This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Speakers series announces lineup

  • Robert Gates

  • Michael J. Fox

  • Judy Shepard

  • Soledad O’Brien

  • Mary Robinson

  • Seth McFarlane

Published: Aug. 4, 2011

The 25th anniversary edition of UB’s Distinguished Speakers Series once more will offer Western New York audiences a varied program of speakers on topics ranging from a decade of warfare to human rights advocacy, medical research and off-beat humor.

The speakers will be former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; actor, author and medical research advocate Michael J. Fox; Judy Shepard, activist, author and mother of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a notorious 1998 gay hate crime; award-winning CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien; Ireland's former president and international human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson; and Seth McFarlane, voice actor, singer and creator of the animated television hit series “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

All talks will begin at 8 p.m. in Alumni Arena, North Campus, except for those by O’Brien, who will speak at 8 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall, and Robinson, who will speak at 8 p.m. in the Center for the Arts, North Campus.

“This year’s series will again provoke a better understanding of our world by focusing on serious international social and political issues, with a little humor to leaven the offerings,” says Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services. “It will take us to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland and the European Community, and ask us to consider human rights in the broadest sense of the term.”

The series will open during the inaugural week celebration for President Satish K. Tripathi, with a Sept. 21 address by Robert M. Gates, who served from 2006 until this year as secretary of defense, a position he held under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Gates spent 27 years as an intelligence professional, and held many major posts, including those of director (1991-93) and deputy director (1986-89) of the Central Intelligence Agency. From 1989-91, he served as assistant to the president and White House national security advisor in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and, for his public service, received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Security Medal.

On Oct. 19, the speaker will be Michael J. Fox, popular actor, author and advocate for Parkinson’s disease research. Fox has been a well-loved public figure since his starring turn on the television series “Family Ties,” for which he won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.

He went on to star in a series of successful films, among them the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Casualties of War,” before returning to series’ television in 1996 with “Spin City,” which earned him another three Golden Globes, an Emmy, a People’s Choice Award and two SAG awards.

Diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991, Fox shifted his focus and energy to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, through which he has advocated for stem cell research, raising both public awareness of the disease and more than $251 million in research funding.

Hard-driving activist and author Judy Shepard will speak on Nov. 9, sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs. She is the author of the best-selling book, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed,” an intimate memoir that describes how her life—and the entire fight for human rights—changed in 1998 when her son, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, became the victim of a vicious murder precipitated by hatred of gays.

Shepard turned that personal tragedy into a crusade for justice by establishing with her husband, Dennis, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which carries on her son’s legacy and works to prevent others from falling victim to his fate.

She is largely responsible for the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation. Defeated in 2007 after President George W. Bush threatened to veto it, the bill passed in 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama.

CNN television anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien, winner of the 2010 Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, will present the keynote address for the 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Event, being held at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 in Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. The lecture is sponsored by UB’s Minority Faculty and Staff Association.

A Harvard graduate, O’Brien worked for NBC News and its affiliates from 1991 to 2003 as a field producer, bureau chief, local reporter and anchor before joining CNN as anchor of “American Morning,” the network’s popular morning news program, a position she held until 2007.

Since then, O’Brien has reported breaking news throughout the world for CNN and produced several award-winning documentaries on important international issues. She also anchored “Black in America,” a 2007 special that documented the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black Americans 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King.

On March 29, Mary Robinson, president of Ireland from 1990-97 and past United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights—the first woman to hold either position—will present a lecture sponsored by the Graduate Student Association.

As Ireland’s first woman president, Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure who elevated her country to a new international status by revitalizing and liberalizing a previously conservative office by building bridges among those with seriously conflicting religious, social and economic points of view. Today, she campaigns for worldwide democracy through her work as president of the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy for global justice.

The series will conclude on April 28 with Seth MacFarlane, creator of the Emmy Award-winning FOX-TV series “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” MacFarlane is the Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker, selected by the undergraduate Student Association.

McFarlane created the animated series “Family Guy,” which debuted to critical raves in 1999 and won an Emmy in 2000 and 2002. He also produces “American Dad,” based on yet another off-kilter family marked by political incorrectness, which has likewise generated a cult following, as does “The Cleveland Show,” a spinoff of “Family Guy” that serves as a running commentary on pop culture.

The Distinguished Speakers Series benefits from the vital support of its presenting sponsor, the Don Davis Auto World Lectureship Fund, and from UB's undergraduate Student Association, the exclusive series sponsor for the 16th consecutive year.

Other major sponsors of the series include Hodgson Russ LLP, WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), The University Bookstore, TIAA-CREF and the Health Sciences Center Chapter of United University Professions.

For more information about the series, including details about the speakers and discount vouchers, and to download the series subscription order form, visit the Distinguished Speakers Series website.

Series subscriptions also can be purchased in person at the Center for the Arts ticket office.

Tickets for individual lectures will go on sale Aug. 15 for Robert Gates, Michael J. Fox, Judy Shepard and Seth MacFarlane at Alumni Arena, North Campus; on Aug. 24 for Soledad O’Brien at Kleinhans Music Hall; and on Aug. 24 for Mary Robinson at the Center for the Arts.

All tickets will be available through Ticketmaster.

Consigned tickets for the O’Brien lecture also will be available through the Center for the Arts and Alumni Arena ticket offices, beginning Aug. 29.