The University of Houston is paying Matthew McConaughey — the very wealthy Academy Award-winning actor and spokesman for Lincoln cars — $135,000 to deliver the commencement speech in May. Oh, it is also paying for him to travel to Houston, and is kicking in money to his booking agent.
In a reference to the fact that McConaughey is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, the school said in a statement:
“He may occasionally prowl the sidelines during a certain university’s football games in Austin, but the University of Houston ‘hooked’ him. As a result, the nearly 5,000 University of Houston students who will don caps and gowns for spring Commencement ceremonies can be forgiven if they yell a collective, “All right! All right! All right!”
The university released news of its coup in January without mentioning the fee, but the Houston Chronicle kept asking and on March 31 reported the sum and noted that McConaughey plans to donate the money to charity. The paper said that the Celebrity Talent agency formally opposed the Chronicle’s Freedom of Information requests, arguing, the paper said, “that if UH tells the public how much it plans to pay McConaughey, a ‘reporter or someone’ might create ‘unfair negatives online.’ ” (Why would it think that?)
Questions: Why not donate it back to the University of Houston? In fact, why don’t all commencement speakers donate their fees back to the school at which they are speaking? In further fact, why should schools — many of them continually raising tuition on cash-strapped students — pay any money at all for commencement speakers?
Inside Higher Education, in this story, notes that when it published the news on April 1, readers through it was a joke.
It also noted that while most colleges and universities don’t pay commencement speakers with cash but with honorary degrees, it quoted Margot Sarlo, director of marketing at All American Entertainment, as saying: “Quite honestly, this not out of the norm. Speakers can range from $5,000 to half a million.”
Other commencement speakers who drew hefty fees include, according to Inside Higher Education:
*Katie Couric, 2006, $110,000, University of Oklahoma.
*Rudy Giuliani, 2005, $75,000, High Point University
*Toni Morrison, 2011, $30,000, Rutgers University (its first-ever payment for a commencement speech)
*Darrell Hammond and Samantha Bee, $40,000, Kean University.
The Chronicle said Bloomberg News reported in 2014 that “California universities paid more than $7.5 million for speeches and performances since 2012, including paying singer Tony Bennett $110,000 and actor William Shatner $75,000.”
(Correction: An earlier version said that John Edwards was paid $55,000 in 2007 by the University of California at Davis to make a commencement speech. He appeared but it was not for a commencement speech, the school says.)