And, on rare occasions, it is has familiarized me with some neon-light blinking morons.
But imbeciles, admittedly, are far more fictionally compelling than those who display rectitude and wit. For that reason I share with you now some reflections based on a few of the headcases I have met on the podium. I close with suggestions of a more constructive nature.
If my intervention spares just one chairperson from losing her marbles when she learns that a guest lecturer somehow charged his lap dance at the local gentlemen’s club to her departmental credit card, well, then I think my work here is done.
“Ought I have a google alert inform you as to my whereabouts?”: The process of being invited to lecture at a university begins when an invitation is extended. Please note that the invitation must issue from a representative of the host institution, not the person who thinks it would be cool to lecture there.
Self-inviting scholars, labor under the impression that their chance geographic proximity to a university obligates that university to learn more about their current research project. If you absolutely must invite yourself to lecture somewhere else please consider the following . . . . .
“And my wife also problematizes this issue”: If you’re in Nashville for a Bat-Mitzvah and your grad-school pot dealer chairs the Musicology department there, by all means call him up and offer to give that paper you’ve been working on about the Harlem Globetrotters and the Cold War Era.
But understand that while a self-invitation may entitle you to barbecued ribs, it might not result in suitable remuneration. Or even remuneration.
A few years back, a legendary self-inviter called me in a huff. He had a piece in an edited volume coming out so, naturally, we should book ‘im while he was hot. His spouse would be accompanying him. Perhaps she too could give a talk the night after his own?
Proponent of family values that I am, I consented. Only to be flabbergasted to learn that both the self-inviter and his wife were “disappointed and hurt” by the honorarium and decided to cancel.
The Victory Tour: Once every few years or so, a scholar riding the wave of half a dozen positive book reviews comes to town in a self-generated blaze of glory.
His first step upon receiving an invitation to speak is predictable and even understandable: he will immediately price himself right out of the market. But it’s what he does after his request for a $25,000 speaking fee and one week’s accommodation for his kids has been turned down which demonstrates true madness.
He will try and cobble that amount together by lecturing at every institution of higher education in the area. I recall with a certain awe the scholar who booked himself a victory tour in which he addressed 5 universities, one bookstore, a synagogue and a mosque within a 36-hour window.
Aside from assuring that a dozen people would attend each of his lectures, he also assured himself that he would never be invited back to Washington, D.C.
But Sheila said. . . . .: When negotiating speaking fees try and not listen to what your friend Sheila told you she was paid when she spoke at that institution a few years back. Let me tell you something about Sheila: There’s a reason the IRS placed a levy on her bank account. That’s because balancing the books and remembering numbers was never her strong suit.
Invitation Etiquette: So what is the proper way to respond when invited to give a lecture at an academic institution? First off, say “thank you” and you had better mean it. Of all the fine scholars out there, your hosts selected you and your research.
If the honorarium strikes you as low, do not take personal offense. You are usually dealing with outfits that have laughably constricted budgets. Forget about Sheila. Push back with kindness—offer to lecture a few classes or to lead a small discussion with scholars who work in your area. Honestly, you should be offering to do that anyway. We’re not lawyers. We’re not investment bankers. We are teachers.
If you plan on maximizing your options and speaking at a few universities, that’s fine. But tell all of your hosts in advance, they will appreciate the honesty.
If none of my suggestions strike you as plausible, then you are truly a star or delusional or both. In this case you may want to retain the services of a Speaker’s Bureau.