Advanced degree grads urged to engage in civility, thoughtful debate

(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)

(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)
Rhode Island College awarded 284 graduate degrees and two honorary doctorates at advanced degree commencement exercises held on May 17 at The Murray Center, packed with family and friends of the graduates.

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Honorary degree recipients Jennifer Duffy, left, and Rabbi Leslie Yale Gutterman were awarded their doctorates by RIC President Nancy Carriuolo.
Honorary degrees went to Rhode Island native Jennifer E. Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report, who received a Doctor of Social Sciences, and to Rabbi Leslie Yale Gutterman, rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Providence for more than 40 years, who was awarded a Doctor of Humanities.

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo welcomed the graduates, telling them, “I’m proud that you chose to continue your educational journey here at Rhode Island College. Many of you have juggled countless responsibilities to obtain your advanced degree. You are now armed with the knowledge you need to further your career, meet new challenges and realize your fullest potential.”

Carriuolo introduced Duffy as a “rational analyst” of political news, a rarity nowadays when political discussions have become so divisive. Duffy, Carriuolo said, is able to sift through the “veritable landfill” of “useless ideas” generated by anyone with a computer to arrive at a balanced, research-based perspective on issues of the day.

Jennifer Duffy receives an honorary Doctor of Social Sciences degree.
“I am honored to receive this degree from the state’s oldest public institution of higher learning that has for the last 158 years fostered a learning environment that encourages thoughtful debate and civic engagement,” Duffy told the gathering.

“Thoughtful debate” is needed now more than ever, Duffy suggested. “Over the last decade, I believe that we have reached a new low in the civility of our political discourse. … It seems that many people see politicians and political issues in black and white,” she said. “There is no room for debate or compromise, just ideology and partisanship. For all the space the World Wide Web and 700 television channels have provided, there is no place for us to agree to disagree, or to find common ground.”

She urged listeners to treat a person’s political opinion as a possession, such as a pair of eyeglasses where you may not like a friend’s glasses but you would never destroy them or deny your friend’s right to own glasses. “You can acknowledge that a person’s opinion, like their glasses, belongs to them,” Duffy said.

Over 280 students received advanced degrees from RIC this year.
A 1985 Georgetown University graduate, she cited the recent controversy over talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of Georgetown law student Sarah Fluke as a prime example of lost civility.

“Whether you use your new degrees to teach, to care for the sick, to work as a counselor or a therapist, to write, to compose, to consult, or even to crunch numbers, I ask that you attempt to impart some wisdom in ways large and small about agreeing to disagree, about being rational, and about being fair and stressing the facts because the facts are often the first casualty of uncivil discourse,” Duffy advised graduates.

Gutterman, who came to Temple Beth-El in 1970, was honored for his lengthy and impressive record of public service. He has been at the forefront of building coalitions to improve the community, particularly in areas that directly involve RIC graduates such as education, health care and social work.

Introducing him, Carriuolo called the rabbi “a champion of social justice and anti-violence,” as well as a “progressive and compassionate advocate for health services.”

He has been a trustee of Butler Hospital and on the board of Miriam Hospital, chaired the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, and worked with the Children’s Museum of Rhode Island, Trinity Repertory Theatre and Big Brothers of R.I., to cite just a few of the many civic activities that have benefited from the Gutterman’s involvement.

Eight students received doctorate degrees in the philosophy of education in a joint program operated with the University of Rhode Island. Other degrees awarded were certificate of advanced graduate study, master of social work, master of arts, master of science in nursing, master of arts in teaching, master of education, and master of professional accountancy.

Lorne Adrain, chair of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, delivered greetings on behalf of the board.

Also participating in the advanced degree commencement ceremonies were Ron Pitt, vice president for academic affairs; Gary Penfield, vice president for student affairs; James Salmo, vice president for college advancement; William Gearhart, vice president for administration and finance; David Blanchette, dean of the School of Management; Alexander Sidorkin, dean of the Feinstein School of Education and Human development; Earl Simson, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Jane Williams, dean of the School of Nursing; Sue Pearlmutter, dean of the School of Social Work; and Leslie Schuster, interim dean of graduate studies.

In her remarks to the gathering, Carriuolo noted that RIC is a “veteran-friendly” school and she called for a round of applause for graduates who are military veterans.

She also acknowledged RIC’s status as the oldest educational institution in the state. “We are very proud of our long tradition of excellence,” Carriuolo said.

In accord with tradition, the commencement marked the 50th year that the Del Sesto Mace has been used to lead a RIC procession.

The mace, made by the Gorham Company, bears a bronze replica of the Independent Man that stands atop the Statehouse. Gov. Christopher Del Sesto presented the mace to RIC when the college moved away from Smith Hill, so the college could continue its tradition of holding events in the presence of the Independent Man.