I read the discussion around Rutgers University’s decision to bring Snooki on campus with great interest based on my programming roles with our Student Government Association’s lecture series. For those who may not have heard about the discussion, it compares the latest two high profile speakers brought to campus and how much they are being paid for their speaking engagements. Toni Morrison is being paid to speak at Commencement for $30K and Snooki is being paid $32K for a speaking engagement sponsored by the Rutgers College Programming Association. I’m not really interested in the comparison conversation, as I’m sure that the processes that brought both women to their campus are pretty disconnected. (and yes, that’s a whole other post!) However, there are some other great conversations connected to this and it’s easy to imagine that this could easily happen to any one of us who works with students who are in a position to make programming decisions.
What typically happens when your students are interested in something that gives you “pause?” My first step is always to ask questions. “So, what kind of image will this portray of your organization and its’ priorities?” or “Look back at your goals you set for the year, does this fit?” I’m really lucky that in 9 times out of 10 there is at least one of my students in the room that might stop and think and at very least have a critical dialogue with their peers about the potential concerns.
But then, what happens if the idea is still alive?
If you use my six year old’s kindergarten class’ rule of thumb, you only act drastically under conditions of “D and D” (damage and destruction). I apply this to the “advisor veto” as well. When I see students going down a road that will lead to damage and destruction, I would definitely step in and tell them that whatever choice they are about to make just isn’t going to happen. This would be in cases of risk management, policy violation, or other forms of impending doom. The level of “intrusive” advising definitely increases depending on the funding source.
I want to send a serious kudos to the Rutgers administration for not canceling this event. I’m confident that emails are flying and lots of hindsight and reflection happening and I’ll bet those discussions are challenging. By letting this event happen, they affirmed the students’ ability to make decisions and I’m confident they are now supporting those students through the consequences of their choices as their story goes more public.
There are other ways we can reflect on our business practices in working with entertainers, speakers and agencies after this debate:
- When you put students in decision making roles, do you really mean it? Do they have full reign over choices or are there limits and how does funding source play in? Have you ever had the conversation with the “powers that be” about what would happen if you were in Rutgers’ situation?
- Is the issue here really about paying Snooki too much or paying Toni Morrison not enough? What is your definition of a “fair price” for a lecture or comedy show when you get into that realm of compensation?
- If you were the Vice President for Student Affairs and the critique was flowing about programming decisions made by your student programming board, how would you respond? How do you respond to your President and how do you respond to your students?
I’m grateful for the chance to discuss this with my students and also grateful to the Rutgers administrators for standing behind their students and the good work they have done to date. I hope we can use this experience to highlight the scope of roles our leaders of programming groups on campus take. I’m also hoping that the RUPA student leaders will get some credit for the large responsibility they shoulder for the campus and won’t lose momentum or commitment after all of this controversy.
I would have never thought I’d learn anything from Snooki, but from her presence at Rutgers I hope we learn things that will help our student leaders learn even more.
…but I’m still not watching “Jersey Shore.”