I rather enjoyed Catherine Rampell’s “Snookinomics” piece, which appeared in the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It reminded me of the days when spending Sunday morning with the print edition of the paper was a fun experience. These days no day is particularly fun; and, to rephrase the old joke, on the Internet no one knows that its Sunday.
Nevertheless, Rampell’s efforts to do the math behind Nicole (Snooki) Polizzi receiving $32,000 to give a talk at Rutgers University made for amusing reading, particularly since Rampell led with the data point that this figure was $2000 more than the fee Toni Morrison will receive for delivering a commencement speech next month. Rampell also observed that the “Snooki speech” addressed such contemporary issues as “drinking and tanning.” (You were expecting her to talk about John McCain? McCain was the beneficiary of that Twitter episode, not Snooki!)
Rampell basically did a cost/benefit analysis using an appearance at LAX in Las Vegas as a baseline. The bottom line was that the fee for her Vegas appearance at the time was $25,000, and it brought in $259,406 in revenue for LAX. Rampell then observed, perhaps a bit cattily, that “a university like Rutgers doesn’t have the same profit motives as a nightclub.” Really? Rampell might do well to take a look at Peter Brooks account of the economics of American universities in the March 24 issue of The New York Review (even if this is not part of her usual “Fashion & Style” turf). My guess is that, in the current economic climate, a club in Las Vegas has a more secure revenue stream than any American university!
In its own way, Rampell’s article lends support to Brooks’ jeremiad about contemporary American academic life. Indeed, she found the perfect punch line in the words of senior Ana Castillo, President of the Rutgers University Programming Association, the student group that booked Snooki. Here is the Castillo quote that concluded the article:
A large part of what brings students to a school is not just the academics, but what you can offer outside of the classroom.
We have to show applicants what kinds of fun we have, to show that students here aren’t dying from just reading books 24 hours a day.
In other words the whole affair was all about marketing, entirely consistent with the points that Brooks tried to make in far more sober (no offense to Snooki) language.