Stephen Austin Smith (1949–)

Stephen Smith is a professor, author, and politician. He taught communication at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) from 1982 to 2015, after which he was named Professor Emeritus of Communication. He also served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives, from 1971 to 1974.

Stephen Austin Smith was born on May 15, 1949, in Fayetteville to Austin Clell Smith, who was a country doctor, and Margaret Lucille King, a homemaker and business owner. His family had a long tradition of public service. Charlie King, his great-grandfather, served three terms as Madison County judge, and his grandfather, Albert King, served three terms as Madison County treasurer, while his father and his younger sister, Nancy, were members of the Huntsville City Council. His wife, Lindsley Armstrong Smith, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010.

Growing up in Huntsville (Madison County), Smith attended the local public schools and graduated from Huntsville High School in 1967. He was president of the student council, a class officer, captain of the football team, and a member of the National Honor Society and the debate team. He then attended UA, where he was a student senator, member of Pi Sigma Alpha political science honorary, and member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Smith earned a BA in communication in 1972 and an MA in communication in 1974. He studied First Amendment issues with Gerald Gunter at Harvard Law School and received a PhD in communication studies from Northwestern University in 1983.

Smith taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses—including Methods of Communication Research, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Political Communication, Rhetoric of American Women, and Rhetoric of the Working Class—and was coach of the championship debate team. He also taught summer study abroad courses in history and philosophy of freedom of expression at Oxford and Cambridge universities from 1994 to 2014. In 1985, Smith founded Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication honor society, and he was founding president of the American Communication Association in 1994. The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences presented him with the 1986 Master Teacher Award, and he received the 2019 Wallace A. Bacon Lifetime Teaching Excellence Award from the National Communication Association (NCA).

Smith’s research record includes nine books and ninety other publications. His scholarship was recognized by the NCA with numerous awards, including the 1992 Golden Anniversary Monograph Award for the outstanding scholarly monograph in the discipline and the Franklyn S. Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression in 1978, 1989, and 2019. The Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) recognized his research with the annual James Madison Prize for Outstanding Research in First Amendment Studies in 1991, 1992, 1994, 2005, 2017, and 2019. The University of Arkansas J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences presented him with the 2002 Master Researcher Award, and he was awarded the 2021 Michael Osborn Teacher-Scholar Award from the SSCA.

Smith also served as a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge (law); visiting fellow at the University of Oxford (history); an Andrew Mellon Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (history); a visiting fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s LaFollette Institute of Public Affairs; a visiting fellow at Princeton University (anthropology and politics); a visiting scholar at Stanford Law School; and a visiting professor of rhetoric and communication studies at the University of Virginia.

Smith—a Democrat—served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives, from 1971 to 1974, representing Madison and Carroll counties. As a twenty-one-year-old undergraduate at UA, Smith defeated incumbent Republican Danny Patrick with fifty-four percent (4,771–4,062) to become the youngest member to ever serve in the Arkansas General Assembly. He was reelected in 1972 with sixty-two percent of the vote in the general election (5,668–3,462). Among the successful legislation he sponsored were bills establishing the Kings River as the state’s first scenic river and graduate internships with the Bureau of Legislative Research. In 1978, Smith was elected to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1979–1980, leading four candidates in the general election and winning the run-off with fifty-five percent over Green Forest (Carroll County) mayor and newspaper publisher Ted Larimer. Smith served as vice president of the convention and was a member of the Committee on Citizen Rights and Services, adding provisions expanding the Declaration of Rights to include a right to privacy and gender equality.

Smith was also a member of the Democratic State Committee and the 1980 Democratic National Platform Committee. After having worked on media and policy research for Bill Clinton’s 1974 congressional campaign, Smith was campaign manager for Clinton’s successful 1976 campaign for attorney general. He served as chief of staff to the Arkansas Attorney General (1977–1978) and as executive assistant to Governor Bill Clinton (1979–1980). Smith served by appointment on the Southern Growth Policies Board, the Commission on the Future of the South, the Ozarks Regional Commission, the National Governors’ Association Staff Advisory Committee, and the Executive Board of the Council of Governors’ Policy Advisors.

While writing his doctoral dissertation and working as president of the Bank of Kingston in 1981, Smith made several real estate investments with Jim McDougal and Jim Guy Tucker. Fifteen years later, he became caught up in Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation regarding a real estate loan with McDougal, pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to misapply loan proceeds. In January 2001, Smith was pardoned by President Clinton. Under the nom de plume John Wilkes, Smith wrote a novel, The Starr Chamber, a fictional account of an Alabama governor who becomes president and is hounded by an obsessed special prosecutor.

Smith served as president of the Northwest Arkansas Labor Council; president of Local 965 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; president of the Clinton House Museum Board; and chair of the Fayetteville Telecommunication Board. He was also a board member of the Fayetteville Public Library, the ACLU of Arkansas, the Arkansas Sierra Club, and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. He was named Arkansas Sierra Club Environmental Activist of the Year in 2010 and was honored with the Ozark Literacy Council’s Barbara Broyles Champion for Literacy Award in 2015.

He and his wife live in Fayetteville and continue their research and writing. His son, Caleb, is a professor at Yale University, and his daughter, Maggie, is an attorney in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

For additional information:
“Communication Professor Emeritus Honored at Regional Conference.” University of Arkansas News, April 8, 2021. (accessed May 21, 2022).

“Emeritus Professor Wins First Amendment Research Award.” University of Arkansas News, April 12, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2022).

Maraniss, David. “Prosecutor Nets an Unlikely Subject.” Washington Post, June 9, 1995, p. A16.

“Professor Emeritus Stephen Smith Wins National Teaching Award.” University of Arkansas News, August 29, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2022).

Smith, Stephen A. “People, Power, and Realpoliticks in the Provinces.” American Communication Journal 2, no. 1 (2000). (accessed May 21, 2022).

Stephen A. Smith Papers, MC1686. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Lindsley Armstrong Smith
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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