OSU gets Franco, but Speakers Board taking heat

James Franco

When the Student Government Association Speakers Board was looking for a celebrity speaker to bring to campus, James Franco fit the bill.

The actor, writer and filmmaker “has a different background than anyone else (Speakers Board) brought before,” “a passion for learning,” and is someone students can relate to, said Speakers Board chair Kyle Lake.

Franco will appear at Gallagher-Iba Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is $10 for the public and free for students, staff and faculty with an Oklahoma State University ID.

Although Speakers Board has brought big names such as Franco to Stillwater, some SGA senior senators are concerned with the lack of SGA and student oversight the board receives.

The board gets 25 cents per credit hour as part of the student development fee, Lake said. The funds are a part of student tuition, and the board’s budget fluctuates depending on student enrollment and any rollover funds from the previous year.

This semester, the board collected $144,026.42 in student fees, wrote John Mark Day, director of leadership and campus life, in an email.

Franco is the semester’s third speaker, and his visit carries the heftiest price tag.

The board originally agreed to pay Leigh Anne Tuohy $35,000 to visit campus in January, but her visit was postponed because of inclement weather. The price went down slightly after she was rescheduled to speak in February, Lake said. Tuohy is best known as the adoptive mother of NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, subject of “The Blind Side.”

Speakers Board also hosted renowned pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu for $35,000 in March. Omalu’s story was featured in “Concussion,” and was portrayed by Will Smith.

When Franco comes to campus Wednesday, Speakers Board will have paid $90,000 with student fees.

The agreed to two-and-a-half-hour schedule calls for Franco to meet with OSU President Burns Hargis for 30 minutes, participate in a 55-minute moderated Q&A session, spend 20 minutes posing for photos with VIPs and 45 minutes in a meet-and-greet with the Speakers Board.

Because of the board’s large budget, students should have more say on the speakers chosen, said Andrew Steadley, Committee on Student Organizations chair.

“I think there needs to be a poll to ask students that says, ‘Hey, here’s who we’re looking at now. Which one would you like?’” Steadley said.

SGA bylaws require Speakers Board to schedule at least three speakers each academic year, one of which must be a diversity speaker during the spring semester that the SGA Multicultural Affairs Committee helps select.

Speakers Board scheduled Omalu to speak in March, but Multicultural Affairs Committee was not consulted, said Mauree Turner, Multicultural Affairs chair.

When Speakers Board meets with Multicultural Affairs Committee, it helps ensure the board will select someone who the multicultural community can relate to, Turner said.

“I enjoyed the speaker, and it’s always nice to see someone come in that looks like you and is doing well in the world,” Turner said. “But at the same time, just because this is a minority you’re bringing in doesn’t mean they will directly relate to what (the minority community) has been through.

“Because learning his background story, I know his background didn’t necessarily speak to a lot of the people in the minority community here.”

Lake acknowledged that Speakers Board didn’t meet with Turner and said he was not aware of bylaws that require Speakers Board to meet with Multicultural Affairs Committee.

“That’s kind of my fault for not fully knowing what’s in our bylaws,” Lake said. “We can definitely do a better job at reaching out.

“But at the same time, I think we always run into the problem of, just in general, people will suggest a speaker and they’ll either be way out of budget or that speaker will only appeal to a very small demographic.”

In addition to student input, senate should also be more informed on what speakers are being considered, Steadley said. Senate doesn’t have a say in which speakers are being considered, he said.

“I feel like there needs to be more oversight, and Speakers Board needs to come to talk to senate,” he said. “They also need to follow their bylaws.”

But implementing more oversight on the board can be problematic, SGA President Kyle Hilbert said.

“We invite Franco to come speak, he agrees to come and then Speakers Board takes that to senate,” Hilbert said. “Say hypothetically senate rejected James Franco. The Speakers Board has to go to James Franco and say, ‘Hey, never mind we don’t want you to come anymore.’ There’s just a lot of ramifications to come with that.”

Going back on a contract would reflect poorly on OSU, SGA and students, and the board has to keep confidential what speakers are coming to campus until the event is near, Hilbert said. But the board’s large budget calls for oversight where possible, he said.

“It is important not only for there to be administrative oversight, but also students being able to get their opinion on what speakers are coming to campus,” Hilbert said.

As the board contemplates which speakers to bring to OSU, members consider speakers’ rates, availability and whether they will appeal to the community, Lake said.

Students can suggest speakers by tweeting at the Speakers Board, emailing the board chairman or visiting the SGA offices in 211 Student Union, Lake said. Suggestions will be taken into consideration, but ultimately the board makes the decision on who would provide the best content for the community, he said.

Speakers Board is composed of a SGA executive as chair, a vice chair and 12 board members. The vice chair moves up to chair of the board the following year. Student representation is made up of 10 students. Board members are selected through an application and interview process, and then the SGA senate must approve them. The chair and senate also appoint two faculty members.

In March, Budget Committee Chairman Jeremiah Taylor added an amendment to the bylaws that requires Speakers Board to subject nominees of the board to approval three weeks before board members are named.

In the past, nominees would not present themselves for approval until the last senate meeting, Taylor said.

“This gives senate the opportunity to actually question the possible members without feeling forced to approve,” he said.

Because of the timing with Franco’s visit to campus, the board won’t be able to subject nominees for approval three weeks before they are named, Lake said.

“I know (senate) wants us to submit it like three weeks before the last senate meeting, but that would have been like two weeks ago,” Lake said. “And obviously we’re not going to select a new board when we still have an event to go.”

Speakers Board will present its board three weeks before it’s named moving forward if future SGA and board leadership decide early approval is necessary, Lake said.

Although the board won’t present nominees when bylaws require, it still will present them at the last senate meeting, Hilbert said. If the senate doesn’t approve the nominees, Speakers Board members won’t be established until the fall semester when senate can meet again, he said.

“But that does create a problem and that is something moving forward that we want to fix, and that’s why we changed the rules,” Hilbert said. “So starting next year, Speakers Board will have to bring their slate of board members to senate before the final senate meeting.

“That way, if the slate is turned down, there’s time to amend that.”

Bringing speakers to campus is a long process the board works on year-round, Hilbert said.

“Whenever good speakers come in and everyone enjoys the speakers, they often don’t give the credit to Speakers Board for bringing them in even though they put a lot of work into it,” Hilbert said.  “But sometimes, when a speaker comes and students may not enjoy the speaker for whatever reason, the Speakers Board gets a lot of the heat for that.”