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Annual Address to the Faculty

By Steven B. Sample, President
University of Southern California
February 2008

I always look forward to my annual address to the faculty. I enjoy having the opportunity to thank USC’s faculty and staff for all they do to advance the university.

Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that Kathryn and I have been at USC for 17 years. When we arrived at USC in 1991, we were optimistic about the future of the university, but we had no idea that we would enjoy so many successes, reach so many milestones, and develop so many friendships.

Many people are responsible for USC’s recent accomplishments. First in line would be the university’s faculty, whose dedication and hard work have played the major role in moving USC into the top tier of research universities. Thanks to the efforts of our faculty over the last two decades, USC has come farther, faster than any other university in America.

USC is clearly entering a new era – an era of new vitality and new directions throughout the university. First, we are experiencing a massive physical transformation due to the fact that USC and its partner institutions are constructing, a very large number of new facilities. Second, USC’s University Park campus is rapidly evolving from a commuter institution to a residential university. Third, we are witnessing major changes in the university’s leadership through the appointment of a number of new deans and administrators. And fourth, there are several new academic initiatives underway that are helping to reshape USC.

USC’s Physical Transformation
It is easy to see the signs of the major physical transformations taking place on USC’s two campuses. Since I’ve spoken at length about this change in earlier addresses to the faculty, I shan’t dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that USC and its partner institutions have recently completed, or will soon be completing, 32 new buildings which will provide nearly six million square feet of new space for research, teaching, patient care, and the enrichment of student life. This building program – one of the largest ever undertaken by any university – is having a major positive effect on many of USC’s academic programs.

A centerpiece of USC’s building program is the construction of a new campus center on our University Park campus. This magnificent new structure will provide a huge increase in student activity space and dining facilities, and will complement the equally magnificent Galen Center, which opened in 2006.

Becoming a Residential University
Over the last few years, the pace of USC’s evolution from a commuter campus to a residential university has accelerated. I believe that this transformation will greatly strengthen USC academically. More and more students live on or near our University Park campus, and the demand for on-campus housing for both undergraduate and graduate students is almost insatiable. To meet this demand, USC and various private-sector partners will need to build 8,000 new beds over the next few years.

One of the ways USC is accelerating this transformation to a residential university is by creating a master plan for the University Park campus. Drafts of the plan have been reviewed by various groups of faculty, staff, students, trustees, and neighbors. The draft will be submitted soon to the full Board of Trustees for review and approval.

Some of the university’s academic initiatives are helping create a residential atmosphere at USC. One of those initiatives is Visions and Voices, which began in fall 2006, and which so far has sponsored 180 plays, concerts, and speakers.

Visions and Voices has become a bigger success than we ever imagined. Last year 20,000 students from both campuses flocked to Visions and Voices events, and there is now a waiting list for every event. Visions and Voices is far more than simply something for USC students to do on nights or weekends. This initiative broadens students’ intellectual horizons, because each event gives students a chance to interact directly with some of the best minds and most creative artists in the United States.

As USC makes the transition to a residential university, we are also recommitting ourselves to our neighborhoods. We are continuing to have an impact with our Good Neighbors Campaign, which solicits gifts each year from faculty and staff in support of neighborhood projects. This past fall the campaign set a new record, with total contributions exceeding $1 million. Over the last 13 years, USC faculty and staff have raised more than $9 million through the Good Neighbors Campaign. These funds directly benefit programs for children, families, and businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding our two campuses. No other university in the nation raises so much money from faculty and staff for good works in the local neighborhoods.

Changing Leadership at USC
Over the past two years USC has recruited 27 new people to administrative leadership positions, including 11 individuals who constitute our newest academic deans. I have often said that USC’s deans are one of the university’s greatest assets. Our deans play a vital part in advancing the university, especially in recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty. They also inspire their faculty colleagues to reach new heights of excellence in teaching and research. And over the years our deans have been extraordinarily effective in identifying generous donors who are passionately committed to helping USC carry out its mission.

USC is also undergoing a transition among our senior administrators. Dennis Dougherty, USC’s chief financial officer and senior vice president for finance, and Alan Kreditor, USC’s senior vice president for advancement, will be retiring in June. Although both of these men will be difficult to replace, we are now conducting national searches to find the right leader for each of these important areas.

Also, our esteemed colleague Carolyn Webb de Macias, vice president for external relations, is retiring. And we recently promoted our general counsel, Todd Dickey, to senior vice president for administration.

This is also a time of change for the leadership of USC’s Board of Trustees. In June Stanley Gold will step down as chairman of the board after having served nearly six years in this capacity. He has led the university with extraordinary energy, integrity, and vision. We are fortunate that trustee Ed Roski has agreed to serve as our next board chairman.

Let me now take a moment to focus on one particular unit of USC – the Keck School of Medicine. The Keck School accounts for nearly half of USC’s sponsored research, and through its clinical programs the school directly touches the lives and well-being of more than a million people every year.

