Rutgers University last week contributed to the growing debate on whether higher education is worth its surging costs, when it paid the fabulous Nicole Polizzi (a.k.a., “Snooki”) of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” television show $32,000 to speak to its students. Appearing last week at two packed-out Q & A sessions, Snooki, known for her questionable clothing choices, an act of public drunkenness and once suffering a punch in the face thrown by a fellow bar patron, expounded on great truths to the budding Rutgers scholars when she told them that her greatest inspiration was “being tan.” She mused on the metaphysical nature of her trademark hair, saying that “the pouf is its own living form.” She offered her profoundly deep insights on the pathway to success: “Study hard, but party harder,” said the 23 year old media sensation who has indeed profited well from appearing in “Jersey Shore.”
For those of you not familiar with the show, “Jersey Shore” it is one of the most popular things to come out of New Jersey since Governor Christy and Bruce Springsteen. This reality TV show follows a group of young men and women from the Garden State, including Snooki, JWoww and Pauly D, as they live out their lives together before the cameras. And, Snooki and her friends, (well, how should we say this?) do not emphasize Biblical character qualities such as humility, chastity, modesty, sobriety, focusing on inner beauty and not outward appearance, living in peace with others, etc.
The Associated Press is reporting that Snooki’s $32,000 fee came from the mandatory student fee. The Rutgers University Programming Association invited Snooki to speak to the students. The Rutgers University Programming Association is typical of such entities at other public universities that use student fee money to bring notable people to speak on campus. Rutgers defends its actions, saying that it brings many other speakers on campus who are more intellectual. Also, Snooki’s appearances last week were wildly popular with the students. She drew huge crowds to each of her two events.
So, two questions arise: Was this a constitutional use of the mandatory fees? Secondly, was this a wise use of the money extracted from students to further their training and studies at Rutgers?
ADF has been litigating notable cases involving the unconstitutional administration of mandatory student fee systems since its earliest days, such as Rosenberger, Southworth, Badger Catholic and others. In general, it is probably constitutional for a public university to require students to pay a mandatory fee that supports a distinguished speakers program. Specifically with Rutgers program, I am not aware of any constitutional violation here, for example, whether Rutgers discriminates against speakers because they advocate conservative or prolife or Christian or non-vacuous viewpoints. So what Rutgers did is probably constitutional. But a university’s decision to bring a speaker on campus can be constitutional and embarrassing at the same time.
Rutgers may be able to defend its decision to pay Snooki $32 grand to appear on campus because she is part of a passing cultural phenomenon. However, I hope the officials at Rutgers realize that “Jersey Shore” captures a tragic falling away from the enduring values that have made America great. Rutgers’ actions cause parents and students who are paying the high (and growing) cost of higher education, to ask the question ”was this the best use of our money?”
P.S. Rutgers next plans to bring Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino to campus to speak on international relations, in a speech entitled, ”In the Belly of the Libyan Beast: Peace Through Ab Strength.”