Hip-hop intellect coming to Cal State Stanislaus

TURLOCK -- In selecting a speaker for graduation, California State University, Stanislaus, picked someone about as far across the political spectrum from Sarah Palin as possible.

Marc Lamont Hill, an activist and associate professor at Columbia University in New York, will speak at commencement ceremonies June 4-5, officials announced Monday.

Hill lectures on popular culture, politics, sexuality, education and religion, and has provided commentary for National Public Radio, The Washington Post and Essence Magazine. His Web site calls him "one of the leading hip-hop generation intellectuals in the country."

"He's very fresh, very new," said university President Hamid Shirvani. "His ideas are very avant-garde. He is very well-known for his numerous books on hip-hop culture."

Hill's appearance is a marked contrast to that of Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee who is coming to campus June 25 for a black-tie fund-raiser celebrating the university's 50th anniversary. That's on purpose, Shirvani said.

"We want somebody for commencement who is a very highly respected scholar," he said. "Not only are we going from one extreme to another extreme politically, but also from the perspective of their standing in society."

Some opponents of Palin's appearance cite her lack of connection to the area or higher education.

One other major difference between the two appearances: There's no secret to how much the foundation is paying Hill -- $28,000.

"And that includes all the travel," Shirvani said. "The agreement is not confidential."

The university and foundation have come under fire for not releasing how much Palin will be paid for her appearance. Foundation President Matt Swanson said that's because of a confidentiality clause in the agreement with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin.

And a final distinction: Hill will speak at CSUS' two commencement ceremonies, which are free and open to the public, unlike Palin's $500-per-plate event.

Swanson said he's excited the university managed to sign Hill.

"I think he'll be energetic and someone who has a lot to say," Swanson said.

Shirvani said views from opposite political wings are good for a university and that people should stay tuned for similar signings in the future.

"We've had famous people, and brought people who were more in the middle," he said. "(Booking speakers like Palin and Hill) raises the stature of the university. We are an intellectual center.

"Hopefully next year we're going to do the same thing."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.