State of the University Address
February 2016
C. L. Max Nikias

It’s always a great privilege to deliver this annual address. As you know, our faculty is the solid foundation on which all of our successes rest, and I am very proud to report on the incredible progress that has been made. At USC we value all of our faculty, no matter what kind of appointment they hold. Each of them contributes greatly to this university’s revered reputation for academic excellence.

The majority of our tenure-track faculty are nationally and internationally renowned for their academic scholarship and creative work. There are many subjects for which teaching-track or practice-track faculty bring a unique set of skills in the classroom. In medicine, dentistry and pharmacy, clinical-track faculty are an important part of our world-class patient care. Many schools benefit directly from the contributions of our research-track faculty, who bring a highly-regarded focus to funded research. You may notice that I avoided using the traditional phrase “non-tenure-track.” The Academic Senate has asked that we stop using that terminology, and I fully agree with them, because no one should be defined in terms of what they are not.

A lot of our important work gets done through faculty governance – by the Academic Senate, the faculty councils in every school, and a host of faculty committees. And our faculty elect leaders based on their individual merit. It is based on respect for her own merit as a leader that the Academic Senate elected a teaching-track colleague as president of the faculty, for the first time in USC’s history – Professor Ginger Clark. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Professor Clark for her extraordinary leadership this year! Faculty are true partners in the work of our university. All of us – myself included – share a collective responsibility to manage our academic enterprise.

We’re very impressed by our transformative faculty who recently received major recognition, including:

  • Mark Humayun, who will be honored at the White House with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, our nation’s highest honor;
  • John Slaughter, who was also recognized at the White House with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring;
  • Michael Waterman, who was awarded the Dan David Prize for his contributions to biological sequence analysis;
  • Peggy Kamuf, who was named a chevalier in the Order of Academic Palms, one of the highest honors presented by France;
  • Solomon Golomb, who will receive the Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering; and
  • Dana Gioia, who was appointed California Poet Laureate by Governor Jerry Brown.

And let’s not forget that some of our most prominent trustees have received notable tributes.

  • Andrew Viterbi was honored with the Draper Prize for Engineering, which is considered one of the “Nobel Prizes of engineering.”
  • George Lucas was one of the legendary artists saluted at the Kennedy Center.
  • And Steven Spielberg was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We’re also very pleased that, over the last five years:

  • the number of our national academy members increased by more than 50 percent, bringing USC’s total closer to 80;
  • 46 of our junior faculty won major national or international honors; and
  • we’ve added 53 strategic new faculty hires.

It is their exceptional creativity that helps attract more of the world’s best scholars to our unique academic environment. And we continue to intensify our efforts to help our existing faculty earn national and international recognition.

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From our humble beginnings, USC has been a global institution with a global character. We see it in the actions of USC’s founder, Judge Robert Maclay Widney, who risked his life during an unruly riot in downtown Los Angeles in 1871 to save the lives of Chinese immigrants. We see it written in our history, which shows that our very first graduates represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds. And our first valedictorian was a woman. We see it displayed in the streets of our city, which is wrapped in the colorful tapestry of great diversity.

And yes, we see it today in our student body, which is enriched and invigorated by people from nearly every walk of life, and every region of our nation and the world. When I think of our university and its future, I am reminded of the great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes who wrote in his book, The Buried Mirror: “The New World is full of centers where multiple cultures meet – centers of incorporation, not of exclusion. When we exclude, we betray ourselves. When we include, we find ourselves.” And it is by embracing every culture, every religious view, every individual that we find ourselves.

In the past couple of years, around our nation, we have witnessed incidents and images of injustice and intolerance. As a society, we have not been completely immune to the affliction of narrow-minded people. And we know that when members of our Trojan Family stand up and speak out, we must lend our ears and listen. Because when we listen to each other, we learn from each other, and we understand each other in a deeper and more meaningful way. Throughout time, universities have strongly championed freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression, and a relentless search for truth. It is only through the crucible of debate that we ultimately determine what is best for our community and our society.

