An Assembly panel today unanimously advanced legislation (A714/S2355) sponsored by Assemblyman John DiMaio prohibiting colleges from using more than $10,000 in state funds to pay for speakers, including commencement addresses. The vote was 6 to 0.
“At a time when tuitions are being increased because state funding is being reduced, colleges should not be using taxpayer money to pay exorbitant speaker fees,” “said DiMaio (R-Warren). “This is an added expense that taxpayers and students simply cannot afford.
“Rutgers used hard earned taxpayer money to pay Snooki $32,000 to tell graduates to ‘Study hard, but party harder.’ That’s ludicrous and wasteful,” he continued. “Taxpayers and students deserve better.”
DiMaio’s bill originally called for no state funds to be used for commencement speaker fees, but it was amended in the Assembly Higher Education committee today.
“I oppose using any taxpayer funds to pay speaker fees,” said DiMaio. “If colleges want to pay speakers they should raise the money from private sources. However, I agreed to the amendment because checks and balances are necessary. I’d rather have the $10,000 cap than no cap at all.”
Last year, Kean University paid retired astronaut Mark Kelly and photographer Brandon Stanton a combined $80,000 to speak at its graduation ceremony. Half of the money came from the schools’ general fund. In 2001, Rutgers paid commencement speaker Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi $32,000, using mandatory student activity fees paid by its undergraduates.
Under DiMaio’s bill, the state will debit from an institution’s state operating aid an amount equal to the amount paid – above $10,000 – by a college to a speaker for any violations.