Message from the Chairman - Trial by Fire

Andrew K. Benton, President

As we were preparing this annual report, our Malibu campus was tested by a terrible challenge. A fire, driven by fierce Santa Ana winds, ripped through Malibu Canyon and headed for the sleeping Pepperdine campus in the early morning hours of October 21. The fire blackened many acres on campus, destroyed three University vehicles, and burned lush plant life at the foot of the large cross at the campus entrance. It would be the first of many fires to ravage much of Southern California.

Word on campus spread quickly through door-to-door calls by University Public Safety officers and instant messages sent from Pepperdine's Emergency Operations Committee to home phones and cell phones. Soon students, faculty, and staff residents--sleepy, startled, and frightened--gathered in Tyler Campus Center or Firestone Fieldhouse.

Los Angeles County Fire Department officials immediately set into motion an emergency preparedness plan that had been developed in cooperation with University administration. First responders from all over the region arrived rapidly on the Drescher Graduate Campus, and by midday, over 1,000 firefighters were engaged along with massive air and ground support.

As the campus community came together, President Benton, whose own campus home remained threatened, addressed the anxious group. As he spoke, a sense of calm settled over the crowd as tension gave way to relief and tears turned to laughter. At 11 a.m., the crowd paused for a time of worship. By 2 p.m. the threat to the campus had diminished and the campus residents returned to their homes.

Before dawn on November 24 this threat returned as wildfire blazed through canyons near the Malibu campus. Like the previous month, the Emergency Operations Committee expertly shepherded campus residents to safety until the threat subsided.

This fire ignited on Thanksgiving weekend, as people throughout Malibu and nationwide gathered in gratitude for their families, health, and blessings. Like you, I watched these stories unfold from my home far away from the campus. I shared in the anxious moments and rejoiced as I learned that the campus was safe and its residents uninjured.

As chair, I must express my deep sense of pride in how the Pepperdine community pulled together in the face of adversity and triumphed. I must also acknowledge the outstanding leadership of President Benton and his administrative team, giving special thanks to Gary Hanson who led the Emergency Operations Committee. Without their experience, planning, and bold leadership, the response to this event could have been much different.

Reflecting on these trying moments, I am particularly reminded that Pepperdine is blessed. In the 35 years that Pepperdine University has stood atop these bluffs in Malibu, providence has spared the campus from natural disaster, allowing it to grow and flourish in this special place. I am reminded of the beauty that surrounds the Pepperdine family each day, the creativity it inspires, and the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual contemplation it supports. I am grateful that Pepperdine stands today to continue its remarkable journey.

So, it is with this story that I introduce this year's annual report. I hope, as you read through these pages, you will get a sense of the marvelous community of talented people who face all kinds of challenges with skill, courage, gratitude, and love.