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Susan Herbst's $251,000 date with Hillary Clinton

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published July 04. 2014 4:00AM

I have had a few friendly disagreements with Hillary Clinton supporters since The Washington Post broke the news this week that she was paid $251,000 for an April appearance at the University of Connecticut.

I was chastised by these Clinton followers for criticizing the likely presidential candidate, indeed the 2016 frontrunner in most polls, for taking such an enormous fee to address UConn students.

They said I was picking on her largely because she is a woman. Men, they added, take similar big speaking fees all the time.

Well, I sure hope that's not the reason I was so offended.

In fact, just before reading about Clinton's expensive college visit in Connecticut I had listened to a speech by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren - whom some Democrats would like to see challenge Clinton - in which she warmly greeted Mystic's Charles W. Morgan in New Bedford. I doubt she charged anyone.

I couldn't help but think that Warren, who can be so eloquent in describing the great income divide in America, would not accept a quarter of million dollars for an hour-long chat with college students.

Honestly, it is obscene.

I did take my friend's advice and checked on the men's fees.

I found another story in The Washington Post chronicling speaking fees of politicians. They range from an average of about $40,000 to $60,000 for Mitt Romney and $110,000 for George W. Bush to the $750,000 Bill Clinton was once paid by a Hong Kong company.

Hillary Clinton may have said the couple was "broke" when they left the White House, but they made up for it fast. Bill Clinton has made $89 million from paid speeches since leaving the presidency, according to the Post story.

I don't begrudge him a dime of it. And if anyone wants to pay Dick Cheney $75,000 to speak, his usual fee, according to Politico, I would say have fun.

But that is very different for me than a likely presidential candidate charging so much to speak to college students, kids busy accumulating student loan debt that will follow them through life.

Stupid me, I thought candidates are supposed to be grateful when people turn up and hear them speak. Who knew some of them expect to get paid, a lot.

I know Clinton is still not officially a candidate. But when she appeared in Connecticut it seemed even less certain she would run than now, and news stories then led with the question: Would she or wouldn't she?

You might have hoped that UConn President Susan Herbst, who did a star turn with Clinton in April, joining her for an interview on stage, with an Oprah-like setting, two comfy chairs pushed together, would have asked the question that was on everyone's minds.

Herbst was too busying cozying up to her $251,000 date to ask hard questions.

This was the same UConn president who last year breezily dismissed the lawsuit of seven young women who described the school's "deliberate indifference" to rampant allegations of sexual assault.

"We have a wonderful police force," the president gushed, in response to students' claims that UConn officers had refused to investigate rape allegations and told women to stop being sexually permissive. She also, incredibly, said she feels safe on campus, as if that matters to the young women victims who said they don't.

I think Herbst gets more of the blame for the $251,000 speaking fee than Clinton, who, after all, took what she could get. This is America, right?

UConn this week has been busy defending the fee by saying that it came from the foundation that supports the university. In fact it came from a foundation-administered fund established by a wealthy donor to pay speaking fees.

But Deb Cunningham, spokeswoman for the UConn Foundation, told me the idea to have Clinton come speak came from the university, not the foundation.

When I asked her if anyone suggested to Clinton that she waive the fee, speaking to students and all, she said the university, not the foundation, handled all the negotiations for the Clinton visit, including the price.

So that's how President Herbst wound up on stage with Wannabe President Clinton. Her staff arranged it.

At least those of us offended by Clinton's greedy and self-serving visit to Connecticut's public university will probably be able to express ourselves in the voting booth.

But I guess we are stuck with the egoist at the helm of UConn.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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