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Pepperdine University


Pepperdine History

 George Pepperdine (1886–1962)

It is nothing unusual that the economic expansion of the early 20th century made many American entrepreneurs wealthy. When wealth and success came to George Pepperdine, an alumnus of Parsons Business College in Kansas, it came to man of deep Christian faith and a lifelong member of Churches of Christ.

In 1909 Pepperdine, then 23 years old and a newlywed, founded Western Auto Supply Company, a specialty retail chain of stores that supplied automobile parts and accessories, with an initial investment of five dollars. Serving a nation just beginning its love affair with the automobile, Western Auto grew at an exponential rate and eventually operated approximately 1,200 stores across the United States.

Pepperdine had always exercised a spirit of generosity and charity, and was a man who understood himself as a steward and caretaker of the assets that God had entrusted to him. That sense of stewardship matured into a call of destiny when he observed the alarming rate at which Christian young men and women lost interest in their faith after going on to higher education. He determined that he would dedicate his fortune to creating and endowing a college that would provide the best education possible, managed by administrators and taught by professors who would support students in their Christian belief.

On September 21, 1937 (commemorated annually as Founder's Day) George Pepperdine College was opened and dedicated, a mere seven months after Pepperdine had decided to go ahead with construction in February. In November of that same year, Pepperdine addressed the students and first set out what continues to guide Pepperdine University's educational philosophy and policy to this day:

There are many good colleges and universities which can give you standard academic training, but if our school does not give you more than that, it really has no reason to exist. The great difference between this college and other colleges is that we are endeavoring to place adequate emphasis and greater stress upon religious teaching and Christian character. We want to present to you, in teaching and example, the Christian way of life. We do not compel you to accept it. You are free to make your own choice, but we want you to know what it is.

Pepperdine remained thoroughly involved with the college for the rest of his life, frequently being seen on campus with Mrs. Pepperdine, attending chapel, board meetings, school functions, and sporting events. He narrated his life story and his purposes for the college in his biography Faith is My Fortune (1959). George Pepperdine died on July 31, 1962, his life an embodiment of Matthew 10:8, which has become the University's motto: Freely ye received, freely give.

 The First 50 Years (1937–1987)

George Pepperdine College

On September 21, 1937, the new campus of George Pepperdine College hosted 2,000 attendees gathered to witness the opening of the school. Speakers that day included California governor Frank Merriam, Los Angeles mayor Frank L. Shaw, the college's first president Batsell Baxter, and founder George Pepperdine. Among the crowd were the college's first students, 167 young men and women from 22 states and two foreign countries. Mr. Pepperdine clearly stated his intentions for the school on that day: "Our college is dedicated to a twofold objective: First, academic training in the liberal arts . . . Secondly, we are especially dedicated to a greater goal—that of building in the student a Christ-like life, a love for the church, and a passion for the souls of mankind."

The Los Angeles Campus

The campus was located in the Vermont Knolls area of Los Angeles, a few miles south of downtown; formerly it had been a 34-acre estate with an 18-room mansion that had now been converted into the president's residence. Four buildings had quickly risen that year: Baxter Hall, the men's dormitory; Marilyn Hall, the women's residence; an administration building housing classrooms, offices, a library, and an auditorium; and a dining hall. The campus architecture was built in the Streamline Moderne style, and all of the new buildings were painted a light blue which was later marketed in Los Angeles paint stores as "Pepperdine Blue."

Early Traditions

Pepperdine's school colors were adopted in 1937 after students voted to approve President Baxter's suggestion of blue and orange; blue representing the Pacific Ocean, and orange representing California. Baxter also recommended "Waves" as the name for Pepperdine athletic teams to differentiate from other schools' penchant for animal names. Even though the school was then miles from the ocean, it found approval and has characterized Pepperdine athletics ever since. During that first year, two students proposed Graphic as the name for the school newspaper as it contained the initials of George Pepperdine College (GPC), a name also continuing to this day.

