on seniors to get up and walk out when Abbott takes the stage, and it has nearly 1,000 likes.

There's also a petition circulating that asks the President of UNT to find another speaker.

"A lot of students were very angry, galvanized…so we figured, let's take it to one of the other accessible open forums, which is social media," said Medrano.

Abbott opposes same-sex marriage, and the backlash comes mainly from the campus's LGBT community. The school's LGBT community harshly criticizes Abbott, saying he has not been friendly or open to them and calling Abbott, among other things, a bigot.

"If my other fellow students, class of 2015…if they decide that they're gonna walk out, I might just stand up and walk out too," said Elizabeth Webb, a UNT senior and member of GLAAD.

UNT President Neal Smatresk says they extended the invitation to Gov. Abbott soon after he was elected.

"And we felt it was appropriate," said Smatresk. "He's the chief executive officer of all higher ed. and the highest elected official in the state."

Smatresk disagrees with those who criticize Abbott's record on education or diversity, saying he's an advocate for UNT.

He's also free.

"Other speakers, it turns out, can cost a lot of money…up to $500,000 and a private jet, and we didn't think that was fiscally responsible," said Smatresk.

And as for the backlash?

"Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and to their freedom of expression, and nowhere is that protected more than on a college campus," said Smatresk.  "In fact, I would argue that we must be doing our job right. We expect our students to be passionate, to be engaged, to care deeply and to be active."

There have been some comments on social media calling for students to yell or be disruptive at commencement, but the students FOX 4 spoke to say that's not what they're asking people to do -- they want it to be a silent protest.


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