As Hillary Clinton’s unwise strategy of hitting up our universities for enormous sums of money begins to implode (here’s a long piece in the Washington Post about it), let us look at the matter more closely.

Say a famous speaker came to your campus – part of a fund-raising evening – and was paid $30,000. Drop one zero from Clinton’s 300 thou for a recent speech at UCLA and think about that much smaller sum. Is that a lot or a little? Remember: You are not a Goldman Sachs trader, but a university professor, or a university student.

If you’re a professor at UNLV, that amount is let’s say around a third of your yearly salary. A person shows up for an hour or two, gives a speech someone wrote for her, sits down, and gets a check for a third of your salary. Seems like a lot.

If you’re a student at UNLV, you’re looking at tuition going up 17% over the next four years. Out of state students already pay around $25,000; in-state pay around $6,000. $30,000 is a nice chunk of change.

Now put the zero back in. The trustees of your university shrug their shoulders at the 300 thou and lecture you about today’s capitalistic world (‘Brian Greenspun, a Las Vegas media baron and UNLV trustee, strongly defended Clinton’s fee, which he said is expected to be fully covered by proceeds from the dinner. He said her star power will boost foundation donations. “If you bring the right speakers in, people will come listen to them,” Greenspun said. “If you bring the wrong speakers in, no one will show up. The right speakers, in today’s capitalistic world, cost more money.”’), a capitalistic world against which Clinton’s speech – with its idealistic bromides – inveighs.

So… two things.

1. The number, the sheer number, the three hundred thou, is really by any standard of which you’re aware outrageously high. 30,000 is a lot.

2.

Harry R. Lewis, a professor and former undergraduate dean at Harvard University who has written critically about priorities in higher education spending, said speaking fees at Clinton’s level amount to “an extravagant form of advertising” for colleges that should focus instead on more scholastic initiatives.

“What makes fees at this level outrageous . . . is that one speaker’s fee becomes comparable to what it costs to educate a student for several years,” Lewis said. “At the same time you’re putting your students into serious debt, as most institutions do; it’s an allocation of resources that’s very suspect.”

One ostensible benefit for students is exposure to a major global figure such as Clinton they might not otherwise get. But Lewis questioned that rationale, asking, “Isn’t she on TV all the time?”

Of course, if you’re a UNLV student, you won’t get exposure to her unless you’ve got $200 to drop at the Bellagio.

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6 Responses to “The Tao of Three Hundred Thou.”

  1. adam Says:

    It’s about what the market will bear –
    If I can get it then I don’t care.
    ‘Cause who will remember
    When comes that December
    How much or from whom or even where?

  2. AYY Says:

    “One ostensible benefit for students is exposure to a major global figure such as Clinton they might not otherwise get”

    So what benefit are they supposed to be getting from this “exposure to a major global figure?” How to invest in cattle futures? What to do when your embassy gets attacked? How to run the White House travel office? How to run a health care system?

  3. Jack/OH Says:

    Hillary’s running for the Dem nomination. She’s not an elder stateswoman giving UNLV students her dispassionate view of the world and its challenges. She’s a partisan who’s going to give a nipped and tucked speech for the sake of political advantage.

    ” . . . [H]er star power will boost foundation donations.” Well, maybe. For every alum who says, “Wow, Hillary!” you may create another who says, “Wow, 300 grand!”, before withholding his donation.

    Forget Mr. Greenspun’s “capitalistic world”. Big Business kisses political arse to get tax preferences, direct subsidies, tariffs, favorable court rulings, government contracts, etc. Dog-eat-dog competitive capitalism is for suckers.

  4. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    Or, to put it another way, just one $300,000 speaking engagement would go a long way toward solving a problem I suspect a number of UNLV professors have: buying a house in an expensive market (okay, prices have fallen in LV a bit, and in some rarified markets you might need 2 or 3 speaking engagements to get in shouting distance of buying a median-price single family house, but it does put things in context, especially given that buying well-above-median-price houses in very expensive markets has been one of the uses to which the Clintons have put speaking fees).

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Contingent Cassandra: UNLV faculty can make up the difference by making a killing at the gaming tables.

  6. Jack/OH Says:

    Does anyone seriously believe Hill’y and her big-money buds’ll be talking about the common good, the public will, all that? I don’t even dislike her, but reading her thoughts on inequality is like eating soupy oatmeal.

    FWIW-one local university foundation here pretty much restricts its giving to scholarships. There are two genuinely independent foundations that bring in nationally known speakers, very occasionally partisan types, and they do a pretty good job of advance work, sometimes in collaboration with the university and other institutions.

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