In 1937, tuition was low relative to other schools, thanks to Mr. Pepperdine's initial endowment, with room, board, tuition, and fees amounting to $420. Those who today would be called "commuter" students were charged $135 for the year. By contrast, a hamburger and soft drink in the cafeteria cost 20 cents, a breakfast of eggs, hotcakes, and coffee, 30 cents.

A Good Start

The Baxter presidency was short by design, lasting only two years until his resignation in June 1939, but his brief tenure which took advantage of his experience in presiding over two other Christian colleges, David Lipscomb College and Abilene Christian College, was characterized by creating sound academic and administrative foundations and thoughtful traditions. During the college's first year of operation, only seven months after opening, Pepperdine received full accreditation from the Northwest Association, the regional accrediting authority. Baxter and dean Hugh Tiner, who succeeded Baxter as president, recruited a faculty of 22, of whom three held doctorates. And on June 6, 1938, after one year of operation, Pepperdine celebrated its first commencement awarding diplomas to a graduating class of four.
In fall 1944, the college began offering its first graduate degree, the master of arts in religion. Even before the offering of the MA degree, Pepperdine had already served as a training ground for persons entering the ministry. Sixty young ministers were listed as enrollees in March 1944, and several alumni entered the foreign mission field following WWII.

Post-WWII Expansion

In 1944, the 78th Congress passed the G.I. Bill subsidizing higher education and job training for returning WWII veterans, producing a profound, expansionary effect on higher education across America, in which Pepperdine College shared. Enrollments climbed from 824 enrolled in 1946, peaking at 1,830 in 1949. The following military conflict in Korea (which began in 1950) also affected American college male enrollment patterns positively due to the provision of college deferments in selective service. During this period the faculty grew from 67 (regular and adjunct) in 1946 to 116 in 1947. Number of degrees awarded annually at this time also swelled, with majors in business and education-psychology in the lead, topping out at 406 in 1950, eventually declining and stabilizing to approximately 200 a year through the mid-50s.

President Tiner went on medical leave early in 1957 and shortly thereafter resigned. That July, educator and pastor M. Norvel Young, who had formerly served the college as a history professor from 1938 to 1941, was appointed third Pepperdine president. Young, in addition to an agenda to raise the academic prestige of the college, was an exceptionally gifted networker and fundraiser during whose tenure was built an infrastructure of support that would enable the growing school to move toward its developing concept of being a multi-school university.

In the years from 1957 to 1966, enrollment at the college increased from 1,084 to 1,502. In 1958 the college began an extension program with course offerings at off-site centers which ranged geographically from North Carolina to the Philippines and Okinawa. This program's flexible scheduling was designed to allow military personnel to complete academic degrees heretofore impossible. Another Pepperdine innovation at this time was to establish a year-in-Europe program for upper division students in 1963. Thirty-six students were sent to the university in Heidelberg, Germany, in September of that year, under the supervision of then dean of graduate studies Howard A. White who would become Pepperdine's fifth president.

Growing Pains – Malibu Beckons

As the Los Angeles program continued to grow, the college proceeded to expand the campus by acquiring neighboring or adjacent properties to build out, but this process proved to be problematic and cost prohibitive, and the idea of operating in multiple campuses was explored and a committee was formed to investigate possible locations in Southern California. In October 1968, the college received a remarkable donation of 138 acres of undeveloped ranch land in Malibu, given by Merritt H. Adamson, Sylvia Rindge Adamson Neville, and Rhoda-May Adamson Dallas, for the construction of a new campus. Pepperdine announced its expansion plans at its celebrated "Birth of a College" dinner event on February 9, 1970, headlined by then Governor Ronald Reagan, and subsequently dedicated the Malibu property on May 23. Then Pepperdine vice president William S. Banowsky (later to succeed President Young in 1971) was installed as chancellor of the infant Malibu Campus.

