September 12, 2012
By C. L. Max Nikias

Tonight I feel privileged to speak to this impressive assembly of USC councilors and advisors as we celebrate our recent successes and shine a spotlight on the signs of our steady progress.

As we do, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you. I want all of you to know how much I appreciate your wisdom, your leadership, your advice, and your hard work.

If you look through this university’s history, you will find that meetings to discuss the future and direction of the university are nothing new. In 1886, just six years after USC’s humble beginnings, USC’s chief founder, Judge Robert Maclay Widney, created the very first “council of the University of Southern California.”

On June 23, 1886, he invited a key group of leaders to gather for a historic meeting. Judge Widney delivered the opening address, which was described as “a straight, common-sense talk as to what has been done and what the university intends to do.” During his speech, Judge Widney said, “This council is designed to bring about unity both of work and of plan. It is most important that both be harmonious. No matter how good the work may be, if the plans vary, there is a fatal weakness. It is so important that the plan be understood, worked for, and carried out harmoniously.”

Tonight, more than 126 years later, Judge Widney’s words still speak to us across the ages. They remind us that USC’s competitive advantage has always derived from the fact that we know how to work together in collaboration, in cooperation, and in harmony.

All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to the Trojans of the past who have paved the way for our current progress through their service and their sacrifice. We must remember that the university we see around us today is in reality the hopes and aspirations of our predecessors in material form. We have inherited their lofty dreams, their ambitious plans, and their bold vision.

While we should take tremendous pride in our recent accomplishments, we should also feel the burden of future generations weighing heavily on our shoulders. The Trojans of the past may have helped USC forge its own identity. But it will be the men and women of our generation who will help USC reach its rightful destiny as an undisputedly elite world-class university.

Because all of you play such significant roles for our schools and libraries, I want to give you a glimpse of what we have done together. While I will only touch on the highlights, you should take great comfort that our historic investments are already leading to dramatic improvements. I hope you feel a surge of pride in how much we have accomplished together in just the last couple of years.

We have recruited more than two dozen transformative faculty from some of the very best universities of the world. When these academic superstars join our faculty, they don’t arrive alone. They bring with them excellent assistant professors, brilliant postdocs, and talented graduate students. And they also attract passionate donors, research grants, and foundation support.

For example, one of our recent hires is Andrew McMahon, a triple Academy member from Harvard University. Before coming to USC, Dr. McMahon held one of the most prestigious chairs at Harvard, where he was also the co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. And he brought his whole laboratory group with him to USC!

I also have some very interesting news to share with you about online education. Forty years ago, USC pioneered distance education through TV courses and later Internet broadcasting from the Viterbi School of Engineering. However, in the past few years, the deans at both the Rossier School and the School of Social Work have displayed great leadership in online education by establishing programs that have become the envy of higher education.

Today, quietly and without fanfare, USC has developed a global online graduate education enterprise that features both academic breadth and economic viability. Our online programs not only expand students’ access to education, but also maintain the highest standards of academic rigor and quality.

This year total annual revenues for online USC professional, graduate, and continuing education programs are expected to reach $114.5 million — a figure that is unprecedented for a top American research university. Altogether, USC’s online education programs reach 5,500 students, and we expect to double the enrollment and degree offerings within the next five years.

So, although many universities make headlines by talking about online education, USC has been doing it better than any other top research university. I want you to take a lot of pride in this.

In addition to our success in online education, we also continue to see more and more of the world’s best and brightest students come to USC to study on our campuses. This past year, we saw 46,000 students apply for only 2,600 seats in our freshman class. For the first time in our history, the acceptance rate was 18 percent and our yield rate was the highest ever. We expected to enroll 2,700 students. We ended up enrolling 3,000!

This freshman class houses more than three times as many Caltech-caliber students as Caltech itself. But it also includes more top students in the arts and humanities than at the world’s leading conservatories and professional schools. We are very proud of the students who walk across our campuses each and every day. But we are also mindful of the students who will attend our university in the decades ahead.

That’s why I’m delighted we’ve created several new scholarship programs. We have welcomed generous donations to establish the Dornsife Scholars Program and the Mork Family Scholars, and we’ve expanded the Schoen Family Scholarship Program for military veterans. No other university in America offers the level of financial aid and scholarships to undergraduate students that we do — a total of $235 million of our own money annually.

We’ve added a multitude of new institutes such as the Ming Hsieh Institute for Research on Engineering-Medicine for Cancer, the Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. We’ve established a wide array of new endowed chairs and professorships in areas ranging from cinematic arts to real estate, from law to library services, from religious studies to cancer research.

We’ve also held a host of groundbreakings and dedication ceremonies for buildings that will not only reshape USC’s physical landscape, but also shape the intellectual landscape for our entire academic community in the years ahead. We are currently carrying out Master Plans for infrastructure development, which will add 5.5 million square feet of space to both our campuses over the next 20 years.

On the University Park Campus, we have completed construction on the new University Club at King Stoops Hall, and the John McKay Center for athletics. And soon we will see the completion of the third phase of our majestic Cinematic Arts complex; the Engemann Student Health Center; and the Dornsife Neuroscience Pavilion, which is the home of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute.

We are also engaged in several major beautification programs that we hope will make both of our campuses sanctuaries of green beauty. On this campus alone, we are in the process of planting 1,400 trees.

