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1996 State of the University Address

by Steven B. Sample
President, University of Southern California
September 19, 1996

It is an honor to be here today, five years after my inauguration. In 1991, when my wife Kathryn and I arrived at USC, we knew that this was the place we wanted to be. The video you just saw of the March of Commitment in 1991 reminded me of the Trojan Family's extraordinary dedication to this institution. Faculty, students, alumni, staff, community leaders, neighborhood children, public officials and others marched into Alumni Park — not to celebrate Steve Sample, but to proclaim their faith in USC and its future. Kathryn and I knew then that this university had the potential, the momentum and the resolve to excel.

The men and women of USC have achieved wonderful things through teamwork at every level. By working together, you have demonstrated unsurpassed creativity, intelligence and energy, and in the process you have helped define how a modern university should be run.

I should like to acknowledge some distinguished guests who are listed in today's program and who are seated in the front few rows. They are too numerous to introduce individually; but I want to say publicly that it has been their dedication to excellence that has made USC's continued rise possible. When we celebrate excellence, what we really celebrate are men and women such as these. As Chairman Currie pointed out, they and all of you are the key agents of progress at USC.

I should also like to thank the trustees for giving my wife and me an opportunity to play a leadership role at this great university, and for demonstrating an unwavering commitment to academic excellence. The difference between public and private boards of trustees is enormous. Public board members often represent special interests that are external to the university. In contrast, private board members usually have as their sole interest the advancement of the university itself. I can truly say that the USC trustees are a model of this kind of unselfish dedication.

The Trojan Family's commitment to this great and noble enterprise has not only made the past five years meaningful for me, it has made them genuinely enjoyable. So as a part of today's celebration, let us renew that commitment and rededicate our efforts to meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

To be sure, we have much to celebrate. Southern California is rising anew after several difficult years, and USC has played an important role in helping to bring about this renaissance. At the same time, USC itself has gained increased respect and recognition — locally, nationally, and internationally.

Let me review some of the key achievements of the past five years, and what they've meant for USC and the Trojan Family:

First and foremost, we can be proud of the development of the Role and Mission Statement and the Strategic Plan. The Role and Mission Statement is only one page long, while the Strategic Plan is only 15 pages long and contains only four over-arching priorities. That may make it the most succinct academic plan in the history of the universe. What's really extraordinary about these two brief documents is that thousands of people have actually read them and internalized their major points. As a consequence, these documents have pointed the way toward major advancements at USC in teaching, research and public service.

We can also be proud of the Annenberg Center for Communication. The Center was endowed in 1993 by Ambassador Walter Annenberg's world–record cash gift of $120 million. This gift brought visibility and prestige to USC, and set the stage for this university to emerge as a world leader in the communications revolution. It also demonstrated to all our faculty the importance of interdisciplinary work, since it was the interdisciplinary nature of USC's programs in communications that contributed to Ambassador Annenberg's making this gift. Finally, Mr. Annenberg's generosity helped us land a major grant from the National Science Foundation that establishes the national center for research in multimedia here at USC. In competing for this national center, we faced tough challenges from Columbia, Berkeley and other major universities. It was a big win for USC and for all of Southern California.

We can be proud of our Leavey Library. The opening of this new state–of–the–art facility in 1994 took USC from being an also–ran to being a powerhouse in academic library systems. The Leavey provides a new model for academic libraries. It shifts the focus away from collecting paper, and towards providing convenient electronic access for scholars to texts, journals and visual materials from around the world. The Leavey Library is a perfect example of USC leapfrogging over its competitors.

We can be proud that we have raised $800 million in private gifts and pledges in the five and one–half years since I became president. Now please note the pronoun here. I didn't say I have raised $800 million in 5 1/2 years, but we — deans, faculty, trustees, staff and volunteers — we have raised this enormous sum. Some $600 million of this amount counts toward our one–billion–dollar Building on Excellence Campaign, which began in July of 1993 and runs to July of the year 2000. And our endowment, which stood at less than $500 million when I came, has now doubled to more than $1 billion.

We can all be proud of the fact that the number of USC faculty who are members of the three major national academies has increased by nearly 50% over the past 5 years.

And of course, we can all be proud of George Olah's 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Professor Olah's prize enhanced USC's international stature. It confirmed USC's development as a premier research university, in part because the prize was given to Olah for work done here at USC. Olah's Nobel prize–winning research was made possible through the generosity of Katherine Bogdanovich Loker and her late husband Donald Loker. The Loker Hydrocarbon Institute is the perfect example of how private support over a long period of time can pay huge dividends for the university.

We can be proud of the great strides we have made in improving undergraduate education. We are now implementing an outstanding new general education curriculum. We have also created a wide range of new minors — allowing students majoring in the liberal arts to minor in the professions, and students majoring in the professions to minor in the liberal arts. As far as I know, this development is unprecedented at a major research university. It makes it possible for our undergraduates to develop real breadth with real depth. I believe these changes will help produce leaders who can navigate successfully in a rapidly changing world.