The Multi-Campus Experiment

In 1969 Pepperdine College reorganized the department of business into its separate School of Business and it accepted an offer to acquire the Orange University College of Law. It had been the first law school located in Orange County, and was operating as a for-profit night school in Santa Ana. Pepperdine College also had future plans to develop the department of education into a separate professional school (becoming so in 1971), and the trustees repurposed the Pepperdine organization and announced it as Pepperdine University on January 1, 1971. In October of that same year, the University organization was ultimately refined into two colleges of letters, arts, and sciences one located at the Los Angeles Campus and the other at the Malibu Campus, the School of Law in Orange County, and the School of Continuing Education, the School of Business and Management, the School of Education, and the Graduate School all at the Los Angeles Campus.

The First Wave at Malibu

The first students of the Malibu Campus entered school on September 6, 1972. Of that entering class of 867 were 475 freshmen, the largest beginning class at Pepperdine up until that time. Prior to their arrival, the construction, completion, and dedication of the Malibu campus buildings had proceeded in rapid succession, just in time for the start of school. The next year, 1973, saw the completion of two signature Malibu landmarks, Phillips Theme Tower and Stauffer Chapel.

At the Malibu Campus commencement ceremony on December 15, 1974, President William Banowsky announced that the liberal arts college at the Malibu Campus would be named the Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, after the memory of the husband of Blanche Ebert Seaver, the Malibu Campus' principal benefactor.

The Los Angeles Era Concludes

Proceeding through the 1970s on the Los Angeles Campus James R. Wilburn (Dean Emeritus of the Graziadio Business School and the School of Public Policy) assumed the post of provost, Donald Sime became dean of the School of Business and Management, and Olaf Tegner became dean of the School of Education. In 1976 the School of Education became the home of the University's first doctoral program offering the Ed.D. During this time, the University attempted to maintain an active undergraduate educational program and campus life on the Los Angeles Campus, but enrollment nevertheless declined and many programs had been dropped by 1976. The downward trend was inevitable and the Los Angeles college of letters, arts, and sciences (reorganized as the School of Professional Studies) was closed down after the 1980-1981 school year. The Los Angeles Campus was sold in part for housing development but the bulk of the property today serves sacred purposes as the campus of the Crenshaw Christian Center church. The School of Business and Management and the School of Education were relocated to a business park in West Los Angeles which was named Pepperdine University Plaza.

Seaver College Ascendant – Recommitting to First Causes

In the 1970s a spirit of optimism infused the Seaver College community as it received an increasing number of student applications, the number of faculty holding doctorates had risen to 85 percent, and the Graphic garnered several statewide awards. One unique, but very prominent source of national publicity began in 1976 when Seaver College became the filming location of the television show Battle of the Network Stars. It was estimated that 40 million viewers tuned in regularly and witnessed the beautiful seaside campus.

Shortly after Seaver College was dedicated, the trustees approved the relocation of the School of Law to the Malibu campus and groundbreaking began on May 22, 1976, with a ceremony addressed by US Supreme Court associate justice Harry Blackmun. By August 1979, the three-story law center, named for benefactor Odell McConnell, was completed and occupied.

With the plant relocations to Malibu and West Los Angeles, Pepperdine University had solved its institutional problem of securing the physical space to fully realize its growth, and the principal project which faced fifth president Howard A. White, who succeeded Banowsky in 1978, was to begin securing the means for the University to commence building out to suit its academic purposes. White was a particularly astute recruiter and assembled an impressive team of academics, professional administrators, and fundraisers to accomplish this task. It was under the White presidency that the University embarked on its first nine-figure capital campaign, the "Wave of Excellence" campaign. The Wave of Excellence ultimately raised $137.8 million (far exceeding its $100 million goal) and its most visible benefit to the University was the construction of the five-story Charles B. Thornton Administration Center, the first building visitors encounter when entering the campus from the main gate.

