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Student letter warns against Cheney 'diatribe'

Veep criticized for earlier speech
Vice President Dick Cheney's speech Monday at a Missouri college was criticized by the school's president.
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Dick Cheney
Westminster College
Florida State University

(CNN) -- A group of students at Florida State University is demanding that FSU's president ask Vice President Dick Cheney not to attack Sen. John Kerry or make a "political diatribe" Saturday when he delivers the school's commencement address.

The demand comes after Cheney used a speech Monday at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri to sharply criticize the presumptive Democratic nominee's record, including votes against funding various weapons programs during his two decades in the Senate.

In a letter to FSU President Thomas Wetherell, the students characterized Cheney's speech in Missouri as "a nasty, personal attack" which "had no place in an official university setting."

The effort was organized by Tom Barcus, a member of FSU's College Democrats, and signed by about 130 people. The school is in Tallahassee, Florida.

"We strongly urge you to seek assurances that his speech will not be another political diatribe aimed only at scoring points in the presidential campaign," the students wrote. "The graduation ceremony should be the culmination of students' time at the university and a chance to celebrate accomplishments with friends and family."

"It would be unfortunate if that day were besmirched by personal attacks -- either direct or indirect -- against candidates for public office."

Responding to the letter at Wetherell's request, Mary Coburn, the university's vice president for student affairs, assured the students in an e-mail that Cheney's speech to graduates on Saturday will not be political.

"From the beginning of our discussions with the vice president's office, we have been repeatedly assured that this will not be a political speech," Coburn said. "We have also reviewed other graduation speeches that he has given, and they have not been political."

Unlike the speech at Westminster, where Cheney was invited to discuss foreign policy, "politics is not the purpose of the FSU speech," she said.

After Cheney's speech in Missouri, the president of Westminster College, Fletcher Lamkin, sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff saying he "was surprised and disappointed" that Cheney had resorted to "Kerry-bashing" in his address. The Kerry campaign then distributed Lamkin's critical e-mail in a press release. (Full story)

"We had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy," wrote Lamkin, who invited Kerry to come to the college to issue a rebuttal. Kerry is due to speak at Westminster on Friday. (Full story)

In their letter to Wetherell, the FSU students asked him to "publicly ask the vice president to disavow such attacks before Saturday" because, "as we have seen, private assurances from the vice president's office are not a reliable guarantee."

The White House has defended Cheney's speech, insisting that his critique of Kerry's record on national security was not a personal attack, but rather an accurate analysis of the positions he has taken through the years as a senator.

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