TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed legislation inspired by former “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi that limits how much state universities can pay speakers.
The new law puts a $10,000 cap on the amount of state money that can be spent on speakers, but the Republican governor said it is essentially symbolic since institutions largely use student activity fees to pay speakers. He said the law will bring attention to rising tuition costs and heavy student loan debt.
“Our public institutions of higher education need to be better stewards of both State resources and non-State sources of revenue to ensure the costs of a college education do not become unmanageable,” Christie said in a statement.
Republican Assemblyman John DiMaio said he was inspired to write the legislation after Snooki was paid $32,000 collected from student fees to speak at a student-organized event at Rutgers University in 2011.
Snooki’s pay was $2,000 more than Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison received to speak at commencement.
Rutgers University is paying actor and musician Steven Van Zandt $35,000 to address its graduates at Sunday’s commencement address. Rutgers says money for commencement speakers comes from its contract with Coca-Cola. Coke sends the university more than $2.5 million a year in sponsorship, commission and campus support funds, according to the contract.
Many colleges struggle with tight budgets and some have drawn sharp criticism for paying hefty speaking fees. Colleges that pay for celebrity speakers say they can impress donors and attract the interest of potential students. A notable speaker also is meant as a reward for the graduating class.
Former President Barack Obama delivered last year’s commencement address at Rutgers, but turned down the $35,000 honorarium. The university still was on the hook for $1.43 million for the commencement, including $523,000 in additional funding that went toward more police, a traffic safety consultant to coordinate road closures and other expenses.
About 52,000 people attended last year’s commencement, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2015, when Bill Nye “The Science Guy” spoke.
“Jersey Shore,” which ran from 2009 to 2012, focused on the escapades of a group of young people at a shore house. Snooki’s housemates included The Situation, Pauly D and JWoww.
Snooki wrote in her book “Strong is the New Sexy” that Christie’s expression was “full of hate” after she introduced herself in 2013 when they were on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. She has called the portly governor a bully and ridiculed his weight.
Christie did not mention Snooki in the statement accompanying his signing of the new law.