For a University to seriously ask itself what and how to build, and to recruit the generosity of others to share in that program, as it did in this period, presupposes the existence of a well-articulated vision and a dream about the school's first principles. It is no mere coincidence that at this time President White deftly engaged the Pepperdine community in reconsidering its academic and spiritual purposes, which resulted in a formal reaffirmation of its connections to the Christian faith tradition and a succinct statement of its mission. In 1985 White effectively resigned from his appointment and worked with the Pepperdine regents (formerly trustees) in the year prior to eventually name successor David Davenport as sixth president of the University.

Advancing Professional Specializations and Internationalist Stirrings

In 1981 the Psychology Division from the Los Angeles Campus was merged into the School of Education now located at Pepperdine University Plaza, and one year later the school was renamed the Graduate School of Education and Psychology ("GSEP" as it is known for short in the Pepperdine community).

In 1986 several major academic changes occurred: GSEP made its first offering of the doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree; the School of Business and Management initiated a residential MBA program on the Malibu campus, and the School of Law inaugurated the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. Within Pepperdine's international programs, experimental London study abroad programs at Seaver and at the law school were proving successful, and the Florence summer study program for Seaver was gearing up for full-year operation in fall 1987.

 Moving Into the 21st Century (1987–2000)

During his 15-year tenure (1985 to 2000), President Davenport intentionally shifted the operational paradigm of the University away from a traditional, hierarchical structure of administration, with a central "ivory tower" and subordinate silos of educational power and influence at each of the schools. Davenport often invoked the metaphor of knowledge as light, passed in all directions through an optical network both transparent and clear. This change in thinking evolved twofold into a collaborative management model wherein both outsiders and University administrators could provide input and feedback, and into the enhanced independence of the schools for the purpose of allowing them to autonomously develop innovative programs to meet the ever-changing needs of students.

Between 1987 and 1990, GSEP added master's degree programs in educational technology, school business administration, and clinical psychology. In 1988 GSEP was the first of Pepperdine's schools to name a woman dean, Dr. Nancy Magnusson Fagan. The then School of Business and Management added master's degrees in technology management and international business. During this period, Seaver College instituted a Great Books curriculum modeled after the University of Chicago's, and the Institute of Dispute Resolution began offering a postgraduate certificate (to be followed with an offering of a master of dispute resolution in 1995). As the programs of GSEP and the business school grew, so did the demand throughout the Southland, and graduate campus spaces were leased in Encino (1987), Long Beach (1990), and Westlake Village (1995).

One of the most significant academic developments of the 1990s was the founding of a new graduate school, the School of Public Policy (SPP) offering the master of public policy degree. Designed to begin first as a freestanding institute of the University in 1996, the school was formally established and admitted students in fall 1997. Small by comparison with its sisters to this day (total enrollment slightly exceeds 60), SPP offers the master of public policy degree and has developed into the most research-oriented school at the University.

The Malibu Build-Out Continues

The build-out of the Malibu campus continued to flurry throughout the early to mid-1990s, seeing the completion of many construction projects including the Rockwell Towers residence hall and the Howard A. White Center (the HAWC) for student recreation. In 1992 the Weisman Museum of Art was founded as part of the newly built Cultural Arts Center, and the School of Law, Payson Library, and Firestone Fieldhouse were all expanded. Shortly after the completion of the tennis pavilion in May 1993, Pepperdine hosted the 1995 NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Western Regional Championships.

Seaver College's school spirit soared in 1992 when then-junior Shannon Marketic was crowned Miss USA in February, the men's volleyball team (aka "The Malibu Roofing Company") took the NCAA Division I Championship in March, and the baseball team won the College World Series in June. The champion spirit revisited the school a few years later when both the men's golf and water polo teams claimed NCAA national titles in 1997.

