Tuesday, September 19, 2023 - Hosts Jeff and Michael are joined by President Jim Gash of Pepperdine University to discuss student resilience and mental health and Pepperdine’s attempt to proactively support students through its RISE (Resilience-Informed Skills Education) program. President Gash also spoke about the impact of cancel culture on student wellbeing and the importance of campuses being places where students grapple with difficult ideas with which they may not agree. The episode is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ascendium Education Group.
Hosts Jeff and Michael are joined by President Jim Gash of Pepperdine University to discuss student resilience and mental health and Pepperdine’s attempt to proactively support students through its RISE (Resilience-Informed Skills Education) program. President Gash also spoke about the impact of cancel culture on student wellbeing and the importance of campuses being places where students grapple with difficult ideas with which they may not agree. The episode is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ascendium Education Group.
00:03:12 Colleges can help students build resilience.
00:08:07 Integrating resilience into the curriculum.
00:11:07 Resilience programs benefit student mental health.
00:16:14 Importance of global experiences.
00:24:30 Promote civil discourse in education.
00:31:38 Addressing mental health through resilience.
00:32:08 Integrating resilience into education.
00:37:14 Importance of building resilience
00:43:04 Lean into differences for success.
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Transcripts from all episodes.
Jeff, we know that the mental health crisis is one that's afflicting students in schools at nearly all ages and levels at this point. It's a theme we've touched on in past episodes, but we haven't really dug into what colleges can do to help students be proactive in preventing these mental health hardships.
Yeah, it's a really concerning issue. Roughly one fifth of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, had a major depressive event in 2021, and that's up sharply over the last 10 years. And young adults in the 18 to 25 year old cohort, they weren't far behind with over 18% having a major depressive event. And these are pretty serious issues, and every college leader we talked with is struggling to keep pace. And so today we're going to look at what one university is doing to move further upstream by building resilience in students. The president of Pepperdine University will talk about its new curricular focus on resilience, as well as a lot more from international education to free speech on today's episode of Future U.
This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org. This episode is brought to you by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation, data and information, policy and institutional transformation.
I'm Michael Horn.
And I'm Jeff Selingo.
Michael, I think a lot of folks are starting to wake up to just how serious the mental health challenges are for teens and young adults. And let me just pause on young adults for a second there, because I was just talking with somebody that we both know, Rick Weissbourd at the Harvard Ed School where he directs the Making Caring Common project, and he noted that the mental health issues in recent graduates are just as big as they are in college, and it's one reason why he thinks that college is really a critical time period to kind of get this right. He noted, like so many others, including the author and clinical psychologist Lisa De Moore, who we had on the podcast last season, that there are many causes, social media, social isolation, the latter an issue we'll be talking about very soon with the author Anna Humayun. There's also their inability in terms of students to build their resilience and have a sense of autonomy with unstructured time that's away from adults. And when they get to college, that these challenges can just careen if not addressed.
Now last spring, Michael, I was at the Milken Global Institute Conference in LA where I moderated a conversation among presidents, partially around student mental health. And I was really struck with what Pepperdine University is doing in this space. So seeing the widespread mental health challenges kind of crippling their student body, Pepperdine launched a program to help students build resilience, a program they called RISE, R-I-S-E. And we'll talk about it on the show and we'll also link to it in the show notes. But in short, it's both programming that students start in their first term through credit-based small group meetings, but the program is also woven throughout academics, residential life, social programming. So yeah, a lot of colleges are doing a lot here and there, but what struck me about Pepperdine is how deliberate they are about this, how centralized the effort is, and then connected through academic and student life, because I still think on many campuses, faculty really see mental health not as an academic issue, but as a student life issue.
And it's an important observation. One we obviously are both interested in seeing if the dynamic can change. And obviously I didn't get to be with you at Milken, Jeff, so I am really looking forward to our conversation because I agree it's a critical topic. Sometimes I think people think that you and I are making too much of this topic, that we, in the words of Lisa De Moore, simply told people that they aren't allowed to feel anxiety or anger or sadness, but it's much deeper than that. And what we're really talking about here is when these emotions spiral and paralyze and cause students to perhaps even engage in self-harm. So to help us start to dig into this topic, today we're welcoming Pepperdine University's president, Jim Gash, to the show. President Gash, Jim, if we may, welcome to Future U.
