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Governor Reagan and Pepperdine’s Malibu “birth”: Today’s featured digital object

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Bill Banowsky and Ronald Reagan with Pereira's sketch of Malibu campus, 1970

With the 40th anniversary of Pepperdine University in Malibu upon us, this entry is the first in a series dedicated to the historic events and hardworking individuals that made the vision of Pepperdine in Malibu a reality and shaped its presence in this seaside community. We begin with a “birth.” Nearly two years before construction crews laid the 40-foot-deep, steel-reinforced concrete foundations of Seaver College in 1971, an event known in Pepperdine lore as the “birth of a college” dinner cemented the new college’s philosophical (and financial) foundations. Officially known as the Pepperdine College at Malibu Master Plan Announcement Dinner, the “birth of a college” dinner brought together educators, politicians, and donors on the rainy evening of February 9, 1970 to reveal the architectural plans and educational vision of the new campus. With over 3,400 people in attendance, the capacity crowd in the Century Plaza hotel spilled into the nearby Beverly Hilton, and the featured speakers shuttled between the two locations.

The keynote speaker for the event was Ronald Reagan, then governor of California and a longtime friend of Pepperdine College. President Nixon was represented by his aid, Jeb Stuart Magruder, a name later associated with the Watergate scandal. William Pereira, an architect who—already famous at the time—would go on to design the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, presented his renderings of the Malibu campus buildings. Bill Banowsky, soon to be president of the new multi-campus Pepperdine University, gave a farsighted speech about liberal arts education. Pat Boone provided the musical entertainment.

By the 1960s, Pepperdine College had outgrown its location in southeastern Los Angeles, and social unrest in the area spurred the hunt for a new undergraduate campus. The “birth of a college” dinner marked a pivot point in Pepperdine’s history. The undergraduate campus was reborn in Malibu and the original “urban campus” became the graduate school for education and professional studies, with students serving as teachers in the local community. Pepperdine became a university.

Governor Reagan’s twenty-minute speech at the event lauds the importance of independent colleges and warns against an overemphasis on faculty research at the expense of actual teaching. His speech also invokes the milieu of 1970, with references ranging from student activism to the LA Rams. Reagan concludes:

“Let no one carelessly dismiss our obligation to the independent colleges and universities, which are so much a part of the educational tapestry of America. Without them, I promise you that tapestry would soon become a very simple fabric of great monotony and very little color.”

The “birth of a college” dinner is well documented in our Pepperdine Digital Collections. Over one hundred photographs capture the events of the evening and those in attendance. Put faces to the names that grace the buildings of Seaver College: Charles Payson, Fritz Huntsinger, Richard Scaife, Mildred Phillips, George Elkins, and, of course, Blanche Seaver. You can view selected highlights or, if you wish, the complete collection. You can also listen to Ronald Reagan’s speech or a recording of the entire event. Enjoy.

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