Waves Overseas, a Growing Presence

At this time the University’s goal was for at least 50 percent of undergraduate students to participate in international education experiences by providing a complete opportunity to do so, also encouraging postgraduates to study abroad. In 1990 the Prince's Gate London campus opened as the permanent home of the London program, and the Villa DiLoreto and Residenza Tagliaferri properties combined to form the Florence campus in 1995. Short-term programs were added in Madrid and Paris in 1993, and a year later, a Latin American program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, opened its doors to students. The School of Law expanded its London offerings from summer only to a year-round program. Seaver College added an undergraduate major in international business, and in addition to the master of international business established in 1989, the business school expanded the MBA with an international study track.

The University's growing internationalist tendencies were showcased in the co-curriculum as well. During the USSR's collapse in the early 1990s, business school dean Jim Wilburn's many connections in Russia brought opportunities for him and his Pepperdine colleagues to consult and advise Russian political and business leaders on how to construct a free market economy. In addition to the delegations and panels led by Dean Wilburn, the University enjoyed many Russian cultural exchanges, hosting writers and thinkers throughout the decade. Wilburn left the business school deanship after the 1992–1993 school year and was succeeded by Otis Baskin during whose tenure the school proudly received its full name from benefactor and entrepreneur George L. Graziadio, Jr., in 1996.

Toward the Digital University

Striving toward President Davenport's ideal of free and unfettered communication, effective actions were taken to digitize data systems at this time. The library card catalog was converted to a mainframe system in 1992, new dormitories were built with Ethernet connections, a 24-hour computer lab was designed for the HAWC, GSEP offered its first distance-learning degree, and the faculty began compiling their course databases on digital media to ease student access. When Davenport ended his tenure, the construction of the University's 21st-century data infrastructure and its inevitable progression toward wireless campuses was well underway.

 A National Presence in the New Millennium (2000–Present)

When Andrew K. Benton was named the seventh president of Pepperdine University in 2000, he celebrated the successful $313 million conclusion to the University's second capital campaign, “Challenged to Lead,” but he then issued five more challenges to meet: challenges to expand resources, enhance diversity, strengthen connection to heritage, create a sense of community, and emphasize scholarship and culture. The project of the University at the turn of the 21st century was thus to strengthen these areas, proving to be no small task in the turbulent times of the century’s first decade.

The fundraising successes of the Challenged to Lead campaign left the University equipped to continue the Malibu build-out. Work soon began to carve out the bluff on the campus’ northwest sector to clear space for the construction of the Drescher Graduate Campus. This significant addition to the Malibu campus was completed in record time, and classrooms opened in August 2003, providing a home base for the School of Public Policy and the full-time, residential programs of GSEP and the Graziadio Business School. This campus boasts a full-service hotel and conference center (the Villa Graziadio Executive Center), as well as a library and data center. Significant additions to the lower campus included the Keck Science Center (2001) and the Center for Communication and Business (2002).

In 2002 the Military Honor Garden was constructed in Stauffer Chapel plaza, followed in 2003 by Heroes Garden on the Drescher Graduate Campus, a lovely place to contemplate modern heroes like alumnus Tom Burnett (MBA ’95), passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who was called to confront suicide bombers—giving his own life to save countless others on September 11, 2001. The University further commemorates those lost on that day by its poignant annual Waves of Flags display on Alumni Park. In emotional contrast, the primary outdoor space on the Malibu campus was reimagined and dedicated in 2009 as Mullin Town Square, a festive central piazza offering a focal point for community engagement and student life. Outside of Malibu, the headquarters of the Graziadio School and GSEP and their West L.A. academic programs relocated from Pepperdine Plaza in Culver City to new facilities in the Howard Hughes Center in West L.A.

Growing into Its Own Reputation

During the 1990s Pepperdine regularly broke into first-tier and first-quartile rankings offered up in the media, such as U.S. News & World Report. By the early 2000s it had gained a fairly permanent berth among other highly ranked institutions. Coupled with its occasional appearances in the national sports championship spotlight (winning the NCAA Division I 2005 Men's Volleyball Championship and the Men's Tennis Championship) and its picture-perfect Malibu location, the University started to occupy a place in the national consciousness that it was ready to accept and shape for itself.