We must continue to encourage these critical conversations. In the past six months, I have had a series of conversations with our undergraduate and graduate student leadership as well as with various groups of students, faculty and university leadership. Let me take a moment and recognize Rini Sampath, the president of our Undergraduate Student Government and Nikita Hamilton, the president of our Graduate Student Government. With our great diversity, we must ensure that we remain a university dedicated to access, to opportunity, to inclusivity. Together, faculty and staff, students and academic leaders, share this important responsibility. And we will keep reminding each other that this university will always recognize and respect our shared humanity. In the end, we must remember that USC may be home to a broad array of perspectives and opinions, but we all must share a common bond – a true love of this university.

We believe so much in access and opportunity that we have made it an integral part of our new strategic planning process. I want to thank our Provost, Michael Quick, for creating the Diversity Task Force to lead inclusion initiatives across the university. We’re developing a deeper dialogue with each of our schools, asking them to offer their ideas and their input to increase faculty diversity. We’ve added a new Provost/Senate mentoring initiative to examine and enhance our existing programs. And, we continue to show our support for the Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholars in the Humanities, which is precisely designed to increase inclusiveness both at the postdoctoral and faculty levels.

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We have found that new ideas, new perspectives, and new ambitions come to our campuses each year with the arrival of our freshman class. This coming fall we will set a new record for access and selectivity, welcoming a class of unprecedented quality and diversity. We were impressed when we received 54,000 applications for just 2,700 spots. We were forced to turn away more than 3,000 students with straight As – and more than 3,000 with SAT scores in the 99th percentile. This is no surprise! We are constantly looking for well-rounded students who have USC as their very top choice.

We are very proud that our freshman class every year features about three times the number of Caltech-quality students as Caltech itself. And 1,700 of our freshman class are exactly the same quality as Stanford’s freshman. But we should also take note that 38 percent of the freshman class at the Viterbi School of Engineering are women when the national average is just 20 percent! We were recently reminded of the brilliance of our students when two of them became the first women from the Dornsife College to receive the revered Marshall Scholarship. And the entire campus celebrated when a doctoral student at the Dornsife College – also a woman – was honored with the highly prestigious National Book Award for Poetry.

It is no secret that some 20 years ago, our university still had the reputation of a commuter school. When finished, the USC village will expand the university’s residential college experience and challenge existing models of student living. It will add eight residential colleges, including the McCarthy Honors College, more than doubling the number we currently have. In these exceptional environments, students will live and work with distinguished faculty masters, creating a rich array of academic, cultural, and recreational activities. The USC Village will invigorate university life, as well as the life of our neighborhood.

And I’m so proud of the fact that we have improved safety and security for our students through a new partnership with Uber. Together, with Campus Cruiser, these services offer students a ride back to off-campus housing within the “bubble” from 7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., seven days per week. These rides are free, and average wait times for Uber are down to only two-and-a-half minutes. More importantly, the popularity of Uber has changed the culture of our student behavior. The number of safe rides is more than 34,000 per week. And it’s all free to students! USC pays for it.

Our undergraduate students come from nearly 128 different nations, and represent more than 90 different religious views. Among the members of our freshman class, one in seven are the first members of their families to attend college. One in five are SCions. And more than one in five are underrepresented minorities. Twenty-five percent of our enrolled undergraduate students received Pell Grants. And, if you look at the nation’s all private colleges and universities, USC ranks third in Pell Grant recipients!

Finally, unlike virtually all of our private competitors, USC also enrolls more than 800 students from community colleges every year. These students tend to be a bit older, and they come from challenging socioeconomic conditions. However, at USC, they have exactly the same graduation rates with the rest of the university, 92 percent.

