A record number of UT graduates were advised to exercise restraint and
maintain civility while exercising their First Amendment rights at
graduation back on May 13.
Dr. Otis Stephens, UT Alumni Distinguished Service Professor of Political
Science and adjunct professor of law and the UT College of Law, counseled
the class of 1994 as the main speaker at the spring's commencement
"If speech is allowed to degenerate into nothing more than a personal
assault weapon, it soon looses its legitimate claim as a basic freedom,"
Stephens said. "Freedom of speech, like any other right can be abused. If
that abuse becomes intolerable to enough people, even this precious freedom
can be curtailed."
Stephens commented on the twentieth century phenomena of expansion of
protection for speech, especially over the past 50 years, and in particular
the recent enigma know as "hate speech."
"In recent years, however, broad First Amendment protection has been
extended far beyond debate on public issues to include. . .even Ôhate
speech' aimed at private individuals," he said.
Stephens also said how to deal with these expansive protections poses a
complex problem in itself, causing one of the "most baffling" problems
facing Americans, especially young people of this generation.
Stephens also offered words of encouragement to the class of 1994, relaying
his own personal story against those who pushed him not to enter the
academic professional field and told graduates to follow their "own" goals
He said although the present generation has its share of problems, their
gravity may be somewhat blown out of proportion, considering the problems
faced by generations of the early twentieth century including: two World
Wars, the Depression, and the Cold War.
Stephens also expressed his confidence in this generation's ability to
confront and solve the problems it faces now, and will face in the
Stephens spoke to a record number of graduates at the University of
Tennessee. More than 2,800 students were awarded degrees at graduation,
according to UT Chancellor Bill Snyder.
The degrees conferred included: agricultural sciences and natural
resources, 110; architecture and planning, 69; business administration,
283; communications, 96; education, 115; engineering, 218; human ecology,
82; liberal arts, 809; social work, 27; nursing, 105.
The various graduate degrees conferred included: masters, 680; doctors of
philosophy, 65; doctors of education, 6; specialists in education, 2;
doctors of jurisprudence, 139; and veterinary medicine, 54.
Stephens told graduates to exercise "self-restraint" and "civility" when
exercising free speech, rather than testing the rough waters if free speech
and pushing the extremities of the First Amendment.
UT President Joe Johnson conferred the degrees.
Commencement speaker teachess civility in discourse
Published: Fri Jun 03, 1994 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:44 p.m.