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Speaker pick upsets some at UNC law school

By Eric Ferreri
McClatchy Newspapers

The selection of a former Bush administration official as commencement speaker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's law school has sparked a furor.

Some faculty and students are criticizing the selection of Michael Mukasey, who served as U.S. attorney general from 2007 to earlier this year.

A petition is circulating decrying the choice. It reads in part: "We believe a commencement speaker should reflect the collective values of the UNC Law community. ... By refusing to condemn waterboarding as torture, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has demonstrated that he does not represent those values."

Mukasey was a controversial figure from the outset of his time as the nation's top lawyer. During his confirmation hearings in 2007, Mukasey declined to say whether waterboarding, an interrogation technique, amounted to torture.

Travis Packer, a third-year law student, said offering Mukasey the commencement speaker slot suggests that the UNC law community in general agrees with his beliefs.

"I feel like we've endorsed this person," Packer said. "But I would never give him my endorsement."

Packer conceded it would be difficult to find a speaker with views that everyone agrees with, and said Mukasey would be a good addition to a law forum, panel or other sort of round-table discussion.

But a commencement speech is different, he said.

"When you invite someone to come and speak, you're bestowing an honor upon him," Packer said.

The UNC Student Bar Association made the selection. Its president, Matt Modell, said politics did not factor into the decision.

Last year, Mukasey drew criticism when he spoke at Boston College's law school graduation.