Planned Sarah Palin CSU Speech Stirs California Protest

Article excerpt

Students and other critics want to know if Sarah Palin will be paid $100,000 or more for her CSU speech. Is the state university - part of California government - obliged to reveal the confidential contract?

A controversy is erupting over Sarah Palin's June speaking engagement at a campus of California State University.

A student protest group and other critics want the university to reveal how much they're paying her, which they suspect might be more than $100,000. A professor has started a Facebook gripe group. And a state senator is pressuring university officials to disclose Ms. Palin's compensation or be prosecuted under state law.

The CSU speech, held at the Stanislaus campus in Turlock, will celebrate the university's 50th year. CSU officials have publicly stated they cannot release Palin's compensation due to a confidentiality term in her contract. But Sen. Leland Yee (D) of San Francisco, who chairs of the committee on public records and open meeting laws, says the public - including students - have a legal right to the information.

The incident has ignited debate over the role of university speakers and free speech.

Controversial speakers stir the pot

"Most sensible people understand that colleges should give a forum to controversial speakers in order to make students and others think and react," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "We have a 'stirring-the-pot' role to play in society. But that doesn't mean you have to pay big bucks in tough times to give controversial speakers a platform. Expenses are one thing; a big fat speaking fee isn't free speech."

On campus, the vitriol erupted almost as soon as Palin's engagement was announced.

"We are demanding that the CSU Foundation disclose the full amount paid for Mrs. Palin's speaking fee and all other expenses associated with the contract that both parties have entered," said Alicia Lewis, CSU Stanislaus student leader, in a statement.

Zoology professor Patrick Kelly, who started the anti-Palin Facebook page, says, "The Foundation's board of directors are not only dismissive of the need to involve faculty, staff and students in the selection of the keynote speaker for the 50th anniversary gala, they apparently are also tone deaf to the mission and purpose of our university."

"Do they understand how disrespectful and damaging this secretly- conducted pursuit of celebrity and controversy is to the faculty, staff, students, graduates and legacy of CSU Stanislaus?" asked Professor Kelly in a statement.

State politics involved

The controversy has found its way to the state capitol. …