Cash-strapped Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) was required to pay former President Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett $30,000 to speak at its commencement ceremony until a donor agreed to cover the cost.
NEIU's president declared a "state of emergency" on April 5 amid a budget impasse. Despite the university's questionable financial situation, its Board of Trustees learned during an April 6 meeting about a contract negotiated with Jarrett to pay her a $30,000 speaking fee, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
One board member reportedly called the decision to pay Jarrett "disturbing." State representatives were also concerned about the decision.
"I’m not certain that’s the best use of funds, especially when it’s public funds," Rep. Mark Batinick (R., Ill.) told the Sun-Times. "If it’s a private university, it’s one thing, but a public university that’s struggling, you would think someone would step up and graciously do the commencement."
However, at least one board member wanted to keep Jarrett's contract, arguing that dismissing Jarrett would make first-generation minority students feel their commencement was "lesser."
The university sent out an email statement on Monday revealing that a generous donor agreed to pay Jarrett's speaking fees.
"Since last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, we have identified a generous donor who will cover the cost for our Commencement speaker," spokesman Mike Hines wrote. "Valerie Jarrett is a role model for many of our graduating students as well as prospective students. We are pleased that she has agreed to be our Commencement speaker."
NEIU cancelled classes last week and closed all of its campuses for three days last week as cost-cutting measures, and began furloughing employees.