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Statement from Dean Peterson Addressing the Recent School of Public Policy Email Marketing Campaign

The following statement was issued by Dean Pete Peterson at the October 21, 2020, President's Briefing.

Thanks, President Gash, and good morning Pepperdine. Over the last 15 years of my time at Pepperdine—beginning with the first two as a graduate student, the next three leading a bipartisan nonprofit focused on improving civic engagement, the following four years building the nonpartisan Davenport Institute for Public Engagement promoting inclusive public participation in policymaking, to these last five as dean at SPP, through a statewide political campaign for public office, and in hundreds of speeches, opinion pieces, and media appearances, in past and current service on nonprofit boards and academic commissions I’ve sought to model three core commitments:

To inclusive and empowering civic participation – where better processes and technology bring all people - particularly those who don’t feel they have a voice - to the table to decide issues of mutual concern.

To civil discourse – where all people can express their opinions and hear others without fear of ridicule or attack.

And to “viewpoint diversity” in higher education – where students, faculty and staff are encouraged to offer their opinions (and hear others)—particularly on issues at the intersection of scholarship and politics - inside and outside the classroom.

These three things—inclusive empowerment, civility, and diversity of opinions—provide the essential grounding for that beautiful sentence in Pepperdine’s Affirmation statement: “That the truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, must be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.” For how do we approach “the truth” if we do not do so inclusively, with civility, and through a diversity of opinions?

Last month, through an experiment I launched in email fundraising for SPP, we sent out a message, which in tone, tenor, and polarizing rhetoric, broke from all three of these values, which I hold so dear. While the emails were written by copywriters at the contracted outside agency, and while I hadn’t consented to have my image used in the design, I approved of the text for this first round of tests. This was a mistake.

The email text used polarizing and crass language completely unbecoming of SPP, Pepperdine, and me. I have demonstrated over the years that I do not speak, write, or even think in the categories used in the email. But again, I have no excuse. It was a decision I deeply regret—a major error in judgment.

The email campaign was immediately stopped, and we have discontinued the contract with the fundraising firm involved. I believe in civil discourse, inclusive engagement, and viewpoint diversity and, unfortunately, this email promoted none of these. I regret that it’s been divisive in our community at a time when we should all be trying to come together.

I can say without hesitation that no message like this will ever go out from my office again, and I take full responsibility for it.

Of course our community, and the School of Public Policy, are and will remain places in which robust discussion can and should take place, even on the most challenging issues of public policy. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Pepperdine—this place I love—is better than this. 

At times, we may disagree with one another on the issues, but in our disagreements, we must always model a culture of honor in how we disagree. On this point, in this email, I have fallen short and to those who have been hurt by my poor judgment, I offer my heartfelt apology.

Thank you, President Gash, for granting my request to address the community as a whole today.