Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Fall 2005
The Bold Promise of Pepperdine: Provost Darryl Tippens reflects on the University's philosophy and mission.
By Rick Gibson
Darryl Tippens believes Pepperdine is on to something big. He is zealous about the University's commitment to academic excellence and Christian values and he believes the academic world and the marketplace of prospective students are taking notice. At a time when several of Pepperdine's programs are experiencing tremendous, if not record growth, respected scholars throughout the academy are beginning to talk about Pepperdine and its future.
In partnership with President Andrew K. Benton and with the blessing of the Board of Regents, Dr.Tippens has done much during his first four years to move Pepperdine even closer to its mission. Since taking his position, Tippens has hired new deans and new faculty who embrace this holistic approach. Through the development of research and travel grants, he has supported teaching and scholarship so that Pepperdine faculty will be known throughout the world for excellence in their fields of study. He has attracted world-class scholars to our campus through conferences and has added new programs and degrees at all five schools.
Those who work closely with Dr. Tippens are as enthused about Pepperdine's mission as he is and are encouraged by his leadership. Dr. Donald Marshall, Fletcher Jones Chair of Great Books, says about Provost Tippens, "He communicates clearly the unbreakable bond between the Christian mission and academic excellence." Professor Jeffrey Zalar, from the Humanities/Teacher Education Division, is encouraged by Darryl's effort to "…attract the most promising teachers, scholars, and professional writers who are also committed to elaborating the Christian tradition in higher academics in our time." Others, like Dr. Chris Soper, chair of the Social Science Division and newly appointed director for the Center for Faith and Learning, are personally motivated by Provost Tippens, "…whose own research on Christianity and literature offers an important model on the integration of faith and learning from which many of us can fruitfully learn."
To understand Dr. Tippens' passion for the Pepperdine mission, one must understand his worldview and the foundations from which he works. He understands the university in Western society and its historical and contemporary relevance. He knows that it's influential and important. But, he also knows that, in many places, it's in trouble.
Tippens is not alone in his assessment. Robert Zemsky, chairman of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education, says, "America's major universities are not making a big enough difference in the life of the nation." Tippens couldn't agree more, adding, "Higher education no longer enjoys the preeminent confidence in American culture." He quotes Ernest Boyer who described "a growing feeling in this country that higher education is, in fact, part of the problem rather than the solution."
What's lacking? "Purpose is at the heart of Pepperdine's mission," says Dr. Tippens. "That's what universities, like Pepperdine, committed to both academic excellence and Christian faith, offer in a way and to the degree that many secular institutions do not."
"Purpose is at the heart
of Pepperdine's mission."
Tippens continues, "Despite the enormous good that science does and can lay claim to, there are some things it cannot do. It cannot establish purpose, and it cannot determine our ethics. These come from somewhere else. Religion—which helps establish purpose and values—once resided at the heart of the university enterprise," he maintains. "But over time it was relegated to the margins of university life, or it was cast out of the university altogether." Today, in some institutions, if religion is discussed at all, it is treated only as a social phenomenon.
"We now live in a time of a dramatic reawakening of the essential longing for purpose and meaning. Today's students are looking for a higher education that brings scientific inquiry and the search for spiritual purpose back into balance," Tippens says.
Apparently, the marketplace understands this differentiating factor. According to recent data from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, members of CCCU institutions grew 47 percent in the 1990's, while public institutions grew by only 4 percent. Pepperdine University's Seaver College has also experienced explosive growth in applications in recent years.
There may be several explanations why the secular university is experiencing a relatively flat growth rate, but Tippens suspects that it is primarily because the university has strayed too far from its roots. From the 12th to the 18th century, universities operated in the context of religious movements. Faith and the intellect coexisted as partners in the academy and were understood to be of equal importance. A key role of the university was to shape the character of its students. The president was often a member of the clergy who taught a capstone course about what it meant to be a moral, discerning, productive citizen.
Even in the Enlightenment, the coexistence of faith and scholarship manifested itself in the natural theology of Sir Isaac Newton and others who believed that the Divine was discernable through reason. Natural theists were optimistic that this rational approach, bound by scientific and moral truths, would lead to unimaginable progress. Instead, it led to sharp conflict between the academy and Christianity, and a crisis of knowledge and authority resulted.