During the 2000s, several high-profile teachers, administrators, and practitioners at the top of their respective fields chose to bring their careers to Pepperdine, where they could cultivate authentic relationships with students and shelter and honor their faith. Pepperdine students were mentored by such minds as Edward Larson, Bruce Herschensohn, Christopher Parkening, and former School of Law dean Ken Starr.

The University began providing students with more short-term encounters with leading scholars and thinkers through many new visiting professorships and distinguished lectures series toward the latter half of the decade. During this time, the University became a regular stop for several US Supreme Court justices visiting as speakers and lecturers, including Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and chief justice John Roberts, as well as retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor. At other times noted California historian and author Victor David Hanson served as visiting professor at the School of Public Policy; Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus addressed the University (he has also taken Pepperdine student interns); and the University has received inspiration and spiritual challenge from such leading lights in Christian thought as N. T. Wright, Martin Marty, Dallas Willard, and Os Guinness.

The early 21st century saw faculty encouraged to fully develop their areas of research expertise and pedagogical passion, allowing them to engage in the formation and development of research centers and institutes. The School of Law was especially active in this pursuit with the creation of the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law; the Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics; and the Wm. Byrne, Jr., Judicial Clerkship Institute. The Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies; the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership; the Center for Applied Research; the Center for Teaching Excellence; and the Institute for Entertainment, Media, and Sports all formed in the century’s first two decades, are sources of co-curricular education for students and faculty alike.

Another measure of University growth in academic reputation can be seen in the example of one prominent competitive fellowship. The 2005 Annual Report noted as particularly exceptional that Pepperdine graduate Kari Filerman had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the Mexican banking system. Thereafter Pepperdine's number of Fulbright Scholars grew: two in 2006, five in 2008, five in 2009, and seven in 2010. The undergraduate climate created by Seaver College dean David Baird challenged students to apply for prestigious fellowships, all the while ensuring students received proper support and preparation to succeed in their endeavors to be selected.

The Nimble Academy

The international emphasis in Pepperdine undergraduate curriculum continued to expand throughout the 2000s. A French culture program was introduced in Lyon, France, in 2003, and then relocated to permanent facilities in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2007. Asian study opportunities were in turn arranged: first in Japan, later in Hong Kong and Thailand, and currently with a permanent campus in Shanghai, China. Numerous other study abroad opportunities were created, allowing the international studies program to expand and contract around the shifting requirements of logistics and support in host countries. In 2008 Pepperdine established a campus in Washington, DC, which serves as home base for Seaver and Caruso students engaged in internships in the nation’s capital and as an alternative venue for seminars and short-term programs.

The graduate professional programs in business, education, and psychology followed suit during this time, exhibiting their abilities to turn on a dime and change with the regional demands of the market. The Pasadena Graduate Campus opened for a time; the Irvine Graduate Campus and the Silicon Valley Graduate Center in San Jose both opened and the former continues to serve students today; the Long Beach campus briefly operated mid-decade. The University responded to the depressed 21st-century jobs market by developing several new graduate-level degrees for professionals updating their skills. In 2003 the law school offered the University's first master of laws (LLM) degree in dispute resolution. In 2007 the Graziadio School rolled out three master of science degrees in the disciplines of applied finance, global business, and management and leadership. Seaver College introduced the MFA in screen and television writing in 2009, and in 2010 GSEP introduced an MA degree in social entrepreneurship and change. 

A Culture of Service Continued

The invigoration of Pepperdine’s Christian heritage was among President Benton’s goals, and the University made a renewed effort to call its students, faculty, staff, and supporters to lead lives of service through curriculum taught and by administrators' leadership, urging all to use their resources and excellent education to assist and instruct those who have less. While sectors within the Pepperdine community had always been active in public service from the school's very beginning, the University made a pronounced effort during the time of the recession to frame the role of higher education as the best means to call people to fulfill their greatest potential for creating lives of significance by applying their knowledge to human need.

