Intersorority and Interfraternity Parents Council Meeting

March 22, 2012
By C.L. Max Nikias

I am delighted to be here with the parents of the mighty Greeks of the Trojan Family!

I must confess, there are several reasons I feel a special affinity for USC’s Greek community. Although I was not in a fraternity when I was in college in Greece, I am a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi, as well as an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa, three of the country’s oldest Greek-letter honor societies.

But my commitment to the Greek community here stems from something much deeper, something much more inherent to the university and its mission. Members of the Greek system embody the core values of USC: academic excellence, leadership, and service to the community.

More than 300 Greeks arrived at USC as distinguished recipients of Trustee and Presidential Scholarships. For years, the Greeks of USC have collectively had better grades than their fellow students. And unsurprisingly, their graduation rate is higher as well. I looked at these numbers carefully 7 years ago, when I was promoted to provost.

But what equally impresses me is what they do outside of the classroom. More than 600 hold a leadership position in an organization outside of their chapter, and more than 1,000 regularly perform community service.

Greek students are a bedrock of USC’s excellence, and each year, more students express an interest in becoming part of this community. As USC continues to draw increasingly goal-driven students, many are recognizing the benefits of participating in Greek life. Becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority offers far more than housing and an instant circle of friends. Membership also offers scholarship support, leadership opportunities, community and campus involvement, mentorship, and networking. In essence, students receive a unique foundation of support for their present and future.

And with growing interest in the Greek system, there is a growing need for its expansion. Last month, the Panhellenic Council voted to induct Alpha Gamma Delta as the 11th sorority on campus. Alpha Gamma Delta will be officially established in 2013, with formal recruitment taking place in 2014. We welcome this latest addition to the Greek community and are confident it will enhance student life here.

If you haven’t heard, becoming part of the Greek system is becoming increasingly competitive, because becoming part of USC is becoming increasingly competitive!

This year, applications to USC jumped from 38,000 to 45,000—an increase of almost 20 percent—all competing for roughly 2,600 slots. That means the number of applications we will have to decline is greater than the entire total we received last year. This will allow us to build the most broadly talented undergraduate population in the world.

I’m very proud of the fact that SCions represent 20 percent of our incoming freshman, in addition to the 15 percent comprised by international students. Also, USC’s freshman class contains nearly three times as many Caltech-caliber students as Caltech itself. After all, Caltech has approximately 200 students with almost perfect GPAs and SAT scores, while USC has 550 students of exactly the same quality.

Many of these incoming students will contribute to the excellence of the Greek community here. As USC continues its ascension to elite academic excellence, interest in attending here will continue rising dramatically as well.

I know one of your concerns is the cost of a USC education. I am very proud that USC is one of the few universities nationwide that is both need-blind and meets 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need. USC offers the nation’s largest pool of financial aid, using $235 million of our own money this year to recruit students of quality and diversity. I’m very proud of our trustee, John Mork, and his wife, Julie, for donating $110 million for undergraduate student scholarships.

And let me reassure you: USC is deeply committed to preserving affordability and quality. Over the past two years, we have recruited 441 top new faculty into our academic community university-wide. The outside world has increasingly recognized the contributions of our faculty to their disciplines. In the past year, 43 of our faculty were honored with a total of 55 medals, prizes or awards; 18 of our faculty were elected to prestigious academies, societies, and halls of fame; and the life work of our colleagues was recognized by the awarding of 13 honorary degrees by universities around the globe.

These accolades speak volumes for the impact our faculty have on the world, but they only begin to tell the story of the impact they have on your sons and daughters.

I would like to tell you one story of the commitment of our faculty to teaching. Recently, we recruited Dr. Andrew McMahon of Harvard University to head the Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. Dr. McMahon holds one of Harvard’s most prestigious chairs. He is the co-director of the Harvard Institute of Stem Cell Research.

He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of London—a triple academy member. He is also bringing his entire laboratory team of 20 people from Harvard to USC.

During the recruitment process, Dr. McMahon said he would only accept the position at USC on one condition. He insisted upon teaching one undergraduate biology course each year at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This is a powerful testament to Dr. McMahon’s belief in the importance of mentoring future scientists. And it will offer a remarkable opportunity for our undergraduates to learn firsthand from one of the world’s leading scientists.

One of things I admire about USC’s Greek community is its commitment to the university’s global vision. More than 1,000 Greeks here have studied abroad or are planning to do so in the future. In addition to mastering one or more academic disciplines, the Greek community recognizes the importance of becoming literate in the world at large. As the world becomes smaller in an age of hyper-globalization, those who become fluent in other nations and cultures will be able to leverage bigger opportunities that await them.

Such global engagement begins at home. Today, we enroll students from all 50 states. In 2004, USC representatives visited 380 high schools per year. Today, we visit more than 2,000 schools all over the United States and across the Pacific Rim. USC has more international students and more international alumni than any other American university. This diversity enriches our campuses and classrooms in ways not seen at any other academic institution in the country.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Campaign for USC, which has the goal of raising $6 billion. Eighteen months into the campaign, we have raised $1.5 billion: one-quarter of the way to reaching our goal, which will transform the university through new and enhanced faculty research programs, student scholarships, academic centers, and building projects.