Glad to be here. Thank you, Michael.
A question we often like to open up with when we interview presidents on the show is how they got to the presidency, what attracted them to the job, and in your case, what it was like to replace someone whose tenure is frankly quite unusual these days in higher ed, and Andy Benton, who had been president at Pepperdine for nearly 20 years.
Yeah. Well, Andy is a good friend of mine and remains a good friend of mine, and his predecessor had gone for 15 years, and so it's 15 and then 19. And Andy's predecessor, David, was the one who hired me 20 years prior to me starting as president for the faculty. So it was following two legends, two lawyers, which is somewhat unusual in higher education to have a third lawyer following two lawyers who had been there for 34 years. And so as you might imagine, some of the faculty members who were PhDs and fill in the blank medieval literature, like, "Why do we have lawyers constantly running this institution?" So there was a little bit of that, but for me it was the opportunity to take the baton from two people that I respected tremendously who had done a phenomenal job of moving Pepperdine forward in really important ways and then feeling the full gravity, the weight of responsibility to continue running, to continue climbing.
And so our strategic plan is called Ascend Together. And so the idea is each person who's gotten the baton has taken it farther up the hill. So as the first alum president, that was also another fun and interesting thing to really take what I had experienced as the child of two Pepperdine graduates, an alum myself, the husband of a Pepperdine graduate, the father of three students at Pepperdine, one of which had graduated, two were currently students when I took the baton. And so it was one of those things where it was, "Okay, here we go. I think I'm ready. I know I'm excited for this." The one moment that I'll remember the rest of my life was when President Benton and I gathered in the office I'm currently in, and it was the night before I officially took the baton, and the baton itself that was passed was a symbolic, it was George Pepperdine's Bible.
And so that moment where he said, "It's time for me to hand this to you, and that there will be a time when you hand it to your successor, this sacred trust of this university." So that's kind of how it felt.
Interesting. It's interesting, especially given the short tenure of presidents these days, that you would have these three presidents who have last ... or two presidents, your predecessors who have lasted so long. So Jim, we shared a stage last spring at the Milken Global Institute in LA, and the discussion with you and the fellow presidents there was about student mental health. And you mentioned that in the spring of 2019, a survey of Pepperdine students found that 65% had felt overwhelming anxiety and 44% had felt so depressed it was difficult to function during the semester. And those findings, of course, are very similar to what your colleagues across higher ed are seeing right now. And in response, a lot of them are just continually adding counseling resources. And to be honest with you, everybody's telling us they can't keep up. Now, your response was to integrate resilience into the curriculum. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and how you did it?
Sure, Jeff, and you're exactly right that this is a nationwide, in fact, probably a worldwide situation where the students' mental health is being majorly challenged. And it's not because of being in university, it's because of being alive in this current day and age in this culture. And so our responsibility begins when they arrive, but the impact of the challenges of mental health begin well before they arrive. And so they come to us in some sort of fragile state that we feel like it's our responsibility now to not just help them deal with the challenges as they arise, so curative, but in fact to be preventative, to try and make sure that before they go into a situation where they're feeling helpless or depressed or even with suicidal ideations, to figure out what it is that's causing that and how to prevent that. And so we have this program that we call RISE, which is Resilience-Informed Skills Education that every new student has to go through.
It's an eight-week program where they focus on the various aspects of being resilient. And so you can think of physical health, you think of cognitive health, you think of social life, you think of spiritual life, you think of service and life skills. And so those were the six modules. And for each of those, at Pepperdine, we were able to ground that in our faith as well as in psychological research and counseling. And so what we do is ensure that they have the resources available to not fall in to a distressing situation with mental health, but instead to prevent that from happening.
So Jim, one of the things that interested me about your effort is that it's not just student affairs, that side of the house, which is really often seen I think as responsible for student mental health, but also the academic side of the house. And you also have leaned into your faith-based mission as well. So any specific examples you can give from the program about how it works in practice, say day to day?