Thriving Through the Tumultuous Teens

While the new millennium’s second decade featured many changes in the social landscape, the use of technology, and politics as traditionally understood, Pepperdine weathered the unfolding events with strength and the sure-footedness of an institution with a solid identity. By 2010 the impact of the recession of the previous decade was beginning to turn around, but charitable giving nationally had not recovered to pre-recession figures. In 2011 the University nonetheless publicly launched the Campaign for Pepperdine. The campaign’s success reflected the generosity and commitment of the school’s supporters. Nearly 50,000 donors participated, raising $141 million for scholarship funds and aid to students, and $140 million for new faculty and academic initiatives. In total the campaign generated more than $470 million ($20 million over the initial goal) by its conclusion at the end of 2014. To help establish giving as a habit among community members, a new annual giving day, Give2Pepp, was initiated in 2017. Each year more than 3,000 donors have supported the school during the annual drive. 

The law school received a transformative $50 million gift in 2019 from alumnus Rick Caruso (JD ’83), and his wife, Tina, and was renamed the Caruso School of Law in the donor’s honor. The Caruso gift was earmarked to assist law students with loan debt and to make it possible for a greater number of underserved community members to earn their JD at the school.

The Malibu campus saw a number of upgrades over the course of the teens, including a significant makeover of the Runnels Sports and Recreation Village in 2013, which gained a new “focus subfloor system” for the basketball court, expansion of the soccer field, and improvements to the pool. Payson Library received a complete renovation in 2017, gaining more open spaces and more casual seating, as well as the installation of the Genesis Lab, a digital makerspace with 3D printers and virtual reality gear. 

The following year, the law school enjoyed renovations to its Caruso Auditorium and Lon V. Smith Atrium, and more than four hundred upperclassmen moved into the new light-filled Seaside Residence Hall, a high-tech, accessible, energy-efficient structure. Pepperdine replaced its Westlake Village campus with a campus in Calabasas in 2016. The state-of-the-art Calabasas campus, with more than 100,000 square feet and just a short drive from the Malibu campus, provides classroom and study space for graduate students and houses administrative offices, a warehouse, a fitness center, and the University’s print shop.

Blossoming Scholarship

Pepperdine’s reputation continued to rise during the teens under President Benton’s leadership, partly due to Benton’s commitment to excellence in higher education across the country. Serving on the board of several high-profile college councils and associations, Benton further established Pepperdine’s national presence. 

At the same time, the University continued to climb in academic rankings—by the end of the decade, U.S. News & World Report ranked Pepperdine number 50 among national universities, moving as high as number 46 in recent years, and the law school was ranked number 47. The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution was the number one such program for 13 years, and by 2019, 68 Fulbright scholars had emerged from Pepperdine. Admission to Seaver College became increasingly competitive, with a rise in GPA and SAT score averages among incoming first-year students every year from 2015 to 2019. The Seaver College business program earned accreditation from AACSB independent of the Graziadio School in early 2020. 

The law school saw an increase in its standing; its elevated ranking was complemented by a dramatic increase in graduates’ first-time California bar passage rate, moving from 62 percent in 2016 to 82 percent by 2020. The University also joined the ranks of colleges sharing their communities’ ideas and visions by hosting the first annual TedXPepperdineU, led and run by students, in 2019.

To further academic rigor and entrepreneurship at the University, President Benton introduced the inaugural Waves of Innovation program in 2014. The program provides financial awards to a select group of community members’ projects. Since its introduction, more than 350 projects have been pitched by Pepperdine faculty, staff, and students, and more than $1 million has been devoted to designated projects’ implementation. Successful Waves of Innovation efforts have included the establishment of the Center for Women in Leadership and interdisciplinary master’s and certificate programs in entertainment, media, and sports. 

