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N.J. Bill Proposes Banning Public Colleges from Paying Commencement Speakers

May 31, 2011

N.J. Bill Proposes Banning Public Colleges from Paying Commencement Speakers

by Suada Kolovic

Ah, college graduation. It’s a time filled with incredible hope, fear and potentially – depending on your college’s tradition and its willingness to pony up the cash – a famous celebrity commencement speaker. But paying for commencement speakers won’t be happening in Jersey for long: Last week, New Jersey lawmakers proposed a bill that would bar the payment for commencement speakers at public colleges.

The bill comes weeks after Kean University paid John Legend $25,000 to speak and sing two songs at their commencement ceremony on May 12, while Rutgers University paid Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison $30,000 for her speech on May 15. John DiMaio (R-Warren), one of the bill’s sponsors, said he objects to public institutions paying celebrities at a time when student costs are rising and state funding is shrinking. "We’re in very, very difficult times," DiMaio said. "Tuitions are up. The amount of aid we have to offer is down."

The legislation proposes that if a state-funded college or university pays for their commencement speakers, the amount paid will be deducted from the school’s state aid. How did the schools react? Rutgers and Kean officials insist they paid speakers to give their students the best graduation possible and Rutgers officials added they planned on having their attorneys review the proposed bill. To those of you who just graduated, do you think it’s appropriate to pay commencement speakers? Should institutions charge a cover or increase ticket prices for graduation ceremonies in order to offer big-name celebrities without the risk of losing state aid? Let us know what you think.


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