Preparing for the Journey
Perilous times tempt many to call for maintenance, even, status quo, but that is not our practice, and it is not consistent with any sense of destiny or calling. Across America a conversation continues about college accessibility and cost, sustainability, competition with "for profit" entities, assessment and changing accreditation expectations, uncertainty in the number of students applying to college, and on and on. Awareness of these issues is important, and we will be thorough as we respond and as we prepare and position the University. It would be naïve to ignore the signposts or to assume that this next decade will be without challenge.
There are, indeed, a number of complexities we must address with determination and confidence, but at the end of it all is our commitment to students and those who teach and mentor them. Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said, "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."2 An important job, then, for those who will chart the pathway for the next several years will be to address the complexity carefully, but to hold to "simplicity on the other side of complexity" where we find the student, full of hopes, dreams, and promise.
Our past is both foundation and prologue, and we continue our journey with resolve. A document entitled Envisioning a Bold Future, shared with the campus community in 2001, has proven helpful in our planning and progress. Its five themes are easily summarized: Resources; Diversity; Heritage; Community; and, Scholarship. Now, 10 years later, most would say that those simple themes have proven to be useful rallying points and guideposts. We do not now abandon them, but we do understand our responsibility at a deeper level, and we should respond accordingly.
Comparing these five themes to this unique time and its opportunities, and expanding them for even greater impact and inspiration is our challenge. When mapped to current higher education themes, and combined with immutable elements of our University mission, these themes become: Advancing Learning, Knowledge and Scholarship; Developing Resources; Building Community; Respecting Diversity and Promoting Global Understanding; and, Honoring God and Heritage. A brief commentary on each of the five is appropriate.
2 Lederach, J. P. (2005). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. p.31
Advancing Learning, Knowledge & Scholarship
With gratitude to our heritage of leadership, beginning in 1937, and extending to faculty who today contribute greatly to the academy through their extraordinary teaching and scholarship, and students and alumni who truly live lives of "purpose, service, and leadership," Pepperdine claims a presence on the national and international dais. To continue to do so requires that we keep our promises; that our market positioning be accurate and honest; that we assess and monitor success indicators; and, that we expect performance at the highest levels throughout the institution.
By addressing life's deepest questions presented through the study of arts, business, education, law, literature, public policy, the sciences, and scripture, Pepperdine will be known as a leader in the education of students with the imagination, intelligence, capacity, character, and will to address the world's greatest challenges.
Our aim then is to ensure that students receive a transformative education. While the primacy of teaching at Pepperdine is widely understood, scholarship in support of excellence must be encouraged, underwritten, and endowed. Failure to support strong, nationally recognized scholarship is simply unacceptable, and it will limit our future. But we believe research at Pepperdine will not be carried out at the expense of student learning. On the contrary, our faculty will engage students in original research and the discovery of new knowledge, thus enhancing the experience of both faculty and students. Research and discovery will be the watchwords for students and faculty alike.
Our efforts must also include a clarion call for lifelong learning and service that is unmistakably present among our alumni. In many cases the "call" will be heard first in our classrooms and in our cocurricular activities.
One has only to observe the debate in Congress or read the headlines of our newspapers to understand that a national crisis exists in the matter of accessibility for students. More specifically, our progress in attracting minority students and others for whom a Pepperdine education seems out of reach must continue unabated. Commensurate effort in the hiring and support of faculty to mentor and serve those students is critically important.
Another critical element of the academic infrastructure should be noted here: but for the dedicated work of those who enable the cocurricular activities which flourish on our campuses, the beauty of our physical plant maintained by selfless, caring, and hard-working men and women, and those who serve as financial, technological, marketing, fundraising, and support personnel throughout the organization, nothing would happen. A powerful engine would stall and sit silent. The staff and administration of this university each contribute to the University's ascent in their own way, and they lead this place of higher learning confidently into the future.
The notion of "competition" in higher education is unseemly unless the measurement is objectively valuable and useful to improving the student experience. Pepperdine's third president, M. Norvel Young, often commented, "There is no competition among lighthouses." The challenge, nevertheless, must be presented to deans and their respective faculty colleagues, in close concert with the provost, to decide what excellence will look like at Pepperdine, in each program, and then we must work, with alacrity, to that end.
In all manifestations, excellence at Pepperdine must have as its aim the singular commitment that commends us to change lives. Those who know the University and its schools best must decide and lead toward appropriate aspirations, but the aim should be high and the outcome must be measurable. Accreditation standards should be mere minimums. Using agreed upon, objective benchmarks, Pepperdine as a university, and each of its five schools, should articulate plans for how they will reach the top tier of America's leading institutions of higher learning in the next decade. Let the conversation begin and may the University scale the highest of peaks of learning, service, and scholarship.