As a Christian institution and one that is unapologetically Christian, we have a Christian heritage, but it doesn't stop there. It's an active involvement of spiritual life in the lives of our students. So there's a variety of gatherings to go to that are part of the culture around here. There's a Wednesday night gathering, it's all voluntary. There are a variety of Bible studies and mentorships. You can sign up for individual mentoring and you can be in small groups that are peer-led or faculty-led or staff-led. We also are involved, or currently changing our curriculum or general education curriculum to include a specific course on thinking well, kind of helping people with the civil discourse aspect of, one of the challenges they're facing right now is the polarization that's happening in our society and them being in the middle of this, and being able to deal with people who disagree with you and not letting someone else's online posts where you disagree with have an impact on your mental health, but be able to say, "Wow, that's an interesting idea. Let me grapple with that idea rather than let me grapple with that person metaphorically or physically."
So I'm curious what you're finding, and I suspect other universities will be curious what you're finding in terms of outcomes from all these efforts to support students. And I'm also interested in whether you think it can be replicated at other institutions, even those that are not faith-based.
Yeah, yeah. And it's early on in our ability to measure, but I just had a briefing last week by our Vice President of Student Affairs, Connie Horton, who is now being invited all around the country to speak at these conferences of student health professionals about Pepperdine's resilience program and using that as a model, because what we're seeing is the impacts are measurable. Now what we don't yet have is the national data from this year to compare with prior years. We have our own internal data and that internal data is showing a five to 6% improvement in some of these categories based upon our interventions. But we're really eager to see what the national data shows in each of these categories because we track not just our data against our prior data, but we track our data against peers. So what we're seeing so far is very positive. And yes, I do believe that many of the things that we're doing are transferable to non-faith based institutions.
In other words, there are additional tools we believe that are available and useful in resilience that are faith grounded, but those aren't the only tools and there's still quite a bit of benefit that can be gained even without including faith in that.
Jim, just a quick follow up here, because when I talk to college leaders and faculty, it's always kind of like, "The generation today," they're both impressed with them, but they also say, "Oh, well, they don't have this resilience that we used to have." Is this an issue where you think kids today where students today just don't have this resilience or they don't have the mindset to try to figure out how to build it?
Yeah, I think it's a combination. I think that they come with a deficit based upon how they have grown up, what they've been exposed to, how they've been treated by people of my generation. We can blame them for not being resilient, but why aren't they resilient? It's because we did everything for them or because we gave them these phones and these computers and these ways to compare themselves to other people at a moment's notice against somebody else's exaggerated view of themselves and they're feeling like they're missing out or missing something. And so I think there's an aspect or an element of that that is related to culture and society, and part of that is the expectations on our youth. You look at the work that Jonathan Haidt has done on The Coddling of the American Mind and the work that the free speech folks are doing on studying the impact of the cancel culture on student mental health.
And you also look at, and there's a lot of research on this as well, that this generation believes or they've been told that they're in a catastrophic moment climate wise and they may not live to have children or grandchildren. Whether that's true or not true isn't the point. The point is that they're being told that and it's having a huge impact on their own mental health as they look forward to the future. Because we all know mental health is dependent not just on what's happening now, but how you view your future. And if you view your future as something that is cataclysmic that's coming, then it's harder to be stable and confident in your present.
So I want to shift gears here a little bit, Jim, to international education because it's a real big piece of what Pepperdine does. International students, and I'm just amazed at some of your statistics, they make up about 10% of your undergraduate population on campus and more than 80% of your students study abroad, which is just an incredible statistic given the national average is closer to 60%, and that includes short-term programs that don't even last an entire semester nationally. So obviously international education was impacted greatly during the pandemic. So I'm kind of curious because a lot of your counterparts across the country are grappling with this as well, how have you recovered and has your strategy changed since before the pandemic when it comes to international education?
Yeah, thanks for asking about that because it is really important to us for our students to have a global experience while they're here at Pepperdine. Of course, we're on the shores of Malibu, so it's not a bad place to be for your four years to have an opportunity to study abroad, but not just to study abroad, but to study with people who came from abroad. And so as you mentioned, we have 10% currently. That number was around 13% historically, but given the pandemic and given the prior administration's immigration policies, that's dropped to 10%. But nevertheless, having one out of every 10 students in your classes, in your dorms, in your clubs, having grown up with a different set of cultural experiences broadens your own even if you don't go abroad. But as you said, 80% or more than 80% of our students spend a semester or a year abroad at one of our campuses. And it's important from our perspective that they see that there's a world bigger than the one that they've grown up with or the one they're currently here experiencing in Malibu.
