Panetta joked that such a large crowd might be the result of people thinking they were hearing from “Pitino, not Panetta.” Panetta was the latest high profile speaker UofL’s McConnell Center has snared for its campus lecture series.

The defense secretary’s speech centered on the need for principled public service, but the remarks and subsequent question-and-answer session also touched on a number of hot-button issues.

Panetta said:

  • More cuts in defense spending will hurt national security, and Congress must find other ways to balance the federal budget.
  • He worries that the United States “hasn’t taken the necessary steps” to stop the hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks on companies, utilities and government agencies that could “literally paralyze this country.”
  • Climate change could create chaos and security threats as droughts prompt fights over water, Russia or other countries seek to mine the resources uncovered with the melting of the polar ice caps, and rising seas affect key shipping ports.

Before his speech, Panetta met with students from the McConnell Scholars program.

Junior Justin Brandt said it was obvious to him that Secretary Panetta “is very intelligent” and noted that he displayed a long memory, citing specific examples of leadership and dedication to public service that he’d witnessed during his tenure in Washington.

Freshman Samantha Roney said Panetta talked with the students about the “Arab spring” uprisings in Syria, Egypt and Yemen and addressed the nuclear threat from Iran.

Another freshman McConnell Scholar, Danielle Robinette, said she appreciated “what the university has been able to do for us” in terms of providing the opportunity to mingle with leaders like Panetta and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the father of the McConnell Scholars program.

Panetta and his wife have set up a similar public policy institute for students at California State University.

Mark Hebert
Following a 28-year career as a radio and television reporter, Mark Hebert joined the University of Louisville as the Director of Media Relations in 2009, serving as the main spokesperson. In 2015, Mark was named Director of Programming and Production. He’s now producing and hosting a radio show about “all things UofL”, overseeing the university’s video and TV productions and promoting UofL’s research operation. Mark is best known for his 22 years as the political and investigative reporter for WHAS-TV in Louisville where he won numerous awards for breaking stories, exposing corruption and objectively covering Kentucky politics. In 2014, Mark was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.