One of the joys of academic life is inviting speakers to campus and getting invited to other campuses to speak. You may be an academic who is constantly jet-setting from one campus to another or you may never have received an invitation to speak at another campus. Either way, you may have questions about what happens during these (non-interview-related) campus visits. You may also have questions about honoraria, as these vary widely. Some academics have speaker fees of thousands of dollars. Some have never received more than $500 as an honorarium. And others have given plenty of talks yet never been paid. (Based on a non-scientific Twitter poll I conducted, very few academics have ever been paid more than $2,000 as an honorarium, and many have never been compensated.)
I have given over fifty invited talks (paid and unpaid) and invited just as many people to my own campuses. This semester alone, I have given ten public lectures (like this one). Based on this experience, I offer some basic guidelines regarding these visits. These guidelines are meant to be useful both to invitees and inviters.
Speaker for a Seminar or Colloquium
An invitation to share your work in a seminar or colloquium will look great on your CV If you are on the tenure-track or desire to be. External letters for tenure often will say something along the lines of: “She has been invited to give 11 talks at other campuses, an indication of her visibility and prestige in the field.” These invitations continue to be important for considerations for promotion to full professor. You also can give a presentation with the hope of generating feedback to help move your thinking forward. If you are presenting on published work, giving a talk is a great way to get the word out about your work and to continue the conversation.
The audience for most of these talks are your peers – local graduate students and faculty members. Giving seminars and colloquia at other universities is a rewarding part of academia and many faculty members do not expect a generous honorarium for these sorts of seminars. If you are considering inviting a colleague to give a talk in a colloquium or seminar series, I suggest trying to find room in the budget for an honorarium because people often use these extra funds to pay for childcare and other non-reimbursable costs associated with their travel.
My understanding of general practice for these kinds of talks is that the honoraria for seminars or colloquia range from $0 to $500 yet that this varies by field. In some fields, honoraria are simply not the norm. In others, a small honorarium is expected.
Although a $500 honorarium is much appreciated, if you are deciding whether or not to accept an invitation that comes with an honorarium of $500 or less, money should not be the primary motivating factor. It rarely is worth $500 to prepare a talk, get on a plane, spend a day on another campus, and get back home exhausted. Instead, these sorts of talks should bring other, non-monetary, benefits. There are plenty of reasons to give a presentation that have nothing to do with money.
For these kinds of visits, travel expenses are covered, speakers are usually expected to spend the day on campus, meet with colleagues, and deliver their talk.
Invited, Plenary, and Keynote Speakers for a Campus Conference
When speakers are invited to participate in a conference on a college or university campus, the travel expenses are often (but not always) reimbursed. In some cases, speakers are given a small honorarium. The speakers are expected to participate in the full conference – sharing their work as well as listening to the work of others.
When the conference is large enough to have breakout sessions, there may be plenary speakers. These speakers will speak on a panel together in a room with the entire conference audience. If there is room in the conference budget, plenary speakers are often given an honorarium.
Many campus-based conferences will also include a keynote speaker who is well-known in the field. They will include this speaker on their program as part of the advertisement for the conference and the speaker will be expected to deliver a longer lecture – 45 to 60 minutes – to the entire conference audience.
Keynote speakers often get an honorarium. The size of this honorarium will depend on the resources of the host, the connection of the host to the campus, and the prestige of the keynote speaker. The honorarium will usually be larger than that given to conference speakers or speakers for departmental colloquia. Honoraria for keynotes usually start at $1,000 and go up from there. Nevertheless, academics rarely accept these kinds of invitations just for the money. Instead, they do it for the opportunity to exchange ideas with people in their subfield and to add a prestigious line to their CV. However, if you are seeking out a speaker who receives multiple invitations a year, offering a larger honorarium may make them more likely to agree to keynote your event rather than another. (If you receive more invitations to speak than you can accept, the amount of the honoraria can often help you decide which ones to accept.)
The expectation is that the conference, plenary, and keynote speakers will be involved in all conference activities. People will be disappointed if the keynote speaker just drops in to give their lecture and leave. A good keynote or plenary speaker will give an engaging talk that relates closely to the conference theme and engage with other conference participants for the duration of the conference, including participating in any meals or receptions.
A public lecture is one where you are expected to speak for about an hour to a large audience, and then to take questions. There is a relatively small subset of academics who give these kinds of talks because they require a specific skill set. Delivering these talks requires the ability to deliver an engaging lecture that appeals to undergraduate students. If you are working on a timely topic, you are more likely to receive these sorts of invitations. Students are more likely to come out for a talk on extinction, climate change, human trafficking, or racial justice than on the nuances of Shakespeare or Beethoven.
Unlike conferences or departmental seminars, the audience for these talks will include more than professors and graduate students. In many cases, undergraduate students will make up the majority of attendees. In other cases, community members will also come out to hear the talk. Thus, your work (and presentation style) must appeal to a broader audience.
There is a relationship between the honorarium and the expected size and nature of the audience. If you are asked to give a public lecture with an audience of over 100 people, including many undergraduate students, it is reasonable to expect an honorarium of $1000 or more. If you are giving a talk that will attract 500 audience members, in my view, the honorarium should reflect that.
A Distinguished Lecture is a bit different from a public lecture. A distinguished lecture often comes with a large honorarium and generally includes a day-long (or even a multi-day) visit including the lecture, meals with colleagues, class visits, Q&A sessions, and other opportunities to interact with colleagues. Distinguished lecturers tend to be prestigious and well-known academics. One example would be an annual prize given out by a university to a person who has made groundbreaking achievements in their field. Another example would be an annual named distinguished lecture. Basically, you must be prestigious and well-known to get these invitations. The audience will vary depending on the nature of the invitation, but you can generally expect a larger percentage of the audience to be faculty members for a distinguished lecture than for a public lecture.
Contracted Speaker from an Agency
Contracted agency speakers are a whole different ballgame. This website, for example, says that fees for Professor Henry Louis Gates begin at $40,000, making Professor Marc Lamont Hill’s fees of $10,000 to $20,000 seem like a bargain. The reason these academics can charge this much is because their lecture will take place in one of the largest rooms on campus and the tickets are likely to sell out. These professors are widely known outside their discipline and even outside academia. Both Professor Gates and Professor Hill regularly appear on television and have broad name recognition. This enhances their ability to draw a large crowd, And, there is often a relationship between the size of the audience and the size of the honorarium.
Contracted Workshop with an Individual or Organization
In addition to public speakers, there are some academics and organizations who do workshops designed to attend to an institutional need. Here, the audience will be smaller, but the speakers serve as paid consultants and often charge substantial fees. A full-day workshop by an speaker from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity will cost $9,500. Other academics do workshops on teaching and publishing that cost several thousand dollars. And organizations such as the OpEd project contract with campuses to deliver workshops.
As you can see, there is a lot of variation in the amount academics are compensated to speak at colleges and universities. This variation depends in large part on the prestige of the speaker, the nature of the invitation, the size of the audience, and whether you are dealing directly with a speaker or contracting through an agency.
To be sure, these musings are based on my personal experience, and thus may be biased towards the social sciences and the humanities and towards public universities where I have spent all of my academic career. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments about types of campus visits and honoraria.
N.B. A version of this post was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.