And to do that in a way that throws them into the culture. So we don't have partnerships with other schools where we get three or four students that get to join, whatever. We own our campuses. All of our campuses abroad, we own, we have acquired, we run, we have our staff running them. We have a faculty member from Malibu that goes abroad with them, and then we have faculty members in these locations who are regular perennial professors teaching in these locations. And so we believe that the impact on our students, and not just on their broadened worldview, but on their resilience, because when you learn how to jump on a train and head somewhere else in Europe or South America or Asia and you have to deal with language barriers, have to deal with cultural barriers with different food, it really helps you broaden your horizons as well as builds a level of cultural humility that sometimes is missing in our culture, ensuring that, you know what, maybe these cultures who do things differently are doing them better than we're doing them rather than just differently than we're doing them.
Jim, one final set of questions as we start to wrap up, and it's going to return to some of the themes that you hit when we were talking about resilience, because we know that across much of America, the stories from higher ed that seem to resonate at least in the mainstream media, are those that detail stories of speakers being shouted down or efforts to create safe spaces where students don't have to grapple with difficult ideas. The opposite of creating resilience in students perhaps. And we know that a lot of those episodes have created negative impressions of colleges and universities for many in the United States. I'd love your take on the impact of these incidents across higher education and the take on them specifically, perhaps.
Yeah, I, like most college presidents, are viewing these with something just short of horror and maybe even getting there when you have a speaker who comes, particularly someone who is speaking on a topic that is a ... It's not like whether the holocaust happened or whether or not people are created equal in the eyes of God. It's legitimate political discourse on issues where the country is divided. And so having a conversation about those where you have students or sometimes administrators or faculty who are recasting what's happening and saying, "What you say is itself harm or violence even, and therefore you should not be allowed to say things on our campus because it's offending our students or it threatens their safety." Those sorts of things is ... That view is antithetical to the idea of a higher education institution where you debate difficult issues.
You bring to campus and have conversations with people who are on both sides of potentially or even definitionally polarizing topics so that light can be generated so that people, they can be exposed to views that differ from their own and then sharpen their own views if they, "Okay, here's why I'm so right about this because I've now heard the other side better," or even better to reevaluate your own views because you've only been in an echo chamber and we all know where those echo chambers are, and we run to those in times of stress perhaps. We'll only watch X station or Y station or only read X newspaper or Y newspaper. But to be part of a higher education institution of learning means being exposed to people who disagree with you. And so when we see these things, it's just this, "Oh my goodness, where are things going? This cancel culture has run amuck." One example of one thing that we feel like we can say, "That's not how it's done here," 2018, Ben Shapiro, we all know Ben Shapiro has a reputation and he in some ways revels in the idea of being provocative and controversial.
Though what he says is not out of the mainstream debate on whether you agree with him or don't agree with him. So he came to campus, he was invited by the College Republicans, and the College Republicans met with the College Democrats and met with the student affairs folks and met with campus safety folks. And the opening prayer for the event was led by the College Democrats' president, and there was a dialogue, a discussion there that after this, Ben Shapiro said publicly, "That was one of the best experiences I've ever had on a college campus where actually they asked hard questions, I gave responses." There was actually dialogue there and there wasn't any violence, there wasn't any protest to speak of. I think maybe a few people had some signs, but that was a dialogue at its finest, civil discourse at its finest, and that's what we demand here at Pepperdine, and so far we've experienced it. That's not to say we don't have people who with tendencies to try to shut people down, but that doesn't happen with any sort of regularity and really hasn't happened in quite some time.
How have you created that environment where ... I mean that's stunning, right? That the College Republicans and Democrats would have this conversation and it's just awfully hard to imagine that happening at a lot of college campuses where then the college Democrats would offer the beginning prayer or statement at a non-religious institution to frame an event. How have you all created that sort of an environment?
