Governor Charlie Baker defended Salem State University Thursday for using its foundation to pay Tom Brady $170,000 to speak at the college last month.
“They’re not putting any public money into it,” Baker said on the WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” show with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
Baker on the radio said Brady donated the money to his favorite charity, Best Buddies, but later backed away from that statement.
“The governor was referring to the fact that Brady regularly donates proceeds from events like this to his major charity, Best Buddies,” spokesman Tim Buckley said Thursday evening.
Brady’s agent has declined to say whether he actually donated the money. Calls to Best Buddies were not returned.
The speaking fee for the Patriots star — the largest the state college has paid to one of its dozens of speakers over the years — has caused an uproar, as some balk at the figure he accepted and others defend it. The disclosure also has raised questions about whether nonprofit foundations affiliated with public colleges receive adequate oversight.
On the radio, the governor said the college’s speaker series makes money for the university’s foundation and brings prominent figures to the North Shore, the governor’s backyard.
“As somebody who lives on the North Shore, it has absolutely been one of those things that catches your eye all the time,” said Baker, who lives in Swampscott.
Salem State’s foundation and other like it are the private fund-raising arms of public colleges. They are overseen by boards of trustees and spend money on scholarships, professors salaries and other academic programs. Because foundations are private, they are not compelled to make their finances public. The Globe learned of Brady’s fee after three public records requests.
Salem State, which costs about $9,000 per year, said the event and fee were funded entirely by sponsors and ticket sales, and that the evening generated a $40,000 profit for the foundation.
The Salem State speaker series in the past has hosted Benazir Bhutto, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, and former presidents — names the governor mentioned during his appearance on the radio show.
Also on the radio show, Baker criticized UMass for its plans to raise tuition and fees by up to 5 percent next year. The UMass Board of Trustees voted 14 to 4 Wednesday to hike costs, saying an increase is unavoidable without a substantial jump in state funding. Baker’s secretary of education, Jim Peyser, a member of the UMass board, voted against the cost increase.
“There are cheaper, better, smarter ways to provide college educations for kids,” Baker said, mentioning online education, three-year degrees, and the option for students to take classes at community colleges while they are in high school.
Baker said UMass received a 3 percent budget increase from the Legislature, despite the state’s $1.8 billion budget gap. UMass should find more innovative ways to make education affordable, rather than raising fees, he said.
“People need to be willing to think differently about the model. Period,” he said.