SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick Diegnan to establish a new policy limiting the amount of state funds that can be used by a public institution of higher education to pay a commencement speaker, was signed by the Governor into law during the recent legislative session. The bill (S-2355) would prohibit a public institution of higher education from using State funds to pay an individual to deliver guest speaker services for any event, including the commencement address at any graduation ceremony, in excess of $10,000. Under the bill, if an institution violates the provisions set forth by the bill, the State Treasurer would be required to debit from the institution’s State operating aid the amount equal to the amount paid by the institution to the commencement speaker. The purpose of this bill is to eliminate the use of State funds to pay these individuals in light of the reduction in State funding to public institutions of higher education and increase in tuition and fees at these institutions in recent years.
“Our state funded colleges and universities should not be party to the arms race to have high profile graduation speakers by spending enormous sums of money to secure these “celebrity” guests”, said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This bill sets appropriate guidelines for state institutions and if there is a speaker worthy of exceeding that value, they can go out and solicit private dollars. Our children are leaving with mountains of debt and we needed a policy that is prudent and wise.”
With shrinking budgets and tuition on the rise, the graduation speaker is one area where some schools nationwide still shell out a significant amount of money. For example, in 2011, Rutgers paid a $32,000 honorarium to Nicole Elizabeth “Snooki” Polizzi, the star of MTV’s reality series, Jersey Shore, that ran from 2009-2012. For that sum, Polizzi imbued Rutgers students with life advice such as to use Aussie brand shampoos and conditioners to maximize hair volume. Kean University paid Director Spike Lee $25,000 to speak at the school’s 2006 graduation. However, at other universities such as The College of New Jersey, since 2008, the commencement speaker has been a faculty member selected by the graduates.
The purpose of this bill would be to promote efficient and effective government. It would eliminate the use of State funds to pay these individuals in light of the reduction in State funding to public institutions of higher education and as a way to taper the steady increase in tuition and fees at these institutions in recent years.
The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-0 and the Assembly by a vote of 74-0-0 and the Governor signed the bill.