Yeah. Like everything, I mean, it's a matter of culture. When freshmen arrive on campus, they encounter what is already here, and if what is already here is something where they say, "Okay, here's how we handle disagreement here." So one of the things that I do is I give an opening speech on the Tuesday of new student orientation when parents and students are here and talk about our culture, and talk about what it looks like to have friends and roommates and suite mates and classmates and professors who actually disagree with you, and here's what you're going to encounter. You're going to encounter people that are going to be saying things or posting things that you think are contrary, not only to your political beliefs, but your religious beliefs, and here's how you're going to respond. You're going to respond with three words. You're not going to say, "You are canceled." You're going to say, "Tell me more," or "Help me understand."
From the very beginning, here are the three words that you are going to be using when you encounter people you disagree with. Tell me more or help me understand. Because if we can talk about their basis for the belief rather than the belief, then we can argue about the thing that's actually driving this as opposed to resorting to bumper stickers and slogans and hurling insults.
Well, and help me understand, doesn't mean that the other person will necessarily agree with them, but they're at least going to understand their perspective.
Absolutely. Yeah. You don't learn when you're talking. You learn when you're listening. And so learn, and then when you're done listening, then you can help somebody else learn while they're listening to what you're saying. And so it's cultural. It's all about culture.
Fascinating, Jim. Jim Gash, president of Pepperdine University, thank you so much for being with us on the Future U podcast today.
My pleasure. Thanks Jeff. Thanks Mike. Really appreciate you guys.
We'll be back right after this.
This episode is being brought to you by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They're workers, parents, and caregivers, and neighbors. And colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student-centered at usprogram.gatesfoundation.org.
This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first-generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners, and rural community members. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org.
Welcome back to Future U. Jeff, I personally really just enjoyed that conversation and a lot of what President Gash said resonated with me. But before we get to some of that, three lawyers in a row as president of Pepperdine, I mean, that's kind of striking. I'm curious, what's up with that? We've actually interviewed trained lawyers before who are now presidents of religious colleges, so maybe there's a theme there. But Vincent Rougeau and Tania Tetlow of Holy Cross and Fordham respectively, but I don't know. When we talked to them, it felt like a new trend in some ways of putting lawyers in the top seat. But Pepperdine has had trained lawyers as leaders for much, much longer and apparently had success with it. Your thoughts?
Yeah. I'm not quite sure this is necessarily a new trend, but one that seems to be increasing, although the numbers don't really back it up. A decade ago when Jonathan Alger, who we also had on the podcast last season to talk about affirmative action, when he moved from the general counsel's role to be president at James Madison, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that the ranks of lawyers as college presidents roughly doubled over the previous 20 years, yet they remained pretty rare. Back then, it was 6%. Now ACE, the American Council on Education, just came out in February with its latest American College President report, and we'll link to that in the show notes. And guess what they found? That the percentage of college presidents who are lawyers? 6%. So essentially hasn't really changed. I'm kind of actually more interested in him being an alum who's also a president, and I think that's probably even more unusual, although the ACE survey doesn't get into that, so we don't really have any national data on it. We have a lot of alumni who are trustees, we know.
It seems like every time I go before a board of trustees and I ask how many of them are alums, you're probably going to get, 80 to 90 plus percent of hands go up. These boards of trustees, as we've talked about before, are just really overloaded with alums. And so probably the question is why not presidents? There's one that I met recently, Doug Hicks at Davidson, fairly new president at Davidson College. He's a 1990 alum of the college. He became president in 2022, and I heard him speak to alums in DC a couple of months ago, and there really was this connection he was able to make with them, Michael. He was able to talk about specific professors that were at the college when he was at the college and when many of the alums in the room were at the college. But I also wonder though if presidents who are alums can fall into the same traps sometimes, because often when I'm in a room, when I'm a trustee at Ithaca College or when I'm in a room with other trustees at other colleges, and inevitably somebody will say, "Well, when I went here," and that really just drives policy sometimes about tradition.
Yeah, to the detriment, I suppose. Now, we weren't excited to have Jim on the show just to talk about leadership and being an alum and a lawyer and all the rest. Although models of presidential leadership are certainly interesting to you because of the work you do. But I'm curious what really caught you was how Pepperdine is addressing the mental health crisis by leaning into helping students build resilience specifically as their strategy. So we just heard them again about this and what they're doing. What leaps out to you?
