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A Scholarly Experiment: Changing How Policy Leaders Are Made
In the 1990s, Ted McAllister was one of three full-time faculty members recruited by Pepperdine to create a unique curriculum for what would become the School of Public Policy. "I had never heard of public policy at the time," says McAllister, who holds a Ph.D. in American intellectual and cultural history from Vanderbilt University. "But I was attracted to the idea of a school that is both a graduate and professional program." Using his background in history, he helped construct a program that focuses on historical, philosophical, and economical data analysis, and is guided by the moral and ethical principles of great leaders.
James Wilburn, dean of the School of Public Policy, emphasizes Professor McAllister's unique contribution to the success of the program. "Quite simply, his work is one of the rare elements that sets the Pepperdine program apart as one-of-a-kind," he says. "His perspective as an intellectual historian builds a foundation for subsequent policy studies that can develop habits and skills of tough and honest inquiry and shape the lives of policy leaders throughout a lifetime."
McAllister believes that his job is to encourage questioning and reflection, and points to his own devotion to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. "I'm a scholar who pursues inquiry and my teaching is an invitation for students to join the inquiry," he says about his method in the classroom. "I'm hopeful that to experience life in new ways makes me a better human who can contribute to the world I inhabit and the relationships that matter."
McAllister, an Oklahoma native, is particularly interested in teaching students and future policy leaders to reflect on the moral aspects of a career in policymaking. "One cannot have practical wisdom unless one understands moral concerns in theoretical terms as well as understands the necessary compromises that go along with political and policy decisions," says McAllister. He hopes that a true conversation between theorists and analysts will emerge and help create new research projects that will be beneficial to the public.
McAllister, who previously taught at Hillsdale College and Vanderbilt, has high aspirations for his students. "I assume my students will go out and be leaders," he says. He also expects that graduates will be able to look back on their education and realize the significance of what they learned more clearly and have a greater respect for it after having career experience. He emphasizes the unique purpose of the School of Public Policy, which is to produce leaders who can be very reflective of who they are, what they believe, and why they believe it.
At Pepperdine, McAllister teaches the core class titled Ethical Dimensions of Public Policy: Great Books and Great Ideas as well as a variety of elective courses that focus on putting policy debates in larger historical and philosophical contexts, including Comparative Federalism, Public Policy in Modern America, and American Democratic Culture. He is currently working on various projects including a history of the baby-boomer generation and a critique on the modern conservative movement. McAllister lives in Southern California with his wife, Dena, and their two children, Elisa and Luke.
By Gregory H. Pejic