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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC notable speakers require Student Congress funding, private donations

Due to a source error, the original version of this story incorrectly states that the Carolina Union Activities Board relies primarily on Student Congress for speaker funding. CUAB is actually funded by the Student Activity Fee, which is not subject to the approval of Student Congress. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

The adage “talk is cheap” seems far from applicable when it comes to attracting notable speakers to UNC’s campus.

With costs sometimes exceeding $50,000, student groups wishing to sponsor speakers have two sources to look to: Student Congress and miscellaneous donations.

Academic departments, which can’t apply for funding from Student Congress, must rely on donations from inside and outside the University.

The discrepancies between funding processes and the money they allocate are numerous among departments and groups, and determine which sorts of speakers are most welcome at UNC.

A recent vote by Student Congress to limit the allocation of funds to Republican pundit Ann Coulter marked context for comparison of past and future speakers the University has hosted.

Student Congress, the organization in charge of allocating student fees to student groups, has the power to decide how much each speaker warrants.

In order for an organization to be eligible to request funds, it must meet two requirements: it must be a University-recognized student group and have a certified treasurer, said Jared Simmons, chairman of the finance committee of Student Congress.

“Student Congress is trying to get student money to be used to the best of its ability to impact the biggest amount of people,” he said.

During the 2011-12 annual Student Congress budget, student groups requested a total of approximately $300,000. While only about $130,000 to $135,000 was allocated, 25 to 30 percent of those funds were used for speaker honoraria, Simmons said.

UNC’s College Republicans received a part of those funds in September 2010 to host a speech by Republican political strategist Karl Rove, which was funded by a mixture of Student Congress funding and outside donations.

College Republicans received $15,000 in student fees to finance Rove’s event. The remaining costs were covered by donations from the John Pope Civitas Institute and other outside groups.

The Carolina Union Activities Board generally chooses to rely fully on Student Congress for funding of speakers.

Last April, CUAB brought in stand-up comedian Lewis Black — a UNC alumnus who spoke for free — to its six-day comedy festival, which cost about $20,000 in student fees.

“Our most important goal is to use student fees efficiently — we know they aren’t just anything to throw around,” said Vinny Tagliatela, comedy committee chairman for CUAB.

While academic departments are dependent upon outside endowments, many speakers speak for free.

Each year, the University’s commencement speaker appears at no cost.

Former UNC-system president Erskine Bowles will speak today in Gerrard Hall for free. The event is sponsored by the Department of Public Policy, in association with the Thomas Willis Lambeth Lectureship. The production costs for his lecture are funded entirely from an anonymous donation to UNC.

“The idea of the donation is to have it available to enrich the exposure of students to high quality, experienced ideas,” said Richard Andrews, a public policy professor.

Other speakers come at a high cost.

UNC Hillel Foundation, in association with the Douglass Hunt Lecture Series and 34 campus entities, invited Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel to speak in October 2010.

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Wiesel required a $50,000 speaking fee, as well as an additional $10,000 in miscellaneous fees. Memorial Hall donated its space at no cost.

The organization also received help from a private pilot who agreed to fly Wiesel to UNC for the cost of fuel only.

But despite such costly fees, Ari Gauss, director of UNC Hillel, said he believes that having Wiesel speak was worth the cost.

“I don’t know how you put a price tag on people who have the ability to inspire people,” Gauss said.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.