Proving once again that it’s a small world, David Davenport, the former president of Pepperdine University and now a Coronado resident, grew up in a suburb of Kansas City at the same time I did. He attended Shawnee Mission North High School and graduated a year ahead of me. I went to Shawnee Mission East and another member of the Coronado Community, Village Theatre Owner and Operator Lance Alspaugh attended Shawnee Mission West. Among the three of us, we covered the majority of the educational compass on the Kansas side of the border.
In addition, Davenport was a member of the Debate Team in high school, as I was at my school. The story begins to diverge at this point, as he and his debate partner went on to win the Kansas State Debate Championship. My partner and I came considerably short of that status. We were however all members of the NFL, in this case the lesser known National Forensic League.
Born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Davenport and his family moved to Fairway, Kansas when he was two. David’s father was the baker, owner and operator of the Lucy Lynn Pastry and Party Shop, which became one of two major transformative life experiences for Davenport. “I literally worked thousands of hours in the back of that bakery, which was named for my sister,” Davenport recalled. “The other was debate. I learned how to view both sides of a question. Secondly, I learned the art of conversational speech, which was how my coach taught debate. And I learned to research and synthesize multiple points of view. I learned as much from debate as I did from the rest of my high school career. It was very formative on how to think and communicate.”
Another debater at Shawnee Mission North, who was a year ahead of Davenport, recommended him to the debate coach at Stanford University, who recruited both Davenport and his partner to the West Coast. Davenport modestly said, “I applied to both Kansas University and Stanford. I decided if I got into Stanford, I’d go. It was the late 60’s in the Bay Area and I came from a very conservative family. I went to Stanford at 17 and every day I was seeing and hearing things I had never heard about before. There were a number of students who put their heads down and ignored the political noise and change. There was a larger number of students who threw their values away. Basically it took four years to learn to keep a set of core values and let them be challenged. In a sense I was a synthesizer of points of view. I would listen to other points of view and find the truth. That was the most important thing I learned at Stanford.”
Davenport graduated with a degree in International Relations and was faced with a quandary. “I was torn between becoming a lawyer and pursuing the ministry. When I first left Stanford, I was a Youth and Education Minister. But I decided I should go to law school, then I would live and practice in Kansas. The first year after graduating from the University of Kansas Law School, I decided to go back to California and practice law.”
While attending KU Law School, Davenport met his wife Sally, which comes with an interesting back story. “Sally is five years younger than me. She was an undergrad at KU when I was in law school. We grew up a block and a half apart in Fairway, Kansas, but I didn’t really know her then. We’ve been married for 42 years and we have three children. We have a daughter in Colorado, a son in Coronado and a son in Los Angeles.”
This is the Davenports second residency in Coronado, with the first coming in 1977. “We lived here for two or three years, then I went to Pepperdine University in the spring of 1980. I was a lawyer in a big downtown law firm and Sally was a graphic designer at a big ad agency. We had a great experience here and I preached here as well.”
The move to Pepperdine, first as an assistant professor of law, began a meteoric rise for Davenport. He became the school’s general counsel and associate professor, then executive vice president in 1983 and Pepperdine University president in 1985. “I didn’t intend to go into academics or become an administrator. As president, I taught in all the schools we had at Pepperdine. I thought it was really important to stay connected to the students and the academic process. I wasn’t just a pure manager or fundraiser. I personally interviewed each tenure-track faculty member we proposed to hire. By having tenure, they were going to be there a long time. I wanted a hand in who we appointed to the faculty. It was key to the future of Pepperdine.”
As for the best part of his 15 years as president of Pepperdine, Davenport said, “I was finally getting to combine my interests in law and the ministry. Pepperdine is a Christian university which aspires to excellence in academics. I felt like I had to choose one or the other, but at Pepperdine I could do, law and the ministry. I liked the ability to combine those things.”
After stepping down from Pepperdine in 2000, Davenport was again faced with an either/or proposition. He was offered a post as a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, or the option to work at an internet company. He originally opted for the internet company. “The Hoover Institution left the door open and after one year I went there. And I have been there part-time or full-time since.”
With our shared background, at least the growing up in Kansas City part, I was interested to read Davenport’s third book written with Gordon Lloyd entitled “How Public Policy Became War.” Being the owner of a double major in political science and history helped me appreciate the theories Davenport and Gordon espoused.
“I think Gordon and I discovered that beginning in 1933 with the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and moving to the present day, presidents have figured out ways to increase their power through domestic policy,” Davenport explained. “And that is to declare war on policy and run things from the White House. The war metaphor is damaging to our policies and to our politics. The New Deal is America’s version of the French Revolution, where everything changed. People and the way we are governed, the way politics works. Our first book looked at how revolutionary the New Deal was. Herbert Hoover made the case for modern American conservatism. We think the New Deal as really important.”
Gordon Lloyd is a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center and the Dockson Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Davenport discussed how they collaborate on their books. “We meet every two or three months. What we try to do is have chapter draft in front of us to talk through. And then we plan the next chapter. In the first book, we each wrote sections of the book, but it was obvious that it was two different voices. In books two through four, I write the final words that go into the book because we needed to have one voice. He contributes the deep thoughts and I write the music. When I am writing a book, I write about 500 words a day. The afternoon is my better time for writing.”
Davenport has jumped into the Coronado swing of things and is a member of the Rotary Club of Coronado, as well as a member of the choir at the Coronado Community Church. In addition, he is a columnist for the “Washington Examiner.” Previously he wrote for Forbes.com, the “San Francisco Chronicle” and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Townhall.com and delivers regular radio commentaries on the Salem Radio Network.
But his private passion is the overhauling of civic education in the U.S. “Until now, what I do best is describe the civic education crisis and what to do about it. Gordon and I know how not to teach American History. We need to train and re-train teachers about history and civics with primary documents. We should weed out the boring and biased ways, engage in the debates of the times and let students draw their own conclusions.”
Davenport is a man with a plan and plenty of stories to tell about his past experiences. And having another Coronado resident who hails from the Sunflower State is just an added bonus.