December 22, 2014
Niki and I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Throughout this month, we are extremely fortunate to spend time with many members of the USC community, and we’re always touched to see—and feel—the special version of holiday spirit that our Trojan Family shares. We truly appreciate the many kind wishes and greetings we receive.
It was in this same spirit of warmth that Niki and I welcomed more than 350 USC students to our home on