Despite all of the talk about diversity in American higher education, nobody talks at the national level about the real crisis we face as a nation. Each year, about three million students graduate from high school in the United States. Only about 250,000 of those students – around 8 percent – have the GPAs, the SAT scores, and the academic preparation to be considered for admission to this nation’s academically elite top-50 universities. The real crisis is that the pool for qualified underrepresented minorities is even smaller. It’s actually shrinking. For African American students, it’s only about 11,000. For Latino students, it’s around 24,000. That’s in the entire nation!

So, just close to 35,000 students qualify to be recruited by the top colleges and universities in America. I’m very proud of the fact that due to our strategy over the past five years, USC currently ranks second among all private research universities in Latino students, and third in African American students. And, by the way, only 10 percent of our African American students are student-athletes. Furthermore, we have a higher percentage of African American students than any of the AAU U.C. campuses. Are we satisfied? Of course not!

If we are going to create more diversity in American higher education among our student body, our Ph.D. students, our postdoctoral scholars, and our faculty, eventually we must pay attention to the pipeline. If we don’t do that, we have no chance. We must do better in K-12 schools preparing students for college, especially underrepresented minorities. This is the real crisis we face as a nation. The dream of a better life is embodied by a dream of better education.

In the next decade, a majority of our nation’s children will be those who are currently considered underrepresented minorities. If we don’t correct our current course, we are running the risk of failing more than half of our children.

We should be very proud that USC is the driving force behind hundreds of initiatives that serve and sustain our local neighborhoods. These are programs that help our children read and write; inspire them through art and music; promote health and improve wellbeing; and, support businesses and create jobs.

Our Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) gives students additional academic work and greater attention from the moment they enter sixth grade until the moment they earn their high school diplomas. And now, thanks to a very generous gift from USC Trustee Joan Payden, we are expanding NAI dramatically into East Los Angeles, near our Health Sciences Campus. And her important investment will extend NAI’s influence to a total of 1,100 students.

We’re also transforming our community through a new model of secondary education, designed by our Rossier School of Education, to provide a personalized college prep program to students who have been underserved by the public school system: the USC Hybrid High School and the USC East College Prep.

The first class of seniors will earn their diplomas from Hybrid High in June. And already 70 percent have been accepted to at least one college.

USC’s dedication to diversity, and to improving the lives of the 40,000 residents near our two campuses, mirrors what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about in his “I have a Dream” speech.

His dream starts with justice. “We will not be satisfied,” he told the crowd, “until justice rolls down like waters… and righteousness like a mighty stream.” And his dream ends with hope, where all people are one family. One community. Inseparably bound together. It is a legacy beyond one man’s life. It is a legacy of love. It is our hope and passion at USC.

Of course, we must remember that most of the world knows USC for its distinctive reputation as a research university, an institution that is constantly seeking new knowledge and generating new ideas.

In a climate where it remains very difficult to attract research funding, our faculty impressed everyone by setting a new record with nearly $700 million in research expenditures. We were thrilled when the Army Research Lab selected our Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) as the home of a new laboratory, which will be the very first on the West Coast.

We’re delighted that the new Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute will extend our footprint beyond Los Angeles, giving us a major research presence in San Diego. USC will soon announce a new industry sponsored clinical research, that is the largest contract ever for Alzheimer’s issued to USC. Combined with existing contracts, the total amount will exceed $200 million.

We applauded when the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center earned its highest score ever from the National Cancer Institute. We celebrated when we received successful renewals of our Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and our NSF-funded Science and Technology Center. We felt very fortunate to receive major new center awards for big data in discovery science, materials science, children’s health, and obesity; and integrated sensor monitoring for pediatrics. We are thrilled with our first biomedical research partnership with AMGEN, and with the creation of the Northrop Grumman Institute of Nanophotonics and Nanomaterials. Both agreements were finalized this week.

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A large part of the incredible excitement about USC comes from the extraordinary advances in our medical enterprise as well as interdisciplinary collaborations. What we are experiencing in the field of human health is not a revolt—it is a revolution. And we are on the front lines, leading the way, breaking new ground, forging our own path.

