MLK Commemoration Speakers come at a cost for Georgia Southern

Tandra Smith

Georgia Southern University has spent over $140,000 on the Martin Luther King Celebration Speaker series, hosted by Multicultural Student Center, since 2010, according to contracts obtained by a Georgia Open Records Act request.

A grand total of $149,600 has been spent on eight of the last 12 MLK Commemoration Speakers. The series’ most recent speaker, Nikki Giovanni, was paid $15,800 for her appearance at GS, which included all hotel charges, meals and professional ground transportation in the city of Statesboro.

Former speakers had similar requests from things as simple as room temperature water for their on stage podium to fruit baskets and natural orange juice in the green room.

GS isn’t unique in these types of costs for speakers. According to an article by the Chicago Tribune, colleges often pick celebrity and high profile speakers so they can impress donors or even get potential students to decide to attend their school.

The Chicago Tribune also reports that last year, the University of Houston paid $35,000 for Scott Kelly, retired astronaut, to speak at their commencement. A New Jersey university paid $40,000 for each of their two commencement speakers, a total of $80,000.

GS’s MLK Commemoration Speakers prices are not nearly that high. The highest the school has paid for a speaker was $35,000 for journalist Soledad O’Brien in 2013, not including travel expenses.

The second highest paid speaker was Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University and a best selling author, at $21,500. While his travel and other expenses were included with the amount, Dyson had very specific requests.

“Dr. Dyson requires a minimum three star hotel (preferably a four star) with current pay-per-view movies, room services and a restaurant on the premises,” his contract read. “Dr. Dyson will not fly regional jets or prop planes.”

As for the lowest GS has paid for a commemoration speaker since 2010, that goes to Dick Gregory, a civil rights activist and comedian in 2012. Gregory was paid only $9,800 for his appearance.

According to Takeshia Brown, director of the Multicultural Student Center, preparations for the MLK Commemoration Speaker begins as early as the very next day after that year’s event has taken place.

“We try to get our department calendar as early as possible just to make sure that we are sensitive to other events happening on campus,” Brown said. “We try to have our speaker in place by August.”

Every MLK speaker is solely funded through student fees. While some students are fine with how the event gets funded, some had some concerns.

“Some people might not know that these speakers are out there, or can go to them,” Dontae Mair, sophomore aerospace major, said.

Despite this concern, Mair thinks the event is positive for the campus community and would think about going next year.

Mair said, “I think they’re a good thing as far as addressing the issues in [my] race,”