Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do you have $20,000.00 USD you can spare?

Big-name speakers come with big price tags
Oliver Bowers
Posted: 10/16/06
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft or journalist Bob Woodward may soon join the ranks of speakers brought to campus by the Brown Lecture Board, according to Daniel Fombonne '07, the group's co-president.

The Lecture Board, a Category III student group with the second-largest budget at the University, has drawn a number of popular speakers to campus in previous years, including comedian Rob Corddry, journalist Anderson Cooper and filmmaker Spike Lee. But such speakers often come with a hefty price tag.

Lecture Board members are still discussing who will be this semester's primary speaker, but Ashcroft and Woodward have surfaced in preliminary meetings as possibilities. The two figures are "just names that have been circulating. … They're not finalized," Fombonne said. "Nothing's finalized until the contract is finalized."

The Lecture Board is allocated a budget of $42,540 each semester, according to Cash McCracken '08, chair of the Undergraduate Finance Board. Of this money, $30,500 funds one or two speakers each semester. Between $5,000 and $10,000 goes toward co-sponsoring lectures with other groups, and the rest of the money covers setup and publicity fees and speakers' travel expenses. High-profile speakers generally specify first-class travel in their contracts, McCracken said.

"In general, if you want a pretty major name you need to pay at least $20,000," Fombonne said. Speakers typically cost between $20,000 and $40,000, said Swathi Bojedla '07, also co-president of Lecture Board.

Fombonne added that most "big names" this year start at "$40,000 to $50,000 or upwards."

"People want to bring Jon Stewart" every year, he said, "but his price begins at $100,000, which is way, way out of our budget."

Speakers sponsored by the Lecture Board usually come to campus at the end of November or in the beginning of December, but the process of bringing them to College Hill starts far earlier in the semester.

The Lecture Board is an open group that invites input from all students. Members compile a list of ideas for speakers during the group's first meeting of the semester, Fombonne said. They then contact speakers' agents to find out asking prices. Once the group decides on a potential speaker, members negotiate prices with agents, often with the help of the group's presidents or vice presidents, who are more experienced at negotiating, Fombonne said.

The Lecture Board always tries to work through any connections to speakers it can find, Fombonne said. "(We) see if we can get … speakers at a discount," he said. Fombonne noted, however, that it is unusual for connections to lead to significant discounts.

After negotiations, the Lecture Board drafts a contract, which the Student Activities Office vets. The University encourages the use of a standard contract with potential speakers, and nonstandard contracts must be reviewed by the University's general counsel as well.

In addition to one or two main speakers each semester, the Lecture Board also co-sponsors lectures with other student groups, usually "smaller groups that can't afford speakers themselves," Fombonne said. The number of speakers co-sponsored varies each semester and depends on how much of the semester's budget has been spent on the primary speaker.

One of the more notable co-sponsored lectures was given by political strategist James Carville last year. A connection through a member of Sigma Chi, which co-sponsored the lecture, helped bring Carville to campus.

Many speakers can be persuaded to lower their fees because Brown is an educational institution, Fombonne said. When Spike Lee came to campus in December 2003, for instance, members were able to negotiate his fee down to $20,000, Bojedla said. Anderson Cooper, who spoke in 2005, also cost $20,000, she said.

Though prices for on-campus appearances have risen dramatically in recent years, the Lecture Board's budget has remained the same, Fombonne said. "It's tough bringing big-name speakers for the amount of money we're working on," he said.

Bojedla agreed. For example, she said, Woodward's asking price during her first year on the Lecture Board was $15,000 and has since risen to between $30,000 and $40,000.

Though Lecture Board has not asked for increased funding as of yet, UFB is "absolutely willing to hear increased budget proposals," McCracken said, adding that "we definitely understand costs are going up." He said the Brown Concert Agency, which receives a budget of $149,145 per year, the largest among student groups, asked for more funds this year because the cost of bringing bands to campus has increased.
© Copyright 2006 Brown Daily Herald

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