In response to a job market with shifting opportunities both in quantity and substance, the University put a renewed focus on training students for career success. During this period, the Parris Institute for Professional Excellence was established at the law school, and the Center for Women in Leadership, the Peate Institute for Entrepreneurship, and the Legacy Center for Family Business found homes in the Graziadio School. The business school also introduced new degrees to address the changing economic landscape, including a doctorate in business administration and master’s programs in business analytics and real estate. Addressing the rise in globalization in every facet of life, GSEP offered the University’s first PhD program in global leadership and change, and Seaver College introduced studies in sustainability, and to help students prepare for the increased reliance on data and survey research.  

Students taking advantage of online programs grew dramatically, and by the end of the decade 400 students were earning LLMs, MDRs, and MLSs at Caruso Law, and every graduate education program was offered in a hybrid format. At Graziadio, a completely online MBA was first offered in 2013, and in 2019 the school introduced online master’s programs in human resources, management and leadership, and business analytics. By fall 2019, 24 percent of business school students were earning degrees remotely. 

A Challenging Close for a Beloved Leader

In the spring of 2018, President Benton announced his intent to retire at the end of July of the following year. Events toward the end of President’s Benton tenure rendered his leadership of Pepperdine both more difficult for him and more meaningful to the community. On November 7, 2018, Seaver first-year student Alaina Housley was killed, along with 12 other individuals, in a mass shooting at the nearby Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. As the community was just beginning to process the unfathomable nature of this loss, the following day the Woolsey Fire north of the Malibu campus was growing apace. The University’s Emergency Operations Committee put the institution’s shelter-in-place protocol into effect, and while the Calabasas and Malibu campuses remained unharmed, a number of community members lost their homes and residences to the fire.

The grief and stress of the time were almost tangible, and the University was blessed to be guided by the composure, compassion, and comforting presence of the fondly nicknamed “students’ president”. As he prepared to step down from the position, he reflected on his Pepperdine legacy, saying: “Heart and conviction are two words that I hope show up somewhere in my epilogue.” Upon his retirement, Benton was named President Emeritus, and he continues to advance the interests of Pepperdine at every opportunity.

A New Leaf

On August 1, 2019, Jim Gash (JD ’93), formerly the associate dean for strategic planning and external relations at the School of Law, took on the role of Pepperdine’s eighth president and chief executive officer. The Board of Regents had just named Dee Anna Smith (’86) as the board’s new chair, and Gash began his tenure working with the school’s first female, and first alumna, board leader. He quickly made his own contribution to gender diversity in leadership and named senior vice chancellor Sara Young Jackson (’74), daughter of Pepperdine’s third president, Norvel Young, to the position of University chancellor. The University’s financial position was robust, with assets nearing $2 billion and an endowment of more than $900 million. In the first 100 days of his tenure, Gash raised more than $80 million in new gifts and pledges. At his inauguration, Gash committed himself to lead the University ever higher, saying “that upward climb—our charge to train brilliant leaders of courage, character, creativity, and uncompromising faith—remains the driver for our vision today.”

Constantly Changing, Yet Unchanging

Many changes in school location, personnel, policy, and curriculum have come and gone over its eight decades, but today Pepperdine remains distinct and committed to its founder's belief in the value of an alternative in American higher education that improves the intellect and brings the heart of the student under the influence of Christ. Each September on Founder’s Day, the entire University community gathers to recall and renew the dedicatory address of George Pepperdine, in which he states the school’s raison d'etre:

"I am endowing this institution to help young men and women to prepare for a life of usefulness in this competitive world and help them build a foundation of Christian character and faith which will survive the storms of life."

As long as young men and women continue to seek livelihood and spiritual calling in their lives, the mission of Pepperdine University is ever sustained as it continuously seeks to provide students both.