NORTH PARK — President Donald Trump’s widely-criticized former press secretary Sean Spicer got big money to speak to Northeastern Illinois University students this week — and many students and neighbors of the school aren’t happy about it.
Spicer is set to speak Thursday as part of the Daniel L. Goodwin Distinguished Lecture Series, which will also bring veteran political strategist Donna Brazile to campus to discuss the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. “Chicago Tonight” host Phil Ponce will moderate the discussion.
But Spicer’s history of lying to the press and public during his White House tenure — as well as the Trump administration’s stances on immigration and reproductive rights — has members of the university up in arms.
“NEIU should not provide a home for racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry,” a representative with the NEIU Coalition for Campus Justice said in a statement this week.
Spicer is “cashing in on his notoriety” by getting paid $25,000 to appear at NEIU and a reported $125,000 to appear on “Dancing With The Stars,” the group alleges.
Those opposed to both the appearance and the $50,000 spent by a university donor to secure Brazile and Spicer are planning to protest Thursday before the speech kicks off in front of Lech Walesa Hall, 3600 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., at 6:30 p.m.
In the past, the lecture series has featured appearances by Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, journalism icons Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, environmental activist Erin Brockovich, financial expert Terry Savage and political pundits James Carville and Mary Matalin.
The Carville and Matalin show was well-received due to the opposing viewpoints presented, according to university spokesman Michael Hines. So, when it came time to schedule this year’s event, they pursued a similar model.
“The title of this event is ‘Politics, the Press and the Presidential Election,’ which covers three timely topics as our university community and the nation look forward to next year’s primaries and general election,” Hines said. “Given the popularity and success of the inaugural Goodwin Lecture by James Carville and Mary Matalin, who provided both liberal and conservative viewpoints, Northeastern sought two political personalities who could engage in a thought-provoking conversation.”
The speaking fees are paid through a charitable donation from Goodwin, chairman of the Inland Real Estate Group and big donor to the school. A total of $50,000 was paid to Gotham Artists to cover the fees for both speakers at Thursday’s event.
“All of the speakers for the series are paid via these private funds and not from state or tuition funds,” Hines said.
Those protesting the event aren’t happy with the school’s position. A group of 250 students, alumni, faculty, staff and Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez (33rd), wrote a letter to school President Gloria J. Gibson last month asking that Spicer be removed from the lecture series.
“This is an insult to all NEIU students and employees who are members of groups targeted with violence and vitriol by the Trump administration,” the letter read. “Spicer was the willing mouthpiece for Trump’s vicious assaults on immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ people, Jews, Muslims and other oppressed groups. We implore you to withdraw this invitation because Sean Spicer — and his boss, Donald Trump — do not uphold NEIU’s strategic values.”
Hines said the university’s president received the letter and, “understands there are strong opinions about the selection of speakers.”
“We anticipate a robust and insightful discussion from two individuals who held top positions in — and can offer insights on the inner workings of — their respective organizations and political parties,” he added.
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