How Much Is A Big Name Worth?

8 February 2002


Colgate has been doing well recently in getting big-name speakers to come to campus. Last year, we saw Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Spike Lee came last week and the Memorial Chapel will host Bill Bradley this afternoon. These big-name lectures are always well-attended.

But what are we paying to have household names show up in Colgate This Week? Lee cost the University $22,500. Sharpton cost $50,000. Carter charged us $60,000. Thatís right -- the equivalent of two studentsí entire tuition, room and board bill for the year went into Carterís pocket.

It seems obvious that the quality of the lecture is not necessarily proportional to the price tag of the speaker. Many students said that Carterís message about always trying your best was nothing new, and certainly not anything that they needed to be told by a speaker making as much money in an hour of work as many middle-class families earn in a year. Lee left a large number of attendees very dissatisfied with what he had to say.

What the University is really paying for when it brings in a well-known speaker is simply the name. It generates a lot of interest around campus when a person that everyone has heard of comes to speak. It also creates great PR for the University to tell alumni donors and prospective students that so-and-so has graced our campus with his presence.

It is beyond the scope of this short editorial to try to evaluate which speakers are worth how many dollars. The worth of any particular speaker is a subjective judgment of each individual. But when many students judge the lecture to be less enlightening than the hype would indicate, it suggests that the speaker has been overpaid. Sometimes this is the result of an honest mistake. Other times, it is the result of focusing on who will speak rather than what they will say.

The purpose of Colgate is to educate the student body. When University funds are used to bring a speaker to campus, the intent is that the money will pay off in educating the campus community. So whenever a group or department looks to bring in a speaker, it needs to ask itself: Is the value of what this person has to say worth the price tag? Would we pay this much if a no-name speaker gave us the same lecture? Are we paying for an education, or are we paying for a name?

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