In the last century, many of America's great universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale yielded to decidedly secular ideas and abandoned their religious heritage. Today, elegant chapels remain on these campuses as reminders of the faith that once bound the academy to the church.
"More than ever," Tippens says, "there is a sense that for human societies to do well, we need more than science and technology. Important as they are, we need people who are deeply shaped by moral and spiritual values." After two centuries under an educational philosophy dedicated to rational inquiry but detached from any moral guidance system, the world seems more uncertain than ever. At the start of the 20th century, many believed in constant progress through human achievement leading to a kind of earthly paradise. But this dream was crushed by the realities of World War I and World War II. Some of the world's leading powers, tutored by their great universities, turned their scientific knowledge to destructive purposes that no one had ever imagined.
"Any quest for knowledge without a commitment to ethical or moral foundations does not lead to progress or a secular paradise," Dr. Tippens says, "but to chaos. A society that emphasizes knowledge but ignores the search for the eternally good is in trouble."
This subject reminds the provost of George Pepperdine's Founder's address given on September 21, 1937: "If we educate a man's mind and improve his intellect with all the scientific knowledge discovered and do not educate the heart by bringing it under the influence of God's Word, that man is dangerous. An educated man without religion is like a ship without a rudder or a powerful automobile without a steering gear."
Mr. Pepperdine had a dream for his college, but he could not have imagined the kind of school Pepperdine has become nor fathom the University it is becoming. "He laid the foundation that positions Pepperdine University so well for the future," states the provost.
Founder's Day addresss
September 21, 1937
So, can Pepperdine live up to its promise to be both Christian and academically excellent? Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at USC, whom Provost Tippens admires, is among those who say that Pepperdine is well positioned to develop a new model for Christian higher education. He is encouraged by what he sees happening at the University. Dr. Willard, considered one of Christianity's great contemporary scholars, who has received Christianity Today's highest honor several times for his many books, states "There is no shortcut to do this, no slogans. The faculty must do the work. Pepperdine seems to be uniquely placed to be just Christian and academically excellent. It's already happening there. And it's one of the most encouraging things I have seen recently."
But, Dr. Willard warns that the University faces a real challenge if it is going to live up to its promise of academic excellence within a Christian framework. "You have to ask yourself this question: Can you trust God to stand up before or under the most fair, rigorous, critical, intellectual inquiry? If Pepperdine can say 'Yes,' then God will prosper Pepperdine as no other Christian university. This is where Christian universities often fail to pass the test."
Dr. Tippens and Dr. Willard, who enjoy a personal friendship, share similar values and optimism about Pepperdine and its emerging model of Christian higher education. Both believe that God and truth should to be sought after, not protected or defended.
The best way Dr. Tippens knows to seek truth is through the tested methodologies of scholarly work in the framework of Christian belief. Sharing this pursuit with students in a process of co-discovery is what excites the provost the most. He bristles at the notion that Pepperdine risks becoming less student-focused by pursuing excellence in scholarship. "If students are the 'heart of the enterprise' then we must care about what we feed them. Lively, contemporary, scholarly discovery must be part of the fare," says Tippens. He reminds us that in the classic model of scholarship, the greatest thinkers have a burden to share knowledge with the next generation. It is a model that is inclusive of students, and one that it is consistent with Pepperdine's mission.
"Many may come to Pepperdine because, in some circles, we are seen as prestigious and elite. But that is not why we are good," Dr. Tippens says. "We are good because we are grounded. Purpose is at the center of our mission."
Darryl Tippens came to Pepperdine University in 2000 from his previous position at Abilene Christian University where he was the James W. Culp Distinguished Professor of English. As Pepperdine's chief academic officer, Provost Tippens devotes significant time to issues of academic planning, program development, and the advancement of scholarship. He and his wife, Anne, live in Mallmann House, the provost's residence on the Malibu campus. They have two adult sons. Dr. Tippens shares more of his ideas about Pepperdine and its commitment to academic excellence and Christian values in his speech "Pepperdine, Picasso, and the Idea of a Christian University," available for online reading at http://www.pepperdine.edu/provost/content/pepperdinepicasso.pdf.