USC
University of Southern California
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About USC

A Brief History

Los Angeles was little more than a frontier town in the 1870s, when a group of public-spirited citizens with a reverence for learning first sought to establish a university in the region. Although the "city" still lacked paved streets, electric lights, telephones and a reliable fire alarm system, the effort to create an institution of higher education in Southern California, led by members of the region's Methodist Episcopal Conference, found an enthusiastic reception among the more far-sighted residents, who were eager to advance their community.

In 1879, three community leaders -- Ozro W. Childs, a Protestant horticulturist; former California Governor John G. Downey, an Irish-Catholic businessman; and Isaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish banker and philanthropist -- deeded to the Board of Trustees of the nascent University of Southern California 308 lots, which were located in an area designated "West Los Angeles," near the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Exposition Boulevard. A portion of the land, which was located within the original land grant establishing "El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles," was to be reserved for the actual campus. Sales of the remaining lots would create an endowment to provide the seeds of financial support for the institution. More than an act of generosity, the gift of land was an expression of confidence in the future.

Era of the Founders (1880-1921)

Among the founders of USC, the prime mover was Judge Robert Maclay Widney, a leading Los Angeles businessman who had come to the area to practice law and develop real estate. It was Widney who, after 11 years, succeeded in forming a board of trustees for the future university and secured the donation from Childs, Downey and Hellman, which enabled the new university to open in 1880 with 53 students and 10 teachers.

In 1880, Marion McKinley Bovard became USC's first president, after serving as head pastor at the Fort Street Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Bovard presided over seven boom years prior to 1887 and then over five years of fiscal uncertainty and near collapse, until his death in December 1891.

The man who accepted the task of coping with the financial difficulties of the period was Dr. Joseph P. Widney, brother of Robert Maclay Widney and the first dean of the USC Medical School (1885-1896). Widney served the university for three years, asking little compensation. In 1895 he left the presidency to resume his medical practice.

During the successive presidencies of George W. White at the turn of the century and George Finley Bovard, brother of USC's first president, the young university struggled to keep up with the demands placed on it by the rapidly expanding Southern California community. The population of Los Angeles had grown from 11,000 in 1880 to 319,000 in 1910. While, elsewhere in the country, the Carnegies, Cornells, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Stanfords were heavily endowing universities during the late 19th century, USC forged ahead largely on the energies of its faculty, deans, presidents and trustees.

During this period, the forerunners to today's schools or departments of education, dentistry, law, music, fine arts, marine biology, sociology, philosophy, journalism, pharmacy, business, religion and engineering were all added to the university.

The years of World War I were difficult, demonstrating, as had the financial panic of the 1890s, that USC was vulnerable to economic cycles, but nevertheless resilient in difficult times. One bright spot of the period was that USC's spirited athletic teams were, in 1912, officially dubbed the "Trojans" by Los Angeles Times sportswriter Owen R. Bird.

The von KleinSmid Era (1921-1947)

Rufus Bernhard von KleinSmid -- or "Dr. Von" as he was affectionately known -- became USC's fifth president in 1921. By the end of his first decade in office, USC had attained full national accreditation, established a graduate school to unify graduate work across the university and had become a large non-denominational institution. Altogether, the von KleinSmid era lasted 27 years and included many pioneering academic ventures.

In 1919, the School of Architecture was established; in 1924, von KleinSmid established the nation's first school of international relations; in 1929, the nation's second school of public administration was established; and in 1929, the nation's first program in cinematography was initiated. The first Ph.D. degree conferred in Southern California was given at USC in 1923.

The first priority of von KleinSmid's administration was to expand professional training programs; however, the Great Depression had arrived at decade's end, and once again, USC was forced to retrench. Army barracks were constructed on campus to supplement the nine major buildings von KleinSmid had built prior to the Depression years, and the curriculum was adjusted to a wartime emphasis in international relations, history, geography, languages, aerospace science and the like. Crowded conditions were exacerbated by some 2,000 military trainees on campus by 1943.

After the war, the lack of space at USC actually grew worse, as the G.I. Bill brought former servicemen to the university for study. Enrollments soared from 8,500 in 1945 to over 24,000 in 1947. In 1946 von KleinSmid, then 70 years old, elected to step down and became chancellor of the university for life.

Era of Maturity (1946-1980)

As support for higher education increased, USC began a new, modern era which brought maturity and increased significance both nationally and internationally. President Fred D. Fagg, Jr. began the process by instituting modern cost-accounting practices, purchasing land near the Los Angeles County Hospital for a health sciences campus, and establishing a development office. Fagg also initiated the construction of six buildings, began an aggressive program of land acquisition and increased the library collection by two-thirds.

In 1958, Dr. Norman Topping became Fagg's successor, beginning two of the most dynamic decades in USC's history. Topping established a comprehensive planning commission which produced, in May 1961, the Master Plan for Enterprise and Excellence in Education. This courageous and forward-looking academic blueprint included a fund-raising goal of $106,675,000 in new funds. Though Topping predicted the goal might take 20 years to accomplish, it was reached and surpassed in little more than five.

The crowning achievement of the Topping years was USC's election to the Association of American Universities, an organization made up today of 62 leading public and private universities. The AAU bases membership on general excellence with an emphasis on graduate and research programs.

When Topping stepped down in 1970, the mantle of leadership was passed to John R. Hubbard.

