TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham 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, cleared the Assembly today and will head to the governor’s desk.
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 colleges and universities should not be spending exorbitant amounts of money for a graduation speaker, nor do I believe a speaker should be influenced to speak at a college just because of the amount of money they will be paid,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This is legislation that will set the appropriate guidelines so schools aren’t spending excessive amounts to secure a graduation or any other kind of speaker. This just makes sense, especially at a time when students are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the cost of a higher education and we are working on various proposals aimed at reform.”
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 2015 the University of Houston paid $135,000 for their graduates to be inspired by actor Matthew McConaughey.
In 2011, Rutgers University paid Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, $30,000 to address the class of 2011. 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.
S-2355 cleared the Assembly 74-0 and cleared the full Senate 40-0 last year. If signed into law, it will take effect immediately.