Bush’s visit: Priceless?

By By Kelly O?Neill and By Kelly O?Neill

By Kelly O?Neill

The 40-year-old Marriott library has been undergoing an extensive face-lift during the past four years, and there will be plenty of important faces present to celebrate its rededication Oct. 26. One of those important faces will be Laura Bush, the keynote speaker for the event. Politics aside, it is difficult to deny Bush’s commitment to literary education. The former first lady holds a master’s degree in library science and has worked as a public school teacher and librarian, not to mention the many literacy campaigns and programs she led during her years in the White House. Although I was certainly impressed that the U was able to attain such a high-profile individual, I was curious as to how much it was going to cost, especially during a time of university budget cuts and growing class sizes because of the economic state of the nation.

Having a celebrity appear at your event is undoubtedly a smart business move; it draws a crowd, gains media attention and makes the message of your event much more memorable. It is well within reason for the U to hire a library expert such as Bush as the keynote speaker, but it is also well within reason for the U community to be informed of how much it is going to cost. Unfortunately, everyone I spoke to in the President’s Office and at the Marriott Library was unable or unwilling to give me a exact number of even an estimate of the costs, so I set out on my own quest to find out what it takes to book the former first lady.

Bush is represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau, an elite booking firm based in Washington D.C., that connects dozens of former politicians, athletes and news reporters with various speaking opportunities across the country. The former first lady is listed in the “Motivational and Inspiring Lives” category, along with magician David Blaine and astronaut Sally Ride, and is proudly advertised by the firm as one of its most requested speakers. Although the price range is listed for many potential speakers such as Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt ($10,000 to $15,000), “Today Show” host Meredith Vieira ($40,001 and up) and business tycoon Donald Trump ($40,001 and up), Laura Bush remains in the elusive “cost varies by location8212;call WSB for more information” category.

The search for an answer to my question led to a dead end. I contacted the WSB, the bureau contacted a Utah-based assistant for Bush, and the assistant called me promising to get back to me with the fee information if he was able to. I was eventually contacted but was told that it is against its policy to reveal the amount speakers are being paid.

guess this process is a lesson in the world of corporate interactions and a glimpse into the foggy and secretive celebrity world. The U informs the public of the budget of the Associated Students of the University of Utah and the salaries of faculty and staff because of the importance of transparency in a public institution. The cost of a keynote speaker’s attendance should be no different. The fact that this information is so hard to obtain can’t help but make me suspicious, whether or not it is justified. As I sit in my OSH classrooms and watch the desks encroach on my professors’ space and their whiteboards as we pack more and more students into each classroom in the name of budget cuts, I’m going to continue to wonder how much we spent on Bush’s visit in the name of publicity for our new library and question which one the U values more.

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