Four factors define USC’s strategy, both today and in the future. First, we are amplifying our efforts to recruit transformative faculty, department chairs, and institute leaders. There is no doubt that other institutions have taken notice of our bold approach. We have reached a point where we can essentially recruit anyone we want to. That’s why we’ve made so many headlines and captured so much attention. And that’s why donors are so eager to invest in our faculty and their projects.

We’re very grateful for generous donations to endow programs such as the Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. And we’re thankful for another incredibly generous gift to create the Mary and Mark Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute.

Our second strategy is to build our marquee programs for both research and clinical around our faculty leaders – both the recruited and existing faculty. We are focusing our efforts on the important intersections where different disciplines converge, creating a closer and stronger connection among our Health Sciences Campus, our University Park Campus, and our department of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

Third, with new healthcare rules, we are seeing a seismic shift from inpatient admissions to outpatient procedures thanks to incredible advances in technologies and treatments. Over five years, our outpatient visits grew by 200 percent; inpatient discharges increased by 50 percent; and hospital revenues expanded by 140 percent to $1.3 billion annually.

Great news to report: March collections exceed $100 million – a remarkable achievement. We have become a destination for patients who trust our doctors to do the most complex surgeries. In fact, Keck Hospital has the highest case mix index (CMI) of any hospital in the nation! Exceeding 3.0. And this is why nearly one-quarter of our patients travel more than 90 minutes, including from out of state.

Our fourth strategy is to consider new hospital affiliations and acquisitions. Recently, we formed an alliance with Universal Health Services, one of the largest hospital management companies in the United States. And our great expansion led us to acquire a number of physician practices, stretching from Bakersfield to Newport Beach to Beverly Hills. As we look out at the horizon of the future, our growth will be guided by our focus on stellar service, reducing costs, improving patient outcomes, and providing an unprecedented quality of care.

At our Health Sciences Campus, we are currently experiencing more than one million patient visits per year. Thus, the urgent need to beautify and expand our infrastructure on this campus. We’re making steady progress on the Norris Healthcare Consultation Center and Stevens Hall. We have extended Norfolk Street and widened Soto Street. This year we will unveil the Malcolm and Barbara Currie Residence Hall, which will provide 450 beds for medical students and residents. Next year, we will enjoy the advantage of a new Hyatt House Hotel, featuring 200 suites. And we have completed construction on a parking structure, which provides 1,200 new parking spaces.

This is all part of USC’s ongoing metamorphosis to ensure the very best facilities for our faculty and students, as well as our patients. Our location also provides a strategic advantage that is available to very few metropolitan areas – an opportunity to develop a new biotech park, which we believe has the potential to transform Los Angeles into a global biotech center. As with everything we do, we have unleashed our imaginations, visualizing the future on a grand scale. We are working very closely with L.A. County officials to transform the old county yards into a new biotech park. And we are excited by the fact that for every high-tech job we produce, we will create four positions for people in non-technical fields.

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USC is dedicated to advancing discovery and learning in science, social sciences, and technology, but we also cherish the arts and humanities. We are not afraid of taking risks with out-of-the-box thinking of academic programs such as the World Bachelor in Business (WBB), the Iovine Young Academy, and the Kaufman School of Dance. The arts have the power to inspire and to transform, providing us with experiences and insights that help us become complete human beings.

We are very proud to mark the tenth anniversary of Visions and Voices, an initiative that has enriched the minds and shaped the perspectives of thousands of students. Last fall, we warmly welcomed our first group of incredibly talented students to our Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, our sixth independent school for the creative and performing arts.

The Iovine Young Academy is gaining international attention for providing a new paradigm for educating the next generation of innovators. Our top-ranked schools of Cinematic Arts and Engineering continue to expand into new worlds of originality and entertainment, with an extraordinary game design program. Our Thornton School of Music was one of the very first to offer programs in jazz, film scoring, music industry, and popular music. This past fall, the school continued its groundbreaking tradition by announcing a new degree in music production.

