Students pick up the tab when celebrities give guest lectures

Ahsika Sanders

Bringing celebrity guests to the UT campus during the new Student Activity Center’s official grand opening week cost more than $70,000 in student fees.

Monday’s “An Evening with Zach Braff” and Thursday’s “Hip-Hop Then and Now: Featuring Common, Chuck D” cost $35,000 for each of the two acts.

The Student Events Center is composed of 15 different committees that plan University-wide events. A Texas Union fee that all students pay as part of tuition partially funds the SEC programming budget, said Trinity Smith, University Unions senior student affairs administrator.

The Texas Union fee costs students $45.44 for the fall and spring semesters and $34.08 for a nine-week summer term.

Smith said for the grand opening week, the center worked with all of the SEC committees to see if there was a group or an event they wanted to invite to campus, but may have been out of their price range.

“The Common event is something that the African American Culture Committee wanted to do but couldn’t necessarily afford on their budget alone, so this was an opportunity for them to co-sponsor with the SAC for the grand opening events,” Smith said.

Samantha Smith, chair of the culture committee, said the group is glad to be part of the opening week and proud to be able to host Common.

“We were looking for something big to bring to campus that students would love,” she said. “Common does college tours about things that are appreciated by students and that are important to him — mostly music — so he brings a really good dynamic to the program.”

More than 450 people attended the Zach Braff event Monday — the first held in the new SAC auditorium — leaving standing room only.

Jeanette Hooker, Student Events Center adviser, said once a committee surveys students to determine which speaker they want, it is fairly easy to contact agencies to book the celebrity guests.

“The SEC student committee members compile lists of artists they want to bring to campus, and we contact the speakers bureaus to see if they are touring and within our budget,” she said.

Government junior Tyler Allison said he has attended many distinguished speaker events including Monday’s “An Evening with Zach Braff,” last semester’s advanced season premier of TV show “Psych” featuring leading men James Roday and Dule Hill, and Maya Angelou in 2009.

Allison said the fee included in tuition is well worth the cost to be able to attend the celebrity speaker events.

“I don’t even miss the money because it’s a small fee tacked onto tuition that most students probably never even pay attention to,” he said. “I’d prefer big celebrity events every year over holding on to a few bucks any day.”