We can be proud of our community initiatives, and the strong involvement of our students, faculty and staff in improving the quality and character of our surrounding neighborhoods. We raised nearly $300,000 last year in voluntary contributions from among our own employees for reinvestment in our neighborhoods — more than any other university of which I am aware. We now provide financial incentives to encourage our own employees to own and occupy housing in the surrounding area. And we have the best community–based policing program in L.A., which has led to a dramatic decrease in local crime rates.

All of us can be proud and pleased with our victory in the Rose Bowl earlier this year, especially since, during my first year as president, our record was 3 and 8.

Most important of all, we can be proud of the fact that USC now has many world–class programs. Our School of Cinema–Television is by any measure the best in the world. And when our School of Cinema–Television is taken together with our School of Music and our School of Theatre, USC may well have the best performing arts program in the country. Our program in communications and multimedia can rival any in the world. And we have many, many other programs that now compete with the best in the country: from gene therapy to computational genetics, from electrical engineering to creative writing, from environmental studies to dentistry, from gerontology to hydrocarbon chemistry, from physical therapy to accounting, from business to neuroscience, from law to pharmacy to public administration.

But of course, the past five years haven't been all sweetness and light.

When Kathryn and I arrived in the spring of 1991, Southern California was still descending into one of the worst recessions in its history. USC was faced with a severe budget crisis in the fall of '91, which led to the first major downsizing in our history. Some 800 jobs were eliminated, and nearly 500 people were laid off. It was extremely painful; but it was absolutely necessary to maintain the fiscal health of this institution.

Just four months later we were hit by the riots of '92. It was an awful, terrifying experience, and literally for me a baptism by fire. And yet, this gruesome event brought out the best in the Trojan Family. It made me so very proud to see students, faculty, neighbors, and especially our wonderful staff, all working together to protect the university, to provide food and shelter for those seeking refuge on our campus, and to help clean up the neighborhood after the riots were over.

More recently, dramatic changes in the healthcare industry have put all medical schools in this country under enormous pressure. Some medical schools will not survive; all the rest will be forced to make fundamental changes in the way they go about their business. I am absolutely convinced that our medical school will not only weather this storm, but will emerge from it stronger and more focused than most of our competitors. But we must face up to the fact that the next few years will be wrenching and painful ones for academic medical centers everywhere.

As we look ahead, what is our principal challenge? Simply this — to move USC into the first ranks of the country's finest universities. I see the next few years as a time of great opportunity, a time in which we can take advantage of the pressures and changes that are buffeting and intimidating so many of our sister institutions.

USC has a long history of successful adaptation to changing environments. This university was founded in 1880 as a small Methodist college in an obscure village of 10,000 souls known as Los Angeles. But USC shed its Methodist ties in the 1920s as times changed. It became a strong regional university, supplying the trained professionals who were needed to build Los Angeles into a great international city.

In 1960, President Topping and the trustees decided USC should broaden its horizons once again and become a national research university. Thus in its current role, USC is really less than 40 years old. In 1960 this university had little or no endowment or sponsored research, no members of the national academies, few students from outside California, and few if any nationally–ranked programs or schools. Thus we've come a very long way in a very short period of time. Indeed, I cannot think of another private university that has made as much progress over the past four decades as USC.

Along the way, we've learned how to compete effectively on a playing field that is heavily tilted against us. The average student in a public university enjoys a subsidy from state taxpayers of $15,000 per year. As a consequence, the price that public universities typically charge their students is roughly one fifth that charged by USC.

Now why would thousands of bright and sophisticated students who are readily admissible to the best public universities choose to pay five times the price to attend USC? Well, why do people choose to pay $60,000 for a Mercedes when they can pay $12,000 for a Chevrolet? The answer is simple — they're convinced they're getting higher quality and greater value for their money. And quality is why so many good students choose to come to USC — quality as evidenced by smaller classes, by senior faculty who teach undergraduates, by the accessibility of faculty outside of the classroom, by the availability of required courses, by a superior curriculum, by a broad array of extracurricular programs, by a strong alumni network, and by the fact that our highest institutional priority is the education of our students, from freshmen to postdoctorals.

Above all, our students and their parents are attracted to the values on which the University of Southern California is predicated. And what are those values?

First, we are committed to the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.

Second, we are committed to striving for excellence in teaching, research, artistic creation, patient care, and public service — excellence as measured by the highest standards in the world.

Third, we are committed to helping our students acquire, in addition to knowledge and skills, such things as wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.

Fourth, we are committed to maintaining an institution which is open to all men and women of exceptional merit, which is highly entrepreneurial, and which is unfettered by political control.

Finally, we are committed to building quality and excellence for the long term, not just for the years ahead, not just for the decades ahead, but for the centuries ahead.

Friends and colleagues, these are the values which undergird this institution; these are the values which give meaning to your work and mine; and these are the values which must be kept in the forefront as we continue to build a university which will help lead this nation and the world into the next millennium.