This fall we will also break ground on several new projects. One week ago, we held a groundbreaking ceremony for Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall, which will be USC’s very first interdisciplinary social sciences building. In November, we will break ground for Wallis Annenberg Hall and the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

One of our major initiatives is the redevelopment of the University Village, which is currently in the planning phase. The Village at USC is the largest development project ever proposed in the history of South Los Angeles.

The first phase will provide quality student housing, especially for graduate and professional students, and major retail services for the community. This past June, the L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land-Use Management Committee deliberated on our Specific Plan. In less than one week, on September 18, the committee will hear an update on this project, and we are working with our thousands of community members and labor supporters to move this project along as soon as possible.

I also want to share with you some exciting news about our Keck Medical Center and Keck School of Medicine. USC’s medical enterprise now comprises 45 percent of the university’s operating budget of $3.4 billion. Recently, our medical revenues have soared, and over the last two-and-a-half years we have added a total of 55 new talented professors of medicine in the areas of urology, surgery, oncology, orthopedics, and so on.

We have also worked tirelessly to advance patient care at USC, and we have seen tremendous success. The faculty of the Keck School of Medicine of USC have more than one million patient visits each year on our Health Sciences Campus. The Keck Hospital of USC revenues have grown by 50 percent in just two years. Over the next few years, given the plans we have for growth, we project that number will increase to two million patient visits per year.

When it comes to difficult surgeries in which patients’ lives are on the line, our doctors perform at an incredibly high level. It turns out that the Keck Hospital of USC has an acuity rate of 3.0. This is remarkable. In fact, this is not only the highest acuity rate of any hospital in the state of California, but also the highest rate west of the Mississippi. So, it’s not just about volume. It’s about quality. It’s about talent. And we are very proud that USC stands head and shoulders above the competition.

While there are many reasons for our recent success, the most apparent is “The Campaign for USC.” Tonight I am very proud to tell you that we’re already approaching a major milestone in our campaign.

In only two years, we have raised nearly $2 billion in philanthropic donations, a record achievement not just for USC, but also for American higher education. In only two years we had 10 transformative gifts that brought us national attention. We could not have accomplished any of this without your extraordinary efforts. We’re tremendously grateful to the many generous men and women who have stepped forward to demonstrate their unwavering belief in the people and future of USC.

It is clear that there is a growing groundswell of support for our historic campaign. In fact, so far, more than 160,000 people have fueled our progress by contributing generous gifts. The number of people who have participated in this campaign provides compelling proof that although USC has many schools and departments, we are all united in the pursuit of a singular shared vision — to see USC reach an undisputed academically elite status.

From our privileged point of view, we can see that this fundraising campaign will take the strands of different disciplines and weave them together to connect every area of USC. We see that when we raise the bar in one school or department, we elevate the entire university.

When we add one new transformative professor, we enhance the entire USC faculty. When we create one new institute, we enrich the intellectual environment for our entire academic community. When we provide a scholarship to a student, we alter the future of an entire Trojan Family.

In the years ahead, we will count on you to help ensure that our campaign provides a firm foundation for the future, and quickens the pace of our pursuit of elite academic status. While USC’s current campaign may seem very ambitious in its size and scope, I want to point out that we’re following in the footsteps of our ancestors by setting our sights on such a lofty goal.

If you search through USC’s past, you will see the vital role that fundraising has played in advancing our university and its mission. When USC was founded in 1880, the university had great ambitions but only modest financial resources. Many of our competitors had tremendous advantages of land or money. It was USC’s chief founder, Robert Maclay Widney, who inspired the very first donations to this university’s endowment — he raised $100,000 in 1880.

That’s why, in a few weeks, we will hold the very first Widney Society dinner. Named after USC’s visionary founder, this society will honor the visionaries of our day and time. The Widney Society was created exclusively for our most devoted philanthropists, and will recognize those faithful supporters whose cumulative gifts and pledges to the university total $1 million or more.

On November 1, the Widney Society will hold its inaugural event. And each year this generous and faithful group will gather together to induct new members into this special society. So, there is plenty of time from now until November 1 if you would like to join the Widney Society. And if you do, we will love you even more!

I want to close this evening by reminding you that this is one of the most important moments in the life of our university. We now find ourselves standing at a crossroads in our history — a moment in which the decisions we make today will have a dramatic impact on the type of university USC becomes in the years ahead.

Never before have we been blessed with the possibility of such unlimited opportunity. Never before have we had Trojans from so many different disciplines working together with a single shared purpose. Never before have we advanced so quickly in our journey.

The lasting legacy of this generation will be determined by how well we set the stage for the success of generations to come. Our legacy will live on through the students who come to USC to pursue their passions and find new opportunities. It will live through the scholars and researchers whose creativity and innovation help them push the boundaries of discovery as they seek intellectual immortality, through the alumni who stretch around the world and keep the Trojan Family lifelong and worldwide, and through all of the people who help USC live up to its pledge to be a private university working for the public good.

That’s why you’re here tonight. You are the ones who will lead the way, who will spread the word, who will share our spirit.

You are the ones who will help us expand our base of donors and increase our army of volunteers.

You are the ones who will enlighten our boards with your wisdom and your insights.

You are the ones who will inspire others through your extraordinary service to USC.

As you leave here tonight, be proud of what we have accomplished together. But also be certain that what we have achieved so far is merely a prelude to the glorious success that awaits us in the future.

As the president of USC, I ask you to work with us so we can write together the most glorious chapter in USC’s history.

Thank you, and Fight On!