Leon Panetta opens second season of New Jersey Speakers Series


By Andrew McKay

“We take special pride in offering programs that enrich the cultural and intellectual life of our community — programs like this that bring to the community lessons of leadership, stories that define our times and voices that truly inspire,” said FDU President Sheldon Drucker, kicking off the second season of the New Jersey Speakers Series on Thursday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Drucker thanked sponsors and subscribers for making the series possible.

The featured speaker of the evening was former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who spoke about the paralysis in Washington and the critical flashpoints facing the United States, both at home and abroad.

Panetta served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years before President Bill Clinton selected him as director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1993, and then, in 1994, appointed him White House chief of staff. President Obama nominated Panetta to run the CIA in 2009. He subsequently served as secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013.

Discussing “our age of paradox,” Panetta said, "We’re living in a time of great technological innovation…and yet, at the same time, there’s almost a total breakdown in our ability to govern ourselves.”

Citing America’s lack of an overall strategic plan for creating stability in the Middle East, he said, “Leadership by crisis is no way to run a country.”

An optimist, Panetta said he strongly believed in the possibility of “an American renaissance,” issuing a call for the country to work together.


Above: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with students Adeola Dada (left) and Danielle Owens (right) and associate professor of political science, John Schiemann. (Photos by Michael Paras)


Panetta fielded audience questions that focused almost entirely on the Middle East and included discussions on the Iran nuclear deal, the ongoing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and missed opportunities of the Arab Spring. Steve Scott, news anchor for WCBS Newsradio 880 AM, one of the University’s media partners for the series, introduced the lecture and moderated the question and answer session.

The 2015-16 New Jersey Speakers Series continues with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on October 29, 2015, and documentary director and producer Ken Burns on November 19, 2015, followed by political activist and best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali (January 28, 2016), long-distance swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad (February 18, 2016); Frank Abagnale, subject of the motion picture “Catch Me If You Can” (March 17, 2016), and futurist and author Michio Kaku (April 14, 2016).

The New Jersey Speakers Series, presented by Fairleigh Dickinson University is sponsored by New Jersey Performing Arts Center, WCBS Newsradio 880, Hollister Construction Services, PNC Bank, TD Bank, and NJ.com affiliated with Star-Ledger.

The series is sold by subscription only. For tickets or information, visit www.NJSpeakersSeries.org, or call 1-888-MY-NJPAC or 1-888-696-5722.