When I was the president of Students WithOut Religious Dogma, the first group for non-religious students at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), we wanted to plan a big event during our second year of existence.
The biggest atheist in the news at the time was Michael Newdow, right in the heat of his lawsuit to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. I thought it would be amazing to have him speak at our school. I emailed him and asked him if he would be interested. He was unbelievably gracious, saying he was very busy, but maybe we could work something out time-wise.
As it turned out, we found a good date for him to come. It was two weeks after he had spoken in front of the Supreme Court (he represented himself in front of the justices) and he was getting rave reviews from court reporters.
How much did it cost to bring Newdow to our school? The total cost was a few thousand dollars. Most of that was for advertising and renting the audio/video equipment and security for the evening. Some of it was for travel and lodging. And there was a very, very minimal stipend that we gave to Newdow. Truth be told, he never asked us for a specific amount, but we wanted to give him something.
Cut to today: A friend would love to have Sam Harris come speak on campus for his college atheist group. He contacted an agency representing Harris and inquired how much it would cost. The representative’s response:
Sam’s fee is $25,000 which includes airfare. We would ask the sponsor to provide transportation to and from the airport, onsite meals, and hotel (up to 2 nights).
So after they pull together the $25,000, they would still need to put up for lodging/food/cabfare. Not surprisingly, the group doesn’t have that type of money. So the friend kindly responded that this amount was “unrealistic” for his group to raise, but thanked the rep for her time.
The rep responded back to him with some other speaker suggestions.
First on the list: Francis Collins.
Collins is the Christian scientist who sequenced the human genome and whose book talks about how science and God are compatible.
Obviously, a perfect substitute for Sam Harris.
I’m not necessarily complaining about Harris’ speaking fees. Other popular speakers get similar amounts, if not more. And you might as well charge a bundle while you can.
However, atheist groups, even on a national level, are not exactly well-funded. And one person, even someone of Harris’ stature, can’t spread the message of atheism single-handedly.
One would think that Harris’ speaking fees would be reduced almost entirely for a college group, consisting of secular students who would certainly be motivated to heed Harris’ advice and who could be a force for positive change in the future.
I suppose if Harris can’t come, Collins can take his place.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Students WithOut Religious Dogma, University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, Michael Newdow, Under God, Pledge of Allegiance, Supreme Court, Sam Harris, Francis Collins, Christian, God[/tags]