Hubbard charted his priorities as bringing USC to the highest level of academic excellence and distinction possible. Toward these ends, he launched an overwhelmingly successful fund-raising effort.

Though American higher education in the 1970s was characterized by lowered enrollments and a drop-off in funding, USC rose to new heights. Ten major buildings were begun or completed, USC's total number of endowed chairs and professorships rose to 67; applications for admission soared from 4,100 in 1970 to over 11,000 in 1979; and the mean grade point average for admitted freshmen rose to 3.4 on a 4.0 scale.

Great Expectations (1980-1991)

James H. Zumberge was inaugurated as the ninth president of USC on May 10, 1981, during a ceremony that was the capstone of a year of celebrations marking the centennial of the university.

Building on an academic planning process that began early in his tenure, Zumberge was instrumental in defining the goals that became the basis for The Campaign for USC, the biggest fund-raising program in the university's history. When the campaign concluded in June 1990, it had raised $641.6 million in support of a wide variety of capital projects, had contributed more than $188 million to the university's endowment and boosted annual support of university programs to unprecedented levels.

USC also made major strides in funding for research during the Zumberge years. Sponsored research funding grew from $71.5 million in 1981 to $174.5 million in 1990 a 144 percent increase. Major research efforts, such as the USC-based National Center for Integrated Photonic Technology and the Southern California Earthquake Center, contributed significantly to USC's emergence as one of the nation's premier research universities.

Among the more than a dozen major new buildings completed during Zumberge's tenure were the Hedco Neurosciences Building, the General William Lyon University Center, the Cinema-Television Complex, the University Bookstore and Zohrab A. Kaprielian Hall, as well as major additions to the Architecture and Fine Arts Library and Law School. A new Teaching Library was in advanced stages of planning.

USC's Health Sciences campus also underwent dramatic transformations during the Zumberge Decade. It nearly doubled in size with the acquisition of land and existing buildings from Los Angeles County. As Zumberge stepped down, the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, which opened in 1983, was in the final stages of fund-raising for a major building addition, and construction was nearing completion on the Richard K. Eamer Medical Plaza, a cooperative project of the university and National Medical Enterprises. The plaza includes the 284-bed USC University Hospital and the USC Healthcare Consultation Center.

Steven B. Sample (1991-present)

Steven B. Sample, the tenth president of the University of Southern California, inaugurated his tenure by establishing five priorities for USC during the 1990s. They include strengthening the quality of undergraduate education, developing the Health Sciences campus into a world-renowned center for excellence in clinical research and care, recruiting a larger number of the best doctoral and post-doctoral students, expanding USC's tradition of public service by focusing on the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the two campuses, and improving the quality of USC programs and services while conserving resources.

Since Sample took office, USC has marked several major milestones. Chemistry Professor George Olah, director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, won the Nobel Prize. The university enrolled the most academically talented freshman classes in its history, topped the $420 million mark in sponsored research and completed two comprehensive, university-wide strategic planning processes designed to take USC to the next level of academic excellence. It also mounted the second most successful fundraising campaign in the history of higher education, raising nearly $3 billion. USC became the only university to receive four separate nine-figure gifts in one campaign -- $112.5 million from Alfred Mann to establish the Mann Institute of Biomedical Engineering, $120 million from Ambassador Walter Annenberg to create the Annenberg Center for Communication, $110 million from the W. M. Keck Foundation for USC's School of Medicine, and a second gift from the Annenberg Foundation of $100 million. In addition, several important facilities have opened including the USC University Hospital, McAlister Academic Resource Center in Heritage Hall, the W. M. Keck Foundation Photonics Research Laboratory, USC Viterbi School of Engineering Ronald Tudor Hall, the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Library, and the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center expansion project. Under Sample's leadership, USC was named College of the Year 2000 by the editors of Time magazine and the Princeton Review for the university's extensive community service programs.

President Sample has had a distinguished career that includes teaching and administration as well as research and its practical application. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sample served on the faculty at Purdue University, then held administrative posts on the Illinois Board of Higher Education and at the University of Nebraska before assuming the presidency of the State University of New York at Buffalo. An award-winning scientist and inventor, Sample has consulted extensively for industrial firms. In 1998, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He has received honorary degrees from a number of institutions, including Purdue University and the University of Nebraska.

Throughout his career, Sample has continued to teach. During his first year at USC, he co-taught a freshman seminar, "Science and Technology in Human Culture," and he has since taught junior-level classes in electrical engineering. Currently, Sample and Professor Warren Bennis co-teach the course "The Art and Adventure of Leadership," Sample's bestselling book The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, was chosen by the Toronto Globe as one of the 10 best business books of 2001, and has been translated into five languages. He has also been involved in community projects, taking an active role in a number of business, civic and social service organizations.

The National Council of Christian and Jews (now renamed the National Conference for Community and Justice) of Buffalo, N.Y., recognized him in 1991 for his civic leadership and humanitarianism. An advocate of reform in the nation's public elementary and secondary schools, Sample chaired the Los Angeles Metropolitan Project (LAMP), a group of community and education leaders which won a $53 million challenge grant from Ambassador Walter Annenberg to accelerate local school improvement efforts. He currently serves on the boards of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now (LEARN), Project California of the California Council in Science and Technology, and the Coalition of 100 of Los Angeles, among others.