Michigan State University reportedly paid George Will $47,500 to give the keynote address at the school's commencement. Hundreds protested before, during, and after Will's December address in light of offensive comments the Washington Post syndicated columnist made last year about campus sexual assault.
Will has been under fire since the publication of a June column in which he suggested that efforts to fight sexual assault on college campuses have made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.” MSU's decision to select Will and award him with an honorary doctorate drew criticism from students and faculty, women's rights groups, and Michigan's Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). On the morning of Will's address, students silently protested the event, some graduating students turned their back on Will during his speech, and a separate ceremony was held after the event in protest of Will.
MLive first reported on Will's fee, based on documents they obtained from the university through a Freedom of Information Act request:
The contract shows Will's fee to speak, set by the Washington Speaker's Bureau, was $47,500 and the university was also responsible for hotel fees, meals and incidentals.
Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said the fee paid to have Will speak was comparable to the fees paid to bring other nationally-recognized individuals to speak at commencement.
“With George Will, and with other speakers, we're looking to attract national-level talent and having people who make a meaningful impact with their words,” Cody said.
According to MLive, filmmaker Michael Moore and University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, who spoke at separate Michigan State commencements in December, agreed to speak without a fee.
MLive also reported the response of Media Matters President Bradley Beychok:
“Given George Will's extensive history of attacks on victims of sexual assault and the massive controversy and harm they caused last year, any monetary amount is too much to pay Will,” Beychok said in a statement. “Beyond that, it is especially unseemly for a venerable institution like Michigan State to reward Will's history of zealous climate denial and his recent professional ethical lapses.”
Media Matters, which extensively reported on the controversy over Will's speech, noted in December that the university had given itself an extension in responding to our FOIA requests for his contract, delaying its public release until after the ceremony.