dlaycock at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU
Fri Jun 5 18:56:52 PDT 1998
I have been sitting out the great graduation speech debate, being
occupied with deadlines. I have thought about these problems in part
because my son was just elected Senior Speaker for his high school class,
causing great consternation among the administration. (He did fine. I have
his manuscript if anyone wants it off list.)
But it strikes me that much of the difficulty results from what an
unusual forum graduation ceremonies are. In most forums, anyone or at least
lots of people can talk, and most important, dissenters from the dominant
view get a chance to respond. None of that is true here. This "forum" is
equal only in the sense that a lottery is equal; one or two lucky people get
to speak. The selection process may be fair or unfair, as Mark Graber
points out. But even if it is fair, one or a few people get control of a
captive audience, and dissenters do not get to respond.
This is clearly a place where informal solutions work better than
legal ones. We have some expectations about what is and is not appropriate.
At the University, we get complaints when a public official invited to give
the commencement address gives a speech that parents of the other party find
too partisan. Adolescents are more likely than adults to rebel against
conventions and flout them, but most of them avoid flaming out.
Informal solutions have broken down with respect to religious
speakers, because important parts of the community are so far apart on what
convention is appropriate. The case does not fit very well into existing
doctrine. I have strong sympathy with both sides -- with the free speech
rights of my son and other speakers, and with those who object to his unfair
advantage and their captive status.
I often see merit in both sides but feel comfortable with a
principled resolution. Here I don't have one. I'm still struggling.
University of Texas Law School
727 E. Dean Keeton St.
Austin, TX 78705
dlaycock at mail.law.utexas.edu
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