One of these projects is our new student health center. Last April we broke ground for a new 100,000-square-foot facility, which was made possible thanks to a $15 million naming gift from Michele and Roger Engemann.

The Roger and Michele Dedeaux Engemann Student Health Center will enable us to offer our students a state-of-the-art building that matches our world-class laboratories, libraries, and classrooms. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, who is considered the father of modern medicine, once noted, “A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.” This is a blessing we are continuously committed to bestowing upon our students.

We are also working diligently to improve the student living environment, both on and near our University Park Campus. In the next few years, we will plant 1,400 new trees, making our two campuses oases of green and beauty.

Immediately beyond campus, the University Village project will make USC the most inviting place possible for faculty and staff and members of our neighborhood. It will revitalize the area, offering students a wide variety of new food and entertainment outlets, as well as other retail options. Now that this project has moved from the planning phase to the public hearing phase, we will rely on support from the entire Trojan Family, including parents like you, to move things forward.

We are also hoping to move forward with assuming control over the Coliseum. USC feels the Coliseum can be an asset for the entire region and the nation. But for the university to accept a master lease, we need to be given sufficient control over parking for the stadium. I am hopeful we can resolve this matter in the months ahead.

As a former USC parent, I know how much your children mean to you, and how much you have sacrificed to bring them here. I am not only focused on their education but on their safety and well-being as well.

Every year, the very first briefing Niki and I request before the beginning of the fall semester is a complete report on the security and safety of our campus and its surrounding neighborhoods. Through the implementation of new security measures over the past few years by USC, we have reduced Clery Act crime in the areas adjacent to our campuses by 75 percent. These measures include the presence of yellow-jacketed security ambassadors and new security cameras in the neighborhoods where many of our students live.

As a result, students in the urban setting of USC now encounter crime less frequently than their counterparts at UCLA, Stanford, and U.C. Berkeley. We do not rest on these laurels, however, and continue to strive to make improvements in safety.

One of these efforts is the Greek Liaison program. Last fall, this program provided mandatory four-hour safety presentations to all of the fraternity and sorority presidents and risk managers. Presenters from the Department of Public Safety, the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments, the USC Fire Department, and Student Affairs participated, offering these students vital tips on maintaining a safe environment.

In addition, chapter members were required to attend individual one-hour safety sessions in the fall led by the Department of Public Safety. DPS also performed 30 individual, one-hour presentations to Greek chapters earlier this spring. As a result, there has been a marked decrease of thefts on the Row, and social events have also adopted a more responsible atmosphere.

The Greek community boasts many of our most spirited students. One of the best ways to get caught up in campus spirit is to get caught up in USC’s infectious athletic spirit. That’s why we encourage students to go to games and cheer on our student athletes. There is a lot for the Greeks to be excited about, as the past year was a good one for Trojan athletics. We celebrated two national championships—in men’s water polo and men’s tennis.

We are also privileged to be represented by All-American quarterback Matt Barkley. Several months ago, he announced that his NFL dreams could wait, because he wanted one more year at USC to finish his degree. In a recent interview, he stated, “Financially, it was an easy decision to go, but sacrifices must be made.”

He is a young man of considerable character and determination, who represents USC in a manner in which we can be very proud. His return for his senior year as quarterback of USC’s football team leaves us well-positioned to make a run for another national title.

I am sure many of you are also wondering what awaits your children professionally once they leave USC. My wish is that when students graduate, they depart knowing that when anything is possible, everything is achievable.

However, this ideal must also be coupled with the practical. In a challenging economic climate, USC’s Career Center continues to develop new tools and resources to prepare those seeking jobs and internships. Early in the semester, USC’s annual Career Fest offered over 60 presentations and workshops under the theme of “Finding Your Fit.”

February’s Spring Career Fair drew nearly 180 employers to campus, representing the best of corporate America. Last month, the Career Center also conducted Internship Week, featuring speakers from more than 75 companies from various industries. Internships are an excellent way to find one’s professional fit, and we strongly encourage students to participate in at least one internship during their time at USC. Recognizing their importance, more than 1,000 Greeks took part in an internship last summer alone.

On-campus recruiting for jobs and internships has also been going quite well and has been pushed back to its earliest point ever in the spring. Employers want Trojans, and they want access to them as early as possible!

When your sons and daughters graduate from USC, they will be leaving with two families. Their Greek family has provided them with lifelong friendships and networks that will enable them to thrive personally and professionally. And they will also depart with a lifetime membership in the Trojan Family, a worldwide family that spans generations and continents. Together, these two families will help students build careers and lives of service and leadership, and lives of which I am sure you will be immensely proud.

So hail to the Greeks of Troy!

Thank you, and Fight On, Always!