SENATOR CUNNINGHAM BILL TO ESTABLISH NEW POLICY FOR GRADUATION SPEAKERS AT STATE COLLEGES ADVANCES

Senator Sandra Cunningham listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham to prohibit a public institution of higher education from using State funds to pay a commencement speaker cleared the Higher Education Committee today.

The bill (S-2355) would prohibit a public institution of higher education from using State funds to pay an individual to deliver the commencement address at any graduation ceremony conducted by the institution. 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.

“We want to make sure state funds are being used for operational expenses as opposed to auxiliary expenses,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “When funding is tight, we need to set strong priorities on how institutions of higher education are using their money.  Our colleges and universities should not be distributing money to a graduation speaker. I do not believe a speaker should be influenced to speak at a college just because of the amount they will be paid.”

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, last year 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 committee 3-0 and will next head to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

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