In all of this, funding will be crucial. The Campaign for Pepperdine will be successful. Its approach will provide funds for endowment, capital projects, faculty scholarship, and teaching, and it will respond to ever-growing and crucial support for student scholarships. Without a doubt, the next decade will depend upon the selfless giving of those who believe in all that is Pepperdine and, of course, classrooms full of talented and engaged students.
In the recent economic downturn, the University has weathered the brisk and unpredictable winds with calm confidence. This is true, for the most part, because we are student-centered and the reward for that commitment includes strong enrollments. We not only want to continue to recruit the best and the brightest, but we want them to be able to graduate on time and with pride in their program of study.
As much as any other theme articulated in the 2001 Envisioning a Bold Future document, the word "community" has found its way into the lexicon of daily interaction. It is a word that is both descriptive and aspirational. The addition of the Mullin Town Square project on the Malibu campus, and new space for social engagement in our Los Angeles graduate campuses and in our facilities abroad, are physical examples of our focus on the development of social capital; but more importantly the attention to discourse on important issues, the greater use of faculty and staff in the deliberative process and the expansion of committees and advisory groups are part of inviting broad ownership of the future of this university.
The University hopes to inspire our students to active civic and global engagement, and leadership in the marketplace of ideas. The rise of altruism and outreach to others as an avenue of academic inquiry, the attention given to globalism and cross-cultural outreach, and other examples serve as hallmarks for others to follow.
The next, and final, two areas on which we place attention and focus are of particular importance, yet they could become lost in the quest for tangible proof of the mountains we hope to ascend. To stay with that metaphor, of all the things we might leave behind to lighten our load, these must stay with us on the climb. The first, relating to diversity and the global community of which we are a part, is much more than just a popular trend: it is critical to the very nature and service of this university. The final point, which speaks to honoring God and our Heritage of Faith, is determinative, finally, as to whether or not we have been successful in our journey together.
Respecting Diversity & Promoting Global Understanding
It is unwise and irresponsible to ignore the demographic shifts taking place in America. The University must reach out even more to people of color and to invest deeply and broadly in encouraging their enrollment and participation in our programs. Pepperdine must remain relevant to the Greater Los Angeles and California community from which we draw more than 50 percent of our student population. Faculty hiring must mirror these trends, although the competition is keen.
Growing quietly, but with dramatic effect is the work being done in the global community, in Rwanda and Uganda, as but two examples. The University is playing a significant role in matters related to implementing the "rule of law" in countries formerly ruled by fiat and tyranny. The School of Law is providing remarkable leadership in this endeavor. Seaver College efforts such as those during Project Serve, open the hearts of students who will return again and again to the service of others. The Graziadio School, the Graduate School of Education and Psychology and the School of Public Policy also serve with distinction. The stories are many and deeply touching.
Pepperdine is increasingly finding itself drawn to care for the "least of these"3 and finding a home for the work of the mind, arms, and legs, but moreover, the heart. Each of the five schools should set aside space within the curriculum for "head and heart" engagement. For when we are successful in achieving our mission and truly strengthen lives for "purpose, service, and leadership," the transformative nature of our work comes to life. Joseph Campbell noted: "When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness."4 If we are to be an institution that changes lives, then we can settle for nothing less than bringing about authentic and heroic transformations.
3 Matthew 25:40
4 Templeton, S. J. (2002). Wisdom from World Religions: Pathways to Heaven on Earth. Radnor, Pennsylvannia: Templeton Foundation Press. p.323
Honoring God & Heritage
Of all the areas articulated a decade ago, this final theme may present the greatest challenge. Anyone caring about faith-based institutions cannot help but be touched by James Tunstead Burtchaell's book, The Dying of the Light.5 In it he chronicles the academic rise and spiritual demise of many of this nation's finest institutions of higher learning. As we press toward academic excellence, how can we avoid the failings of so many who have gone before with undoubtedly virtuous intentions?
Pepperdine is a Christian university with an established relationship to Churches of Christ. America is fortunate that many schools claim a faith-based heritage. Our unique contribution was born of the 19th-century Restoration Movement. This relationship is an indelible part of our identity and must be nurtured.
There are many "can do" elements outlined in this paper, but maintaining fidelity to our founders' (Pepperdine's, Seaver's, and Graziadio's) hopes and dreams is very important; it is a matter of honor, a "must do" in our planning.
Making this more difficult are external forces that extend far beyond the purview of this paper. Those challenges, however, have little to do with our aspirations and are mere distractions. As long as our efforts remain sincere and attentive to the founding heritage of George Pepperdine College, now Pepperdine University, and the Frank Roger Seaver College of Arts, Letters and Sciences, and the George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management, our two named schools, as well as the School of Law, the Graduate School of Education and Psychology and the School of Public Policy, we will make the progress we all desire, we will honor the wishes of our founders, and we will keep faith with our promises. This is nothing less than a labor of love and a matter of determination.
5 Burtchaell, J. T. (1998). The Dying of the Light, The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.