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Gala brouhaha
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It seems I can’t escape discussion of Sarah Palin and her upcoming visit to CSU Stanislaus anywhere I go. As a student at California State University, Stanislaus (go Warriors!) I constantly overhear other students talking about Palin in class. Work is even worse because my coworkers and editor discuss Palin, the CSU Stanislaus Foundation and the Public Records Act ad nauseam.
It seems that everyone has an opinion about whether Palin is an appropriate choice for a speaker, whether the university foundation should tell the public how much they are paying Palin, or whether or not the university intentionally shredded related documents.
State Senator Leland Yee has even compared the situation to the Watergate scandal. It is worth mentioning that Senator Yee is currently working on legislation that would force university foundations to comply with the Public Records Act. This Sarah Palin situation is a great way to raise awareness for the bill.
I tried to escape discussions of Palingate on my lunch break on Thursday by grabbing a sandwich at House of Java. Unfortunately, the flat screen TV behind me was tuned to the news and the anchor was talking about, you guessed it, Sarah Palin. To my horror he was actually broadcasting live from the University, which was on spring break at the time! This has become such a major news piece that TV news reporters will drive all the way from Sacramento just to broadcast live in front of the reflecting pond at an empty university. I think this has gone too far.
The thing that irritated me the most, however, was that this reporter was referring to Palin’s speaking engagement as “The University’s 50th Anniversary Gala.” I have also heard students complain that Palin is a poor choice for such a momentous event as our university’s “50th Anniversary Gala.”  
My response is that this is not the university’s one and only 50th Anniversary Gala! The event should more properly be called the “CSU Stanislaus Second Annual 50th Anniversary Gala.” That’s right, they had a 50th Anniversary Gala last year too. I also expect that there will be a Third Annual CSU Stanislaus 50th Anniversary Gala next year.
I had the pleasure of attending the first CSU Stanislaus 50th Anniversary Gala last year. When I say I “attended” the gala, I mean that I lurked in the corner and took photos for the Signal, the student paper at Stanislaus. I couldn’t afford the $250 a plate cover fee they charged for the last gala. Last year’s guest speaker was Gary Sinise, star of “CSI New York.” Sinise’s music group, the Lt. Dan Band, also played a benefit concert that followed the gala.
Sinise did not, to my knowledge, accept payment for his appearance. There was no state-wide news coverage of Sinise’s appearance, and students did not seem outraged or even irritated that he did not have a personal connection with the university. CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani even presented Sinise with an honorary doctorate degree.
Why, you ask, is CSU Stanislaus inviting celebrities to speak at this series of 50th Anniversary Galas? Because they are fundraising events, and the University can sell $500 tickets to people who want to hear a speech made by a former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska.
I imagine that all of this press coverage and speculation about how much Palin was paid has actually helped boost ticket sales. I’m sure that wasn’t an intentional publicity move by the Foundation or the University, but it didn’t hurt. Everyone loves to talk about a scandal, and at this point the Foundation would be foolish to step out of the limelight by disclosing every detail of Palin’s contract.
Why not provoke the public even further and award Palin an honorary doctorate degree too? The Foundation could charge $100 a person to watch Palin walk across the stage in her own personal commencement ceremony. I’m sure that would make national news, and the event would sell out in a matter of minutes.
Heck, why not invite actress Tina Fey to the university to impersonate Palin? She is a well-known public figure, and I’m sure people would buy tickets to see her perform. I’m sure they would pay up to $1,000 a ticket to see Palin and Fey debate higher education issues.
As a student, I stand to benefit from any money the university can raise. The more publicity this event stirs up, the more money they raise. As a reporter, however, I respect and support the Public Records Act and I think the University should reveal the details of Palin’s contract.
Despite all of that, I don’t think this entire situation is a national news-worthy scandal. There is no “Palingate,” and there is no reason for TV news crews to surround the university. Most of the people involved in this “scandal” have something to gain by publicizing the event or by publicly stating their outrage. I think the affected public should know what is going on, but It must be a slow news day if national news outlets care what is going on at CSU Stanislaus.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.