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Pepperdine president warns colleges have failed to develop character in students, offers course correction

Pepperdine University President Jim Gash argues colleges must return to instilling moral character and American values into students to "revitalize higher learning."

Pepperdine University President Jim Gash is urging university leaders to reclaim the "higher purpose" of education in forming students' character in light of scandals rocking college campuses.

Ivy League universities' struggles with antisemitism and plagiarism have dominated headlines in recent months. "Anti-American" ideologies have infiltrated college campuses, critics say, and have weakened academic standards. Americans' confidence in these institutions has also plummeted, dropping from 57% in 2015 to 36% in 2023, according to a July 2023 poll by Gallup. 

These trends reveal higher learning has "failed to provide far too many students the character-forming experiences necessary for a free and flourishing society," Gash recently wrote in Newsweek.

Universities must turn things around by restoring their focus on civics and foundational American values like freedom of speech and freedom of religion "for [our] democratic self-governance to thrive," he explained to Fox News Digital.


The leader of the Christian university in Malibu, California, argued that higher learning's wayward shift from these values has a direct impact on the well-being of our society, from the workplace to the ballot box. 

"So if one goes into the workforce, having only encountered one worldview or ideological approach to particular issues then one is not well suited to engage in conversations" or "let alone [be] an informed voter," Gash said.

"If all you've been exposed to in your education, whether it's K-12 or higher education, is a particular viewpoint, whatever that may be, then you're ill-suited to reach your potential in contributing to society," he continued.

To remedy this, universities must commit to facilitating viewpoint diversity in the classroom and outside of it. This means "having a curriculum that exposes students to a wide variety of topics and viewpoints," having a variety of guest speakers, and hiring professors that help students learn "how to think" instead of "what to think," Gash said.


Gash also urges universities to return to their roots of building moral character.

Schools must "demand uncompromising academic excellence, in which integrity is a foundational component," he argued in his Newsweek op-ed. "They can play a critical role in imparting humility by exposing students to the world through international programs that broaden their perspectives and encourage humble appreciation for other cultures. Likewise, students learn selflessness through the experience of serving others, and colleges can play a formative role in developing this lifelong leadership trait by helping them identify and meet the needs of others."

Overall, he stressed the importance of creating "a culture" that celebrates freedom, character formation and open dialogue on campus.

While he doesn't believe higher education is necessary for every person in "order to become an educated and informed member of our society," he believes colleges shouldn't waste the crucial role they play in developing young adults into productive citizens.

"We will fade as a society if we lose the ability to do critical thinking and constructive dialogue in a civil manner, like we've been able to do prior to recent times," Gash said.

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