College gets few big speakers

by David Horowitz | 5/13/97 5:00am

First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke at Princeton University last Friday afternoon, and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer spoke there in March. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres appeared at Yale University this spring, as did former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, actor James Earl Jones and former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Brown University is also regularly visited by figures in the spotlight like filmmaker Spike Lee and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson.

But if you're looking for similar all-star speakers in Hanover, you may be disappointed.

True, the bulletin board in the Collis Student Center is regularly plastered with posters announcing speakers, poetry readings and premiere film screenings.

But visitors to the College often have lower profiles, due to a mixture of lower budgets, Dartmouth's name recognition and a removed location.

A hefty price

Associate Director of Student Activities Linda Kennedy cited the hefty honorarium demanded by big stars in politics, business and entertainment as the foremost reason that national notables are not often invited to speak at Dartmouth.

The lecture circuit's most popular speakers charge anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 because they all have agents and must be booked through speakers' bureaus, she said.

Even for $2,000, Kennedy said, the College would "get somebody that the average person has never heard of."

Kennedy sits on the Committee of Student Organizations, which oversees the affairs of the undergraduate organizations that are responsible for inviting many speakers to campus.

"We have chosen to take the dollars we have and put them into single events. We are more parsimonious with our money and spread it out more," she said.

If Dartmouth wanted to hire "hot" speakers, Kennedy said, there would only be one or two a term.

Kennedy said she believed College money should fill the pockets of "someone for whom speaking and performing are a job," and if a speaker is someone with a lawyer's salary or owns a successful business, she would not want to pay him or her exorbitant fees.

COSO member Morgan Ricks '97 said several student groups apply each week for funding in order to bring a speaker to campus.

COSO follows a stringent policy, Ricks said, of only granting student groups money to pay their speaker's travel costs and overnight expenses -- and never to pay honoraria.

Like Kennedy, Ricks explained the decision not to pay speakers in terms of principles and necessary frugality.

"The motivation behind it is we didn't want to see student activity money given directly to speakers as an award for speaking."

But a limited budget also plays its part., said Ricks, who represents COSO on the Undergraduate Finance Committee.

"Honoraria are often pretty steep and ... we only have a $60,000 budget at COSO," he said.

Besides COSO, the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences also invites a significant number of speakers to campus.

Dartmouth's 'not Harvard'

Rockefeller Council student intern Jake Shields '99 said in addition to money, the name 'Dartmouth' and the College's remote location are major obstacles to drawing well known figures.

"As big a name as Dartmouth has, it's not Yale, it's not Harvard, and it's not Princeton," Shields said.

Valerie MacMillan '98, co-managing editor of The Harvard Crimson, said she sensed that her school's international prestige was a draw for speakers.

Earlier this year when a Russian politician spoke at Harvard, he admitted to the audience that he usually did not partake in political speaking engagements, but that "he could not turn down the invitation to speak at Harvard University," Macmillan said.

Shields also said he thought schools like Yale and Harvard, with their proximity to major cities, could more easily schedule busy national and international figures.

Shields had a positive outlook, saying that all in all, "Dartmouth doesn't do too badly in terms of speakers. Those that come are interesting people with interesting things to say."

He mentioned Robert Putnam, Dillon Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard, who is speaking at the Rockefeller Center this week.

Putnam's address would be noteworthy because many government students were familiar with his articles, Shields said

He said big names are not everything, and "you don't need household names to have a good event."

Roxanne Waldner, the Rockefeller Center's associate director, said that to get around agents and speaker's bureaus, the Rockefeller Center always has an eye open for alumni, students and faculty who have connections to interesting speakers.

She cited History Professor Leo Spitzer's assistance in bringing Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who gave the keynote address at a 1994 international Holocaust conference hosted at Dartmouth.

College alumni such as Republican political advisor Tom Rath '67, recently the financial consultant to the Lamar Alexandar 1996 presidential compaign, often are happy to return to campus to speak, Waldner said.

She said the people the Rockefeller Center invites rarely turn down the invitation.

The most frustrating problem is scheduling, Waldner said.

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