By now it’s likely that you’ve heard the controversy surrounding speaking fees at Rutgers University. In deference to those who don’t know, many people in the media are making a big deal out of the fact that celebrated black novelist Toni Morrison was paid $30,000 to speak at the Rutgers commencement ceremony. While that’s no small fee, Morrison fans are up in arms about the fact that the author is actually being paid less than Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, a reality TV star from The Jersey Shore. When she spoke to a packed house of students at Rutgers, the self-described “guidette” got $32,000.
Shocking? Not really. The media is kind of making a big deal out of nothing with this one, and I’ll tell you why.
The simple truth is that speakers, and their handlers, set their own speaking fees. Hiring speakers isn’t a process in which there’s any bartering going on. It’s not as if Rutgers went to Toni Morrison, asked her to speak, and then low-balled her when she accepted. Morrison is booked to speak through an agency, which sets her fees as it sees fit. Snooki does the exact same thing, it’s just that her agency asks for more money than Morrison’s. The way these things work is: Ask and ye shall receive.
So, the real people to be mad at aren’t the people at Rutgers, or the students who went to see Snooki. The real people to be mad at in all of this are Morrison’s handlers, who apparently don’t think her words of wisdom are worth more than Snooki's. The real moral of all of this is that Morrison needs a new agent.
(Photos from left: Francois Durand/Getty Images, Mike Coppola/Getty Images)