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Statement Addressing the Recent School of Public Policy Email Marketing Campaign

The following statement was issued by President Jim Gash at the October 21, 2020, President's Briefing.

Introduction to Dean Peterson's Remarks by President Gash

I want to turn now to the controversy that's arisen from a fundraising email sent by Dean Pete Peterson at our School of Public Policy a couple of weeks ago. That email doesn't represent who we are or who we seek to be. Not even close.

During this intervening time, Provost Marrs and I have spent time asking questions, gathering information, and listening. I want to make sure that when I speak on behalf of the University, I am fair, accurate, thoughtful, and fully cognizant of the situation about which I speak. I have some things I'd like to say, but first let me introduce Pete Peterson, who has requested the opportunity to address our community today.

University Statement by President Gash Following Dean Peterson's Remarks

I don't need to tell all of you that this is a challenging time for our country. We're inundated with hyper politicization, especially right now in the height of a divisive election. And this situation has, regrettably, fed right into that.

When such conduct is modeled by the leaders of our nation, one might draw the conclusion that such conduct is acceptable. At Pepperdine, I assure you, it is not. Pepperdine is different.

Let me be clear: Pepperdine is a place where civil discourse, debate, and the honorable exchange of ideas are not only welcome, but expected. In fact, they are celebrated. Our university seeks to be a place that welcomes diverse points of view and invites respectful and productive dialogue about controversial topics . . . in a Christian environment. This university will always support academic freedom and freedom of speech, including the freedom to engage in political discourse, but I want you to understand what was different about this incident.

The email Dean Peterson was speaking of was an unauthorized solicitation that expressed partisan political views along with divisive commentary with a specific call to political action . . . all as if it were on behalf of the institution. 

Let me assure you that the University administration was not aware of the email until after it was sent. At no time did the University approve the email or the campaign, nor would it have done so.

Let me explain why: this university has a longstanding practice of resisting making political statements on behalf of the institution—precisely to protect this cherished part of our Christian community—namely, civil discourse.

Given what has happened, we are reviewing our marketing and communications policies in order to ensure adherence to University policy and to also put additional quality control processes in place so that this doesn't happen again.

Finally, let me say, Pepperdine has to rise above the vitriol of our national political discourse.

We have to be better than the common standard. Our faith and Christian heritage call us to a higher standard. While our employees are absolutely free to express their personal political opinions, the institution itself, as a matter of policy, does not engage in divisive, political rhetoric or take positions with respect to partisan agendas. We leave these important debates—and they are important—for the academic and educational conversations by our scholars and students engaging in thoughtful discourse via appropriate avenues in their individual capacities.

As a Christian university, we are also called to a higher standard in the way we treat one another when we fail to meet these expectations. Accountability is central to our Christian values and to our personnel practices at Pepperdine. We know that we all need accountability and that God made us to thrive under a clear system of accountability. We are also called to be a redemptive community.

Although the University does not provide specific comments on personnel actions, I want to assure the Pepperdine community that appropriate administrative action is being taken in this instance consistent with University policy and in accordance with our highest values of accountability and grace.

Let me also acknowledge the pain, hurt, and divisiveness experienced as a result of this. I am more committed than ever to fostering a strong sense of belonging in our community. It is clear that there is more work to be done. I look forward to doing that with you.