Okay, so Michael, I must admit that like any curricular design, it still seems a little bit vague to me. We teach students something and we hope they learn something. Resilience is not a skill like learning how to code or learning how to sew that you can easily show to somebody else the outcome. Now, all that said, I do like how they evolve the academic side of the house. It really reminds me of what happened with Career Services a decade ago when Career Services was off on an island on a corner of campus. And starting with Andy Chan at Wake Forest University where they were among the first to integrate it into the curriculum, into the academic side of the house starting on day one. Up until then, college faculty really didn't think it was their job to get students a job. And in many ways, resilience and mental health is directly tied to student success.
So I do believe that it's in the best interest of the faculty to care about this, although I think many are pushing back against it, both A, because they're not trained in this, and B, because it's another expansion of their role. Now, the pandemic I think clearly tested all of our resilience levels, and that's especially true for adolescents and young adults in college who are still building those muscles. I have nieces and nephews who were in college during the pandemic and they lost out on internships and on in-person classes and labs, and just college life in general, all the activities that in normal circumstances when successes and failures would've built that resilience. So I do see the need for being more methodical about this in the curriculum. Now, Richard Sagor, a former professor at Washington State who founded the Institute for the Study of Inquiry in Education, he talks about these experiences that students need to get in school and to be resilient.
And we'll link to that in the show notes, that research. They include things like experiences that prove competence, that demonstrate a sense of belonging to the community, to repeat one of my favorites, makes them feel useful and gives students a sense of agency. Now in K through 12 schools, it's easier to create those experiences such as agency and belonging and competency, but I think in college students, they have a lot more freedom. And so these encounters tend to be more random. And what I see Pepperdine doing is being more consistent in these encounters by building a curriculum, services and activities. Now, the president didn't get into the nitty-gritty of the program, but among the programs that they offer are things like journaling. So it gives students a sense of agency or workshops on imposter syndrome and how they can overcome that in an academic setting so they can prove competence.
You also get to meet with a coach at Pepperdine on a regular basis to talk about your goals and reaching them, which I really like because I think often athletes on campus might have more resilience because they lose more games than they win. They have a team with a sense of belonging, and they also have a coach, a mentor, an adult in their life who non-athletes might not easily find on campus. So it really seems to me that Pepperdine is off to a good start, in one, recognizing this as a problem and two, in doing more than just throwing mental health resources at it after the fact, but moving more upstream by using the research on what activities can build resilience in students. But Michael, I'm kind of curious about what you see because you see this so much further upstream in K through 12.
Yeah. Well, I'm actually going to shift gears a little bit based on what you just said, Jeff, because I think you use that word integration and that to me is the real big thing that's really important here. As you know, this is a topic I've thought a lot about in my recent book From Reopen to Reinvent. I made the strong case that schools have to treat the work of instilling habits of success in students is a core part of what they do. And on that list of habits of success is resilience, which Brooke Stafford-Brizard defines as being able to bounce back and deal with challenging situations. And just hearing you talk about how faculty at some point might push back on this, Jeff, I was reminded of a conversation I had. It was probably about a year and a half ago or so with a bunch of college presidents in New Jersey.
It was maybe seven, eight of them. And they were asking about mental health, and I was like, "I think faculty are going to have to put this on their plate." And they pushed back, just as you said, they're not trained to do this and so forth. But my read is that one of the best ways to build resilience, and frankly all the habits of success, is not through a separate course or sort of talking about it and whatever else, but it's through the actual academic work that students do. So essentially when they struggle with an assignment in a class, that we give them the ability to tackle it again and improve so that we model for them and they get practice dealing with setbacks and getting back up. And I think this modeling is really critical to making sure that it's instilled. That having been said, I'm thrilled that Pepperdine is saying this is so important that we've created an eight-week course around that. That's a big statement. And making sure that faculty are part of it is really important.
