UNM is paying former Mexican president Vicente Fox $25,000 to speak on campus today, to the dismay of some students and faculty members.
Fox is one of three lecturers in the Lobo Reading Experience program. Mexican authors Sam Quinones, who spoke last week, and Carlos Fuentes are the other two lecturers.
University spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said in an e-mail that she didn’t know how much Quinones was paid to speak, but Fuentes will get $20,000.
“People that book lectures and speakers will tell you (Fox’s speech) is a remarkably good deal,” she said. “By comparison, the current fee for author David Sedaris is $40,000. If one is to book another former president, Bill Clinton, it would cost from $100,000 to $150,000.”
Graduate student Max Fitzpatrick said that he is not against Fox speaking, but he doesn’t want UNM to pay for it. Fitzpatrick said the money will go to Fox’s presidential library, El Centro Fox, which he called Fox’s attempt to get people to overlook his dishonest past.
“It’s fine for UNM to invite him here, but it’s not good to use UNM’s public resources and state monies to fund his private center in Mexico,” Fitzpatrick said. “And I don’t think it’s good to demonstrate him as a poster child for democracy. He was instrumental in trying to sabotage the democratic process in 2006.”
Fitzpatrick said Fox arrested Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, and disqualified him for candidacy in the 2006 presidential election.
Cheo Torres, vice president for Student Affairs, said Fox is a controversial figure, but his perspective on immigration is valuable in the lecture series.
“If you look at the topic, dealing with immigration, it’s very appropriate to have someone dealing with immigration of that stature to talk to UNM faculty, students and community about the future of this,” he said.
The Provost’s Office issued a statement Friday that mirrored Torres’ view.
“A university campus is the ideal location for the exchange of ideas,” according to the statement. “As a former president of Mexico, Fox’s perspective — while certainly controversial — is also distinctive and valuable in this ongoing discussion of immigration.”
The statement also said Fox agreed to give a second lecture this evening followed by a question and answer period, which will “foster dialogue.”
After his speech at Popejoy Hall, Fox will make another public address at the Centennial Engineering Center Auditorium this evening. Torres said Fox will also go to the Health Sciences Center to give a speech to health care professionals requesting collaboration in health care and help for Mexican cancer patients.
Howard Waitzkin, a sociology professor, wrote an open letter against the speech and sent it to UNM President David Schmidly. Several other professors and graduate students signed the letter against Fox’s visit.
Waitzkin said the funds diverted to Fox should be used in helping students attend UNM, especially during the recession.
“Just yesterday, one of us talked with an educator from the Taos Pueblo who has obtained her master’s degree and wants to pursue a Ph.D. in education at UNM but can’t afford to do so,” Waitzkin said in the letter. “The honorarium given to Vicente Fox could fund a fellowship for her to complete about one year of progress for her doctorate. What a shame that precious resources are diverted from where they are needed most.”