UNION COUNTY — When students at Kean University gathered for their commencement ceremony last week, it’s likely many of them were concerned now about finding gainful employment or applying for grad school. After all, student loans can be a very serious burden for unemployed college graduates.
But the school did not seem too concerned about its debt, ignoring their $350 million in obligations and paying a combined $40,000 to two comedians to deliver commencement speeches.
Darrell Hammond, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, and Samantha Bee, of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” were paid $25,000 and $15,000 respectively to give commencement speeches.
Hammond addressed the graduating undergraduate student body, while Bee spoke to at a graduate school ceremony earlier in the month.
And while the both comedians told plenty of jokes, there were some at Kean who did not find it a laughing matter.
Kean Federation of Teachers President James Castiglione did not agree with the the university paying these speakers.
“It seems excessive given the president is always repeating that we are in dire financial predicaments and in light of the university’s declining enrollment,” he said. “I think the concern goes beyond the spending to the caliber of the speakers. Students were unhappy with the speaker.”
Like most state schools, Kean University has struggled in recent years with declining state support and rising tuition costs.
According to an article published by The Record, the university paid the $40,000 out of the operating budget and that speakers are chosen by a committee of faculty and administrators with input from students.
But Castiglione also worried about the message hiring these speakers might represent.
“Given the damage to the University’s academic reputation caused by the president,” he said, “more care in selecting more serious speakers capable of a more academic discussion is warranted.”
Kean’s president, Dawood Farahi, has recently been embroiled in a number of scandals, most notably admitting to lying on his resume.
In the case of his resume, the school’s board of trustees stood behind him despite overwhelming votes of no confidence from teachers unions.
When asked if he would be more agreeable with paying speakers with a greater academic standing and not comedians, Castiglione was more understanding.
“I think under those circumstances it would be more justifiable,” he said.
“What are our sister institutions doing?” he added “Are they spending money? The answer appears to be ‘no.’ They are finding high-quality speakers for free.”
In recent years, Rutgers has come under criticism for paying commencement speakers, but most universities do not.
Rutgers, however, is not considered a sister school of Kean and according to The Record paid for their speaker out of “private contributions.”
Sister institutions of Kean University include The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, and William Paterson, among others.
Montclair State University welcomed author James Patterson without paying a fee, except for his transportation costs, and Ramapo College welcomed Sen. Cory Booker, also without paying for his services.
Kean University did not return calls for comment before press time.