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Documents: Cornel West did not want his $25,000 speaking fee at Coastal Carolina disclosed

  • Updated
2016 Summer TCA - PBS

According to documents obtained by The Post and Courier, Dr. Cornel West is the highest-paid speaker at Coastal Carolina University in the last five years. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Coastal Carolina University spent nearly $120,000 on college speakers during the 2016-17 academic year, shelling out the most for public intellectual and political activist Cornel West.

The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request on May 3 to determine the school's three most expensive speakers in the last five years, along with specifics on how much they were paid. The request also sought the total amount Coastal Carolina spent on speakers for the 2016-17 academic school year.

All told, the public university in Conway spent $113,992 in speaker fees and $5,914.46 in speaker travel expenses during the last academic year.

The numbers came as part of the newspaper's look into public money spent by five leading colleges and universities in South Carolina on guest speakers, including at graduation time. Coastal was the only school that mandated a FOIA for the information.

The records obtained by the newspaper revealed something about CCU's priciest orator: West did not want the public to know how much he was paid for his Sept. 16 keynote address.

The professor emeritus at Princeton University pocketed $25,000 for his remarks for the opening of the Institute of Gullah and African Diaspora Studies, according West's contract.

Martha Hunn, a Coastal Carolina spokesperson, said an endowment fund specifically created to pay for college speakers at the university foot most of the bill, paying $21,000. The remaining $4,000 were public funds.

The speaking contract included a confidentiality clause.

"Other than as may be required by applicable law, government order or regulation; or by order or decree of the court, the Parties agree that neither of them shall publicly divulge or announce, or in any manner disclose, to any third party, any of the specific terms and conditions of the contract, including specifically all financial terms," the contract states.

Hunn said these clauses are fairly common when the university invites individuals to speak at the school.

The speaker costs, she said, are worth it.

"CCU aims to create a diverse and dynamic learning environment for our students," Hunn said, "and incorporating visiting speakers into the academic experience is integral to achieving this aspect of our mission."

Other top-paid speakers in the last five years include talk show host Leeza Gibbons, who received $20,000 for speaking at the school's 2015 Women's Leadership Conference. Sponsorships and ticket sales funded her speaker fee. No public funds were used, said Hunn.

Coastal Carolina also allocated $15,000 for an annual speaker series organized by Brianne Parker, who is the school's director of Learning Assistance Centers.

This story has been updated to specify the amount of public and private funds used to pay for Cornel West's speaking fees.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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