In a candid, personal interview published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton revealed that he offered to resign from his post last year after his son was arrested on the Malibu campus for making threats and possessing a firearm.
His offer was turned down by the school’s board of regents.
“None of the board felt it would be appropriate,” Pepperdine Board Chairman Edwin Biggers told The Chronicle. “The board is extremely supportive of Andy.”
The younger Benton is currently serving a two-year sentence in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, about 200 miles northwest of Malibu.
In the article, “The One Problem a President Can’t Solve,” Benton recounts his son Chris’s struggle with drug addiction and his failed attempts to help the 27-year-old battle personal demons, including the days leading up to Chris Benton’s arrest last August.
The younger Benton was arrested on Pepperdine’s campus just hours before his father was set to welcome new students and their parents for the new school year.
“He never wanted to hurt us or Pepperdine, but drugs are a very demanding, cruel master,” Benton said of his son.
Benton, who has served asPepperdine’s president since 2000 and has worked at the school since 1984, said Chris’s problems with drugs began in his early teens with marijuana and escalated from there.
“If you’re getting phone calls where they hang up and won’t speak with an adult,” Benton said, “if money’s missing, if you’re finding paraphernalia, if grades begin to slide, you know what? You’ve got a drug problem. You do… And not just the individual. The whole family has a drug problem at that point.”
He said the family explored countless avenues to try and help their son, even having Chris sent to a therapeutic boarding school in Idaho for two years when he was 16.
Two years and $100,000 later, the therapeutic school treatment proved unsuccessful. Chris’s problems became “an open secret” at Pepperdine, and he couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble with the law.
In 2003, fresh back from boarding school, Chris Benton was charged with felony grand theft, followed by felony marijuana possession in 2004 and possession of a controlled substance in 2009.
On Aug. 22, Chris made threats in an argument with his mother, Debby Benton, that were alarming enough for his father to take action. Andrew Benton refused to discuss the specifics of the threats, but he disclosed part of the conversation to The Chronicle.
“I will paraphrase: ‘I could hurt a lot of people. I could hurt a lot of people.’” Benton said. “… I’d never heard him say anything like that before. It was a gamechanging moment.”
Soon thereafter, Andrew Benton decided to notify sheriff’s deputies that his son was a danger.
Chris Benton was not on campus when authorities took accounts of the threats from his parents, and his father did not expect him back on campus.
Many, however, remain critical of the 24 hours that passed between the time the threats were reported and when Chris was apprehended. No warnings were sent out to campus and only select Pepperdine officials knew about the situation. Three hours also passed between the time Chris was arrested and when the Pepperdine community received an email about the incident. Benton told The Chronicle the lack of notice to the Pepperdine community about the threat was, in hindsight, “fair” to criticize.
“It just didn’t dawn on me that he’d come back to campus,” Benton tells The Chronicle.
Chris did come back to campus the next day, and sheriff ’s deputies chased him down as dozens of Pepperdine community members looked on.
“This is going to be a mess,” Andrew Benton said at the time.
Firearm creates dilemma
During the chase, a .380-caliber semiautomatic Browning handgun registered to his father fell from Chris’s waist. Andrew Benton purchased the gun in 1985 at a North Hollywood shop. Pepperdine does not allow guns in classrooms or dorms, but Brock House (the residence of the Pepperdine president) and faculty apartments on campus are exempt from the rule, according to The Chronicle. Andrew Benton said he had locked the gun in a safe in the trunk of his 2008 Mustang Bullitt after a targetshooting session days before, and Chris would have needed to get the key to the safe.
“How he got that gun I just do not know,” Andrew Benton said.
Last September, Chris Benton was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to felony charges of threatening to commit a crime that would cause “great bodily injury” and possessing a firearm as a known narcotics addict.
He has been banned from Pepperdine’s campus indefinitely, but his father maintains that it is not too late to help Chris.
“To his father, Chris is a puzzle that can still be made whole,” Jack Stripling, the author of the article, writes. “With the right strategy and enough time, Mr. Benton believes, those jagged edges will fit together.”
The full Chronicle may be viewed at www.chronicle.com. A subscription is required.