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Backlash At UNT Over Governor Abbott As Graduation Speaker

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DENTON (CBS 11 NEWS) - The announcement that Governor Greg Abbott will be the keynote speaker at the University of North Texas' commencement ceremony has been met with an online backlash from students.

Nearly 2,000 people, as of Monday evening, have signed an online petition asking the university's president to replace Abbott as the commencement speaker.

Hundreds have also joined Facebook group called "Abbott Free UNT."

"Abbott doesn't represent the campus on many levels," said senior UNT student A.J. Aguinaga, who now plans to skip the ceremony.

Aguinaga is among several students who organized the petition.

"I do not think that the commencement is a place for a partisan political speaker whether they are conservative or liberal," said fellow student and petition organizer Christy Medrano. "Everyone should feel welcome at their commencement."

UNT President Neal Smatresk said he understood when selecting Abbott to speak at UNT's inaugural university-wide commencement ceremony that there would be some controversy.

"I don't expect the whole campus to appreciate the points of view of or endorse them," he explained. "But I expect them to listen because creating an informed and educated citizenry and engaging in public dialog and discourse is a healthy thing for our campus."

Several students on campus said that they don't support the petition and even think it negatively reflects on their school.

"I think regardless it's the governor of the state. You should show some respect," said student Perri Van Horn.

Smatresk said the university looked into several different speakers but Abbott was his first choice.

He also added Abbott will not cost the university to have him speak at graduation unlike many of the other speakers the university was looking into that were charging upwards of a half-million-dollar appearance fee.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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