The School of Dramatic Arts extended its reach to a global audience with a new one-of-a-kind institute for international actors. And the Roski School of Art and Design continues to expand into new and exciting areas with the hiring of three transformative faculty artists and scholars.

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The spirit of our academic community is enriched by the competitive spirit that finds its full expression in Trojan athletics. In May, we celebrated as our women’s sand volleyball team captured its very first national championship, finishing the season with a perfect record of 28-0. And we were inspired by the courage of our football team, which overcame adversity to defeat UCLA and make its very first appearance in the Pac-12 championship game. And what can I say about our men’s and women’s basketball teams that have become so competitive! We are also in the process of fundraising from our alumni and athletics corporate base, so that we can restore the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to its former glory. And yes, we worked out an agreement with the NFL to bring the L.A. Rams back to the Coliseum for three years.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Pat Haden. He accomplished USC’s objectives here through his distinct blend of integrity, energy, wisdom, and character. The Trojan Family should be grateful for his leadership during a historic moment of transition for Trojan athletics.

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Many of the nation’s top tier universities have turned to philanthropy to increase the excellence of their academic environments. But our bold approach has given us a strategic advantage in the race against our competitors. At a time when an economic downturn caused other universities to play it safe, we announced the largest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education: to raise $6 billion dollars. USC is now one of only six universities to exceed $4 billion raised in a single campaign, putting us in a very select group of institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Penn, and Cornell.

Jerry and his late wife Nancy Neely displayed their character by donating $12 million to support the Neely Leadership and Ethics Center at the Marshal School of Business. And four more announcements coming in the next few months are major transformative gifts from trustees.

In recent months, we have seen exceptional support from our Board of Trustees. Stanley and Ilene Gold added to their long legacy of stellar support by pledging $2.5 million to create the Honors Scholars Program, which will help us attract the very top talent to the Gould School of Law. Kris Popovich and his late and beloved wife, Jane, donated $4 million to establish the Jane and Kris Popovich Chair in Cancer Research. Leonard Schaeffer gave $4 million to launch the Leonard D. Schaeffer Initiative for Innovation and Health Policy, which will help USC partner with the Brookings Institution.

Last week, we reached $5 billion in 5.5 years. Many look to USC as a model of inspiration. Do you know what is remarkable? $3.5 billion is cash! We have brought together the entire Trojan Family. Nearly 290,000 people have made donations in the past five years. Twenty-five percent of the money raised has been contributed by USC Trustees, a testament to the leadership of our board. Sixty percent of the total money raised to date comes from non-alumni of the university. And of course everybody is impressed that we have created 92 new faculty chairs in the last five years. While we are proud of our progress, we know that we must accelerate the pace as we finish our ascent and surpass our goal of raising $6 billion.

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Allow me to conclude with a perspective from the past. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the passing of arguably one of the greatest writers in human history. And yet, four centuries after William Shakespeare “shuffled off this mortal coil,” his words still speak across time and across cultures. The incredible breadth and depth of his wonderful work represented a true renaissance of the English language. At a time when the world was changing dramatically, he borrowed from many different disciplines and influences, breathing new life into our language by creating thousands of new words and coining hundreds of new phrases.

Even those who have never seen his plays performed often quote him in their daily lives. This incredible expansion of the human language gave us astonishing new ways to express our greatest hopes and our greatest fears, our deepest desires and our darkest ambitions. That is why the challenge I presented to our faculty was to make sure that in the USC curricula, every student – no matter her major – has been introduced to the humble humanities and the timeless truths of Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, and histories. The importance of Shakespeare’s powerful plays is immeasurable. Our students should marvel at his enduring characters, which embody the entire spectrum of human experience and human emotion – the love and the hate, the tragedies and the triumphs, the incredible strengths and the fatal flaws. My fellow Trojans, I said to our faculty that in this we must remain the children of Shakespeare!

Thank you, and Fight On!