And the fact that they're measuring outcomes on it, that it's a five to 6% improvement strikes me as likely significant. We don't know the baseline of all this, but I think that's big and that they're working with John Haidt on this. His Substack newsletter I think is an invaluable source in this topic. And I won't fawn on about how much I enjoy it, but I will move from there to a question, Jeff, because I love how I think, and I'll say more about this in a moment maybe, but the coherence of how the international study abroad work that they do actually works in concert with building resilience. He gave the example of navigating a foreign country and things of that nature. But let's go to our last topic, I think, because I suspect both of us want to weigh in on the cancel culture points that he made, or maybe we want to avoid it. And I mean, Jeff, this is something that I've written about in both Disrupting Class and From Reopen to Reinvent because in both books I felt compelled to put forth, what's the purpose of education. And one of the core ones that I've repeated twice is that I think we need to help students learn that people can see things differently and that those differences merit respect rather than persecution. And frankly, I love that Jim didn't mince words on this and that he connected it to the notion of building resilience as an antidote to cancel culture. I think that's a really important point. And his story about the College Democrats and Ben Shapiro was a great anecdote and perhaps a real testament to what they've created, or he made the point about climate change. And I just want to jump in there for a moment because we're recording this the day after, there was a big protest at the US Open in the middle of a Coco Gauff match on this very topic, so it's fresh in my mind.
But look, while the evidence may seem very clear that humans are having an impact on the climate, there are very reasonable people who have very different views and different evidence around what the impact of that is. Some people say a warming planet might actually benefit more lives than it might hurt, or there're very real trade-offs in making some of the investments around fossil fuels, and that might impact quality of life and poverty for many individuals and frankly, their health and wellbeing. And so I think having room for those conversations is really, really important at colleges. Now, that said, as you know, Jeff, Harvard, where I teach grad students mostly, recently got the lowest possible score from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression on being a place that is hospitable for free speech among undergrads. So not grad students. But after we talked to Jim, I was curious.
So I looked it up, and Pepperdine is actually in the warning zone in their rankings with policies that clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech and therefore didn't get an actual ranking. But I was sort of curious because I thought he was so persuasive on what he said and it didn't compute with that rating. And frankly, even Jeff, the fact that so many students study abroad strikes me as another tenet in what seems to me that important value around learning that people can see things differently. It really reinforces this message that we don't all think alike and we don't have to agree in order to get along. We can disagree while not being disagreeable, and it's in fact healthy because this is a bigger life success point that conflict is going to be a part of all of our lives, whether it's in our relationships with our spouses and kids or society.
And knowing how to deal with it is a part of becoming a mature adult. Now, I should clarify, Jeff, I'm not good at this. I'm quite disposed to avoiding conflict, but I know that doing it with balance and a sense of equanimity is really important. And I guess it bleeds into my last point, which is that I'm actually all for safe spaces on campus, Jeff, but not as they're being defined. I want safe spaces where people can really freely express their views and have give and takes, and where you're not judged or videoed to your point. And I think your point on slowing down and giving that space is so, so important, but it shouldn't be safe space where you're free to avoid difficult ideas or you're free from exposure to conflict and learning to understand that people can see things differently, because I think the ability to hash out across disagreement, it's how we get to better solutions in society. And I think it's a source of strength, not weakness,
Michael, and I think this is another example of an institution that is willing to differentiate itself on mission and lean into those differences. So it leans into religion very much like we talked with Clark Gilbert about on the last season of Future U. It leans into kind of this international piece of its student body, now it's putting resilience front and center, and at a time when so many colleges and universities are under so much pressure in trying to figure out the next thing. I think a lot of them have the pieces right in their backyard, and they just have to pick what is most important to them, what is most critical to their mission, and lean into them much like Pepperdine has. When I think of the 30 plus presidents, you keep better count than I do of how many presidents we've had on the show in our seven seasons.
But when I think about all these presidents we've had, the one common theme about all of them is that they're leading institutions where either they or the institution itself through tradition and history, has decided to lean into these differences, whatever those might be. And there's so many other colleges, universities that just seem the same out there.
And that's all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us, and we'd love to hear from you this season. You can find the show on social media at Future U Podcast. You can find me on LinkedIn or Facebook at Jeff Selingo, and on Instagram and X @jselingo. Michael is @michaelbhorn. You can also reach the podcast using the contact form on our website, futureupodcast.com. So until next time, keep thinking about the future of higher ed and the future of you.