University of Southern California

Office of the President

C. L. Max Nikias

C. L. Max Nikias Biography

C. L. Max Nikias became the University of Southern California’s eleventh president in August 2010. He holds the Robert C. Packard President’s Chair and the Malcolm R. Currie Chair in Technology and the Humanities, and chairs the USC Health System Board. He has been at USC since 1991, as a professor, director of national research centers, dean, provost, and now president. He holds faculty appointments in both electrical engineering and the classics. Additionally, he leads special freshman seminars each fall on ancient Athenian democracy and drama.

Dr. Nikias is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a charter fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among numerous other honors, he has received the IEEE Simon Ramo Medal, the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and the University of Cyprus.

Dr. Nikias is recognized internationally for his pioneering research on digital signal processing, digital media systems, and biomedicine. The U.S. Department of Defense has adopted a number of his innovations and patents in sonar, radar, and communication systems. He has authored more than 275 journal articles and conference papers, three textbooks, and eight patents, and has mentored more than 30 Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars. Three of his publications received prestigious best papers awards.

As president, Dr. Nikias has articulated a vision for USC to attain undisputed, elite status as a global research university. His initiatives include recruiting a cadre of transformative, world-class faculty; elevating USC’s academic medical enterprise; expanding USC’s international presence; further improving the breadth and quality of USC’s outstanding student body; and embarking on the largest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has called Dr. Nikias a “prodigious fundraiser.” His first three years as president were highlighted by 23 transformative gifts that allowed USC to raise an unprecedented total of $3 billion. These gifts include a $200 million gift from Dana and David Dornsife to name USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences—the single largest donation in the university’s history; a $150 million gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation for medicine; a $142 million gift from an anonymous donor;  $110 million gift from Julie and John Mork to support student scholarships; a $70 million gift from Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young for arts, technology, and the business of innovation; a $50 million gift from the Price Family Charitable Fund to endow and name the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy; and a $50 million gift from Dr. Gary Michelson for convergent bioscience.

Dr. Nikias brought the nation’s largest literary festival, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, to USC. In addition, under his leadership, the university embarked on a major capital construction initiative that already includes the McKay Center for athletics, the Engemann Student Health Center, a new Cinematic Arts building, the University Club at Stoops, the Soto Building on the Health Sciences Campus, Dauterive Hall for social sciences, Annenberg Hall for journalism, and beautification projects for both of USC’s campuses, which include the planting of thousands of trees.

In recognition of his efforts to renew USC’s athletics heritage, The New York Times selected Dr. Nikias as one of a small number of national figures “who make sports’ little corner of the world a better place.”

From June 2005 to August 2010, Dr. Nikias served as USC’s provost and chief academic officer, during which time he was charged with accelerating the academic momentum that USC had experienced in recent years. He was instrumental in bringing USC trustee Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute and its vast video archive of 55,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors to USC. Dr. Nikias also established the university’s Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, Stevens Center for Innovation, U.S.-China Institute, and Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics. He launched Visions and Voices, USC’s acclaimed campus-wide arts and humanities initiative, as well as a grant program to advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. Dr. Nikias spearheaded the integration of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s faculty practice plans, oversaw the transfer of University Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corporation to the university, and recruited a new leadership team for USC’s medical enterprise.

From 2001 to 2005, Dr. Nikias served as dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, solidifying its position as a top-tier engineering school. He directed the expansion of the school’s biomedical engineering enterprise and developed its distance-learning program into one of the largest in the country at that time. He oversaw the development of the school’s cutting-edge Tutor Hall of Engineering. He also established key partnerships with corporations, among them Pratt & Whitney, Airbus, Boeing, Chevron, and Northrop Grumman, and led an unprecedented fundraising campaign that brought in more than $250 million, capped by a historic $52 million school-naming gift from Andrew and Erna Viterbi.

Over his two-decade career as an active scholar, Dr. Nikias was internationally recognized for his pioneering research on digital signal processing, digital media systems, and biomedicine. He was founding director of two national research centers at USC: the NSF-funded Integrated Media Systems Center and the Department of Defense (DoD)-funded Center for Research on Applied Signal Processing. The DoD has adopted a number of his innovations and patents in sonar, radar, and communication systems.

Dr. Nikias graduated with honors from Famagusta Gymnasium, a school that emphasizes sciences, history, and Greco-Roman classics. He received a diploma from the National Technical University of Athens, also known as National Metsovion Polytechnic, the oldest and most prestigious higher education institution of Greece, and later earned his M.S. and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was awarded the Aristeia medal, the Republic of Cyprus’s highest honor in the letters, arts, and sciences. In addition, he received the USC Black Alumni Association’s Thomas Kilgore Service Award, and earned a commendation for cutting-edge research from the governor of California.

His wife, Niki C. Nikias, received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece and a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in finance from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She worked as a corporate accountant in Athens and London and as an accountant and finance consultant in the United States before taking leave to raise their two daughters, Georgiana and Maria.

The USC Alumni Association named Dr. and Mrs. Nikias honorary alumni of USC. The family has kept a home in the Palos Verdes Peninsula since 1991. Georgiana graduated from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a double major in English and archaeology and later earned a master’s degree in world archaeology from Oxford University and a J.D. degree from the USC Gould School of Law. She was inducted into the California Bar in 2012. Maria earned her B.A. degree in broadcast journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with a minor in entrepreneurship.