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David Gergen to headline Wake Forest speaker series on challenges facing the new president


January 8, 2009

Wake Forest University will host a series of speakers in the weeks following the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barack Obama, including political commentator and former presidential advisor David Gergen.  The series will examine organizational and policy challenges facing the new president.  All events are free and open to the public.

“We are committed to contributing to the university’s goal of being a crossroads for discussion of critical issues facing the country and the world,” says Katy Harriger, professor and chair of the political science department, which organized the series.  “Given the historic significance of the 2008 election, both in terms of the election of Barack Obama and the critical nature of the challenges facing the country, we developed aseries focusing on the transition of the new president in order to spark public interest and promote public discussion.”

Gergen will discuss the many challenges facing the new president at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 in Wait Chapel.  “Fulfilling the Promise:  David Gergen on the New American President” is presented through the Voices of Our Time speaker series.  Gergen served as director of communications for President Reagan and as advisor to presidents Nixon and Ford.  He crossed party lines to serve in the Clinton administration, first as counselor to the president on both foreign policy and domestic affairs, then as special international advisor to the president and the secretary of state.  Gergen is currently a professor of public service and the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  He is also editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report and is a senior political analyst for CNN.  Gergen described his experiences in his book, “Eyewitness to Power:  The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton,” published in 2000.

The “Challenges Facing the New President” series begins at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 in Carswell Hall’s Annenberg Forum, Room 111, with a faculty panel titled “Advice to the New President on Policy Issues.”  The discussion will cover a broad range of topics, including health policy, economic issues and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Panel members include Wake Forest faculty:

  • Mark Hall, Fred D. and Elizabeth L. Turnage Professor of Law and professor of social science and health policy at the School of Medicine.
  • David Coates, Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies in the political science department and member of the faculty advisory board for the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism at the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy.
  • Charles Kennedy, professor of political science and expert on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Stephen Hess, Senior Fellow Emeritus in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, will give a talk at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 in Annenberg Forum on “The Obama Transition:  Hitting the Ground Running.”  Hess is author of “What Do We Do Now?  A Workbook for the President-Elect” and “Organizing the Presidency.”  He has been engaged in presidential transitions since serving as a speechwriter in the Eisenhower White House.  He returned to the White House with President Nixon, helped President Carter reorganize the Executive Office and has served as advisor to every presidential transition team since Reagan.  He is also Distinguished Research Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

The speaker series wraps up at 5 p.m. Feb. 17 in Benson University Center, Room 401, with “Looking to the Future:  Will Young People Stay Involved in Politics?”  A panel of leaders from the student Democratic, Republican and Libertarian political groups will reflect on the impact of young voters on the 2008 election and their likelihood of continuing engagement with the incoming administration.  “Our decision to have a student panel reflects the great increase in interest and participation that college students demonstrated in this election,” says Harriger, who will moderate the panel. “The question going forward is whether their energy and enthusiasm can be sustained in the hard work of governing. Will this part of Obama's base stay engaged?  What are their expectations for his presidency?  What are the implications for the Republican Party that the Democrats had such a huge advantage with this demographic?”  Harriger says the student panel members will be asked to reflect on these questions.

The series is presented by the Wake Forest University Department of Political Science through the C.H. Richards Fund.  Richards founded the political science department in 1957, and his bequest to the department upon his death in 2001 was used to create a permanent lecture series.  This year, the series is presented in conjunction with the Voices of Our Time speaker series, an annual guest speaker series that exposes students, the Wake Forest community and the general public to some of the world’s leading thinkers for discussions on the important national and international issues of our time. It was established in 2006 by Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch.

Note to editors: This is a revised release to replace the one issued Jan. 8.

Press Contacts:

Audrey Fannin
(336) 758-5237


Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237


David Gergen
David Gergen
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Stephen Hess
Stephen Hess
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