July 1, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
There’s an old saying among marketing gurus,”It’s not about how much we pay you, it’s about how much you’ll earn for us.”
At the moment, it’s not Hillary Clinton’s health, hair, pantsuits, her relationship with Monica Lewinsky (she forgives her) or even what she did or did not know about Benghazi that’s making headlines.
Nope. It’s the sweet $225,000 she’ll pocket for “gracing” the University of Nevada at Las Vegas with her presence this coming October. For about a 30 minute scheduled speech, the UNLV brain-trust figures she’s well worth the $7500 a minute fee. A number of students disagree, arguing the quarter of a million could be spent better elsewhere like in reducing the cost of attending school there.
Unlike the UNLV leadership, I’ll try and address the student concerns in just a moment.
First, while this latest flap over a paid celebrity-politician being paid a King’s ransom to speak at a campus does involve Madame Hillary Clinton, the controversy that seems to follow once the celeb has been invited is not new.
Recently, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, the former national security advisor for President George W. Bush backed out of an accepted speaking engagement (and hefty fee, reportedly $125,000) to share her pearls of wisdom with Rutgers University students. Seems a number of students, paying students, took exception to her role in sending US troops to Iraq and fearing much bad press, the VIP invite to Ms. Rice was rescinded (they say it was rescinded, she publicly withdrew her acceptance-politics, eh?).
Rutgers ended up having novelist Toni Morrison do the honors at a much discounted rate of $30,000, still not bad work for about 20-30 minutes. This still rankled students, faculty and employees who pointed out that the university had recently canceled all faculty promotions, froze 13,000 employee salaries and laid off seasonal workers due to “extreme fiscal crisis” on campus.
Ms. Morrison must have driven straight to the bank after sharing her words with those not trying to yell her off the stage and cashed that baby just in case.
Let’s see Eric Holder Jr., Actor James Franco, Meg Whitman, Ben Stein, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have all raised a stir and ultimately withdrew from university speaking invites due to political and fiscal fallout after their names were announced. Though I’ll note in the case of Mr. Black his was due more to the surfacing of a thought to be destroyed (isn’t it always the case?) gay sex tape.
Ok. Let’s re-focus. So, there are at least two major factors contributing to some strong blowback from students, faculty, employees and media when major celebrities/politicians start collecting checks to come and “chat” on campus.
The amount of money. Their politics.
And when it comes to Hillary she is just about at the top of the “intensity” response meter for both.
But again, is she worth it?
Well, if Hillary is the Queen of the pricey campus speech then Bill is the King. He spoke at NYU at Abu Dhabi recently and filled his coffers with a reported $300,000. In fact, between 2001-2014 it seems this is pretty much what he does for a living. He has earned $110 million dollars in speaking fees during that time though most was not at universities.
Mike Frank of Speakers Unlimited in Ohio says that universities are increasingly paying big bucks to land big celebrities to speak at their campus for prestige. “They go for the biggest celebrity they can get…they do it for the prestige, to say we had some big name as our speaker.”
A sort of “take that Harvard,” we can draw a big name too.
On the other hand, let’s get back to those students taking time out of classes and videogames to protest such ‘big name hunting” by their university brass.
They argue that, like in the case of UNLV and so many universities and colleges across America, tuition costs keep rising and job opportunities seem to keep dwindling. UNLV just prior to announcing the “Hillary invasion” also shared the news that tuition would increase 4% annually starting now and over the next 4 years.
If the University could afford to shell out $225,000 for a speech, why, students are asking, are things like research grants, cost of books, per credit hours, on campus living and even meal plans all continuing to increase while the administration says they have no choice but to increase costs to stay solvent?
Well, the real answer is a not-so-well-kept-secret across campuses in America as well as at many non-profits not trafficking in the business of education. And that answer is fundraising.
Not your grandparents fundraising or your little league fundraising mind you. No bake sales, high school pep band car washes, candy bars in front of Wal-Mart solicitations, no t-shirts in front of the bookstore sales for $10.
No. Higher education fundraisers are increasingly being populated with professional political consultants and campaign fundraisers. And these cutthroat but successful at what they do folks, are applying their fundraising “model” from the political world to the once staid, traditional and orthodox world of academics.
Universities have eagerly entered the big-time world of high-stakes fundraising. Forget inviting some egg-head, windbag PH.D to talk about their obscure research or share their “wit” culled from decades of books and classes. Boring. Their “bla bla bla” won’t attract the big donors say these pros.
No, the modern strategic premise is basically-Pay a lot to try and get a lot more. And it goes something like this;
Attract and shell out a fortune for a celebrity like Hillary Clinton to come and chat up your campus a bit. Organize a high-profile media and marketing campaign to generate a ton of interest and put your campus in the media eye for at least a cycle or two. And then hit your wealthy alumnus. Hard. And often. And for another $500.00 a pop they can get a quick photo with Hillary. And did I mention that tickets to the pre-public speech, usually a quick “meet and greet” are “only” $2500 per? This is often followed by a VIP only brief (like 15 minutes) chat with Hillary for another $5000. A chance of a lifetime. Until the next “chance of a lifetime” speaker-event comes along. Best part? Universities sell “Memory” DVDs at $500.00 so you can “re-live” that “chance of a lifetime” event. Over and over. And then be moved to give some more.
So, students kick and scream and complain about tuition costs and celebrity speakers pocket huge fees.
OK. Fair enough. But universities and colleges are non-profits (excluding those for-profit online companies for a moment) so where does all the made money from a visit from say Hillary, go to?
Capital expenditures I am told. Specifically, to renovate or build new university administrative offices or even more frequently, large scale projects like new sports stadiums and athletic facilities.
You with the Science book, glasses and dreams of a research grant, how about 2 tickets on the 50 yard-line instead?
Look, I exaggerate only a bit to raise what is I think, a reasonable concern.
Many years ago, one of my graduate schools I attended (American University, Washington DC, got my Masters there) invited then president John F. Kennedy to speak at one of its graduation ceremonies. He surprised them by saying yes and then pleasantly shocked them when he chose that forum to unveil a new foreign policy shift towards Eastern Europe. He said new minds with fresh ideas should hear such things first. He was free, as are all sitting presidents.
AU still brags about this speech and uses it as a selling and fundraising tool to its alumni and to prospective students. They truly got their “free monies” worth.
Will UNLV get their monies worth for Hillary come this October?
Will its students?