Recently the Keck School has had its share of challenges. In 2006 USC filed a lawsuit against Tenet Healthcare Corporation in which we argue that Tenet has lost the right to own and operate USC University Hospital. If USC prevails in this litigation, the university will have the option to buy the hospital from Tenet at a set price.

I am an optimist by nature. Early in USC’s relationship with Tenet, I optimistically believed that we could work together effectively. Now I must confess that my optimism was ill-founded. However, I am still very optimistic about the future of the Keck School of Medicine under the leadership of its new dean, Dr. Carmen Puliafito.

One of the greatest strengths at the Keck School is stem cell research. About three years ago California passed Proposition 71, which made our state an international center for stem cell research by allocating $3 billion to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). So far the Keck School, along with USC faculty at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, has attracted
$24 million in grants from CIRM. USC/CHLA now ranks third in the state in winning grant support from CIRM, ahead of UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and all other institutions in the state save Stanford and UC San Francisco. USC has recruited a number of outstanding researchers who are leading the charge and putting our university on the map in stem-cell research.

New Academic Initiative
The academic plan of almost every university in America lists globalization as a major focus for the years ahead. However, in the vast majority of cases these statements are simply wishful thinking. USC, by contrast, is now, and has been for many years, a major player in this exciting arena.

USC has been educating large numbers of international students for more than a century, and today we enroll more international students than any other university in America.

One reason USC has been able to expand its global influence is the simple fact that the university is located in Los Angeles. L. A. is a microcosm of the larger world, a creative and cultural powerhouse, and the de facto capital of the Pacific Rim.

USC has also established some important global alliances. Our university is one of the four founding members of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and I had the privilege of serving for six years as APRU’s founding chairman. The Pacific Council on International Policy – an important nonprofit organization for studying critical international issues such as politics, security, and business – has its headquarters on our campus, and the USC U.S.-China Institute, which was established in 2006, held its first conference last April.

Many USC faculty have taken advantage of the university’s location in Los Angeles to form important international collaborations with colleagues and universities in China, India, and other countries around the world.

And we have elected four persons – from Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and India – as voting members of USC’s Board of Trustees.

USC students – both international and domestic – are well aware of how important it is for them to be prepared for life and work in a global society. One indication of this heightened awareness is the growing number of USC students enrolled in Chinese language courses.

We continue to attract and inspire some of the world’s best undergraduate students. Over the last two decades the average GPA and SAT scores for USC’s incoming freshmen have increased dramatically, and are now among the highest in the country. Moreover, USC’s yield rate is among the highest in the United States. (For the uninitiated, the yield rate is the percentage of students who, having been accepted by USC, actually matriculate at our campus). Then too, this last fall’s freshman class included 231 National Merit Scholars, which ranks USC fourth in the nation.

The increasing quality of USC’s students is reflected in the increased interest in our Renaissance Scholars program. The graduating class of 2007 had 225 Renaissance Scholars, nearly three times the number of students in the program’s inaugural year.

Last fall Provost Max Nikias and faculty leaders built upon the success of the university’s Renaissance Scholars program by creating two new honors programs at USC – Global Scholars and Discovery Scholars. Together with our Renaissance Scholars, these programs form a triad of academic excellence.

Global Scholars and Discovery Scholars will be honored at commencement, and recognized on their diplomas and transcripts, in the same way that USC now recognizes its Renaissance Scholars.

Discovery Scholars will focus on innovation. To qualify as Discovery Scholars, students must conduct significant original research or create an outstanding work of artistic expression. This year we received 143 applications for the Discovery Scholars program. Some of the proposed projects include scientific research, and original musical compositions, short stories, poems, and films.

Global Scholars will focus on international learning. To qualify as Global Scholars, students must spend at least 10 weeks studying or working in another country as part of an overall internationally-oriented academic program. So far we have received 87 applications for the Global Scholars program in its inaugural year. These applicants span the disciplines, including: letters, arts and sciences; communications, business, fine arts, music, architecture, cinematic arts, public policy, theatre, and engineering.

With our Renaissance Scholars, Discovery Scholars, and Global Scholars, USC will be able to offer unprecedented educational opportunities to its undergraduate students.

But USC is not committed only to its undergraduates. We are also attracting more and more of the best postdoctoral fellows and graduate, professional, and doctoral students. At the Keck School of Medicine of USC, GPAs and MCAT scores for entering students continue to rise. Scores on the Step One test of the medical license exams are up for the fifth consecutive year, 11 points above the national average.

USC is finding similar results at schools throughout the university. Students from the USC School of Dentistry rank in the top 10 nationally on Part One of the National Board of Dental Examiners test, and the school’s graduates rank in the top three when it comes to passing their licensure exams on the first try.

The USC Gould School of Law has given us a new bragging point. Many people know that I am proud of USC’s SAT scores, and have often heard me say that our scores are higher than those of UCLA or Berkeley. But I recently learned that USC’s law school graduates now pass the bar exam at a higher rate than both UCLA and Berkeley.

USC is also making a strong commitment to its graduate and professional students. The provost has put together a war chest of $15 million per year which will allow USC to compete head-to-head with any other university for the country’s best Ph.D. students.

Provost Nikias has also set aside some funds to advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. This program allows faculty in these disciplines to pursue important research that they would not be able to do otherwise, due to the paucity of research funding nationally in these areas.

The essential feature of excellence in university teaching – from freshmen through postdocs – is the relationship between individual professors and individual students. Recently I learned of a great example of the importance of the student-professor relationship at USC. In November 2007 USC Distinguished Professor Morten Lauridsen received the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony in the Oval Office. Professor Lauridsen is widely regarded as the world’s preeminent choral composer, as well as being an outstanding professor in the USC Thornton School of Music. And with three degrees from USC, he is one of the university’s most illustrious alumni.

Last fall USC held a reception in Professor Lauridsen’s honor, and he said something that really struck me. He told me about how he came to USC as a 19-year-old with a good, but not great, talent for playing the piano and the trumpet. Within a few weeks on USC’s campus, he knew that he wanted to be a composer. Because he had no portfolio and no experience, he had to convince the department chairman to let him try.

Today we know Professor Lauridsen as an internationally-acclaimed composer, but he was once just a freshman who needed a chance, needed someone to believe in him and guide him. He found that kind of individual support at USC. That is why Lauridsen insists on teaching at least one freshman course each year, in addition to teaching upper-division undergraduates and graduate students. Like so many of USC’s faculty, he knows that he might be the professor who inspires a student to achieve her dreams, forever changing the course of her life.

New Fundraising Campaign
I have discussed the many transformations taking place at USC today. Now let me share with you a bit of my vision for USC’s future, and most specifically for the university’s financial future.

Over the last few years, USC has greatly improved its financial underpinnings. The Building on Excellence campaign, which concluded at the end of 2002, raised nearly $3 billion, which made it, at that time, the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of American higher education.

The summer after the Building on Excellence campaign ended, USC held a special dinner to celebrate the success of the campaign and to thank the key players for their contributions. The evening was a jumble of emotions: relief, exhilaration, joy, and exhaustion. So I decided to have a little fun. I stepped up to the podium, looked out at the crowd, and said, “Kathryn and I are delighted to welcome all of you tonight to the kickoff dinner for USC’s new $5 billion fundraising campaign.” There was some laughter and a few concerned looks, but everyone knew I was joking.

Today, however, I am not joking. USC is in fact in the preliminary planning stages of a new
$5 billion fundraising campaign. This idea has been discussed among USC’s trustees, deans, and the Executive Board of the Academic Senate. If we decide to proceed, this new fundraising effort will be driven by our faculty and led by our deans, as was the case with the Building on Excellence campaign. Several of USC’s deans have already begun mini-campaigns within their respective units, and most of these are proving to be very successful.

Why does USC need to raise such huge sums of money? There are many answers to that question. First, while USC’s endowment has increased more than eight-fold over the past 17 years, the university’s endowment-per-student lags far behind that of our peer institutions. For example, USC’s endowment-per-student is $118,000, while Princeton’s is approximately $2.2 million and Stanford’s is $1.1 million. USC is much more efficient at delivering academic excellence than our well-heeled competitors, but in the long run we need a resource base that is at least roughly comparable to that of our peer institutions.

Over the last few years, USC has been very fortunate in economic terms, but our firm financial footing can quickly change to shaky ground due to forces and circumstances beyond our control. Higher education is more competitive than ever before. USC faces stiff competition in attracting the best students, in retaining and recruiting premier faculty members, in winning research grants, and in attracting major gifts.

How will USC raise $5 billion? The good news is that the university has already raised a substantial fraction of this amount, primarily through the school-based mini-campaigns I mentioned earlier. All told, USC has raised nearly $2 billion in new gifts and pledges which were not counted in the Building on Excellence campaign.

Moreover, during the past fiscal year, USC raised $470 million in cash and in-kind gifts received (not pledges), which ranked us ahead of every other university in America save Stanford and Harvard.

Is it possible for USC to raise $5 billion? Yes, I absolutely believe it is. Remember, when USC started its Building on Excellence campaign, many people doubted that the university could raise even $1 billion. In the end, we nearly tripled that figure.

Raising $5 billion is an audacious goal. But I enjoy challenges. And I believe USC has the faculty, deans, trustees, and alumni who can transform this goal into reality. Moreover, and perhaps best of all, USC can draw upon the unmatched strength of the worldwide Trojan Family.

As we look to the future I hope you will share my optimism about this new era at USC. We are transforming USC from a commuter institution into a residential university. We are re-making the physical landscape of our two campuses. We are witnessing a major change in the university’s leadership. We are watching new academic initiatives enrich our intellectual environment. And we are considering embarking on a $5 billion fundraising campaign that will help ensure the future excellence of USC.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from teaching a course on leadership these past 12 years is that you can’t copy your way to excellence. Rather, true excellence can only be achieved through original thinking and unconventional approaches. And therein lies one of USC’s greatest strengths, because we are nothing if not original and unconventional. That is why I am confident that, working together, we can make USC one of the most productive and influential research universities in the world.