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Pepperdine University

Quest for Distinction

A Saga of Determination and Faith

Quest for Distinction: Pepperdine University in the 20th Century chronicles Pepperdine's fascinating history, from its founding as a small faith-based college in 1937 to its emergence as a top-tier university at the turn of the century. Renowned historian and Seaver College Dean Emeritus W. David Baird brings to life the remarkable men and women who guided the school's growth. He reveals the attributes that made Pepperdine a distinctive institution, and he recounts the University's search for identity as it endeavored to achieve its founder’s dual goals of academic excellence and a commitment to a Christian mission.

About the Author

David Baird

A native of Edmond, Oklahoma, W. David Baird took his AA degree from George Washington University, Washington, DC; his BA degree (history and geography) from the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond; and his MA and PhD degrees (history and geography) from the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Baird served on the history faculty at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (1968–1978) and Oklahoma State University (1978–1988) before joining the faculty at Seaver College, Pepperdine University, as the Howard A. White Professor of History in 1988. He became Dean of Seaver College in 1998, a position he held until 2008.

Dean Emeritus Baird's scholarly interests center upon the history of the American West and especially the history of Native Americans. In this field he has authored or edited eleven books, twelve articles, and forty-two papers. His most notable books include a biography of Peter Pitchlynn (University of Oklahoma Press, 1972 and 1986), a history of the Quapaw Indians (University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), and a history of the state of Oklahoma (with Danney Goble, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 and 2007).

Baird has served as national president of the Western History Association and Phi Alpha Theta (history honor society), and as executive director of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association. As an undergraduate student, he worked full-time on the staff of John Jarman, Member of the House of Representatives, 5th Congressional District, Oklahoma.

The Quest Begins...

In 1937, Kansas auto parts magnate George Pepperdine founded a small faith-based college in South Central Los Angeles devoted to academic excellence and "beautiful Christian living." By the end of the twentieth century, the institution named in his honor would rise above funding problems, accreditation troubles, tragedy, and controversy to become one of the nation's top universities. In this lively, meticulously researched narrative history, renowned historian and Seaver College Dean Emeritus W. David Baird explores Pepperdine's evolution and introduces us to the remarkable men and women behind it. You'll meet such influential figures as Batsell Baxter, the prominent Churches of Christ leader who became Pepperdine's first president; "Mr. Pepperdine" M. Norvel Young, whose vision transformed Pepperdine from a small liberal arts college to a prestigious university with schools and campuses around the world; William S. Banowsky, the charismatic young preacher who championed the creation of the Malibu Campus; and David Davenport, who lit the university's way to the twenty-first century. Through their stories and others, Baird paints a vivid portrait of the university's quest to distinguish itself academically without sacrificing the Christian principles it was founded on.


David Baird is not only a respected historian, he is a master storyteller. Quest for Distinction is a candid and important account that leads inexorably to the conclusion that Pepperdine has been blessed time and again through the providence of God. The path is richly textured, and the journey has sometimes been described as one of the most inspiring in American higher education. My hope is that the reader will conclude that the quest, described by my friend and colleague, is only beginning.

—Andrew K. Benton, President, Pepperdine University

With the skill of a novelist and accuracy of a recognized historian, Baird tells the Pepperdine story. The credibility of this book rises from the depth of research and frankness of the story. Seven years in the writing, Quest is well-documented and very trustworthy. One will learn a lot about church relations and the struggles and challenges experienced in developing a west coast Christian oriented college. The author does not focus just on positive events but tells the whole story. Quest for Distinction is interesting, revealing, and compelling.

—Lynn A. McMillon, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Dean Emeritus, Oklahoma Christian University; President, The Christian Chronicle

The consummate historian, David Baird candidly and objectively recounts Pepperdine University's growth to an internationally recognized Christian institution of higher learning from a small, inner-city college. Quest for Distinction views this extraordinary transformation through the lens of the University's dynamic, and sometimes controversial, administrative leaders who have navigated the complex and competing demands posed by financial exigency, outside accrediting agencies, faculty, students, donors, and diverse constituencies within the Churches of Christ. Baird makes it clear that Pepperdine's achievements, although hard-won, have arisen from visionary leaders sincerely committed to academic excellence, American civic values, and Christian faith.

— Cyndia Clegg, Distinguished Professor of English, Pepperdine University