Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton recently interjected himself into a controversy concerning a commercial in support of California Proposition 8. His ostensible purpose in doing so was to quell a wave of outrage from radical gay activists in California. If anything, his actions will embolden those who prefer intellectual terrorism over civil political discourse as a means of shaping public policy. His actions will also further diminish the reputation of Pepperdine as a conservative Christian university.
The controversy began when Law Professor Richard Peterson appeared in the following television ad.
President Benton responded with the following:
“I want to provide an update on an issue that weighs heavily on many of our minds: encouraging academic freedom while refraining from political endorsement by Pepperdine University. As most are aware, Yes on 8 ads airing on television and radio feature one of our professors. The Pepperdine name is prominently displayed in the current round of ads and many vocal supporters and opponents of Prop 8 see the opinions expressed as not only the professor's, but Pepperdine's as well.
Many of our professors write op-eds, books and give speeches; and they are appropriately identified with Pepperdine University. My first reaction to this series of television ads was that Pepperdine was too prominent. Many on the faculty disagreed, some agreed strongly. At the faculty conference I learned that a disclaimer would satisfy the professor and others who were involved. We offered language that was simple and clear, and while we knew the firestorm would continue in some quarters, we felt a straightforward disclaimer would allow the professor his right to speak and our right to remain outside any role of endorsement in the political fray. The next day, I learned that the professor and those promoting Proposition 8 preferred to withdraw Pepperdine's name completely. We agreed. It was a change from a position announced just the day before, but it seemed a stronger measure and appropriate.
Just prior to running a second ad, the campaign announced to us that in their opinion it would be more effective if Pepperdine's name was back in. They added a disclaimer, albeit so small and bare, that most do not see it. It was not the language which we had suggested. They did not ask us; they told us what they were going to do, and they did it.