By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Big hair scores big bucks in speaking fees at New Jersey's state university. A Nobel prize? Not so much.
Rutgers University on Friday defended spending about $32,000 to bring reality television star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi to campus this week, despite several students questioning if it was a wise use of money.
That's $2,000 more than the school is paying Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison to speak at graduation on May 15.
"We have more than 200 events on our campus during the course of the year, everything from scholarly presentations to entertainment," Rutgers spokesman Steve Manas said.
"The students canvassed for who they wanted here and had the funds available," he said.
More than 1,000 people came to the New Brunswick, New Jersey, campus to hear Snooki of MTV's "The Jersey Shore" speak Thursday.
Student Hina Rehman, 20, said she found it "disappointing" her tuition money was going to fund the event.
"The fact that our school spent $32,000 to bring her is ridiculous," she said. "It's fine the money used here is meant for entertainment purposes, but I think we can get better entertainment than that."
Manas said the event was funded by the Rutgers University Programing Association, a student events group that receives some of the mandatory fees tacked onto tuition. The university will pay Morrison for her commencement speech with money from a deal with beverage company Pepsi.
"PepsiCo has a vending contract with Rutgers," Manas said. "That money can be used in a variety of ways. The money supports enhancing student life and the university community."
The displeased student said regardless of the source of the money for either event, she still found it appalling the school spent more money on Snooki than an esteemed author praised for her extensive writing on African American women.
"The fact that our school spent more money on her than Toni Morrison is a little ludicrous," Rehman said. "Snooki has no accomplishments or achievements that are worthy of that money."
Student Josh Kaufmann, 19, attended the event and said he doesn't understand the outcry over Snooki's paid appearance.
"She did two events and they were both jam packed with lines out the door," he said. "I don't watch 'The Jersey Shore', but it's a popular TV show and the money went toward a really good event. I don't care however much money the school spends on bringing someone as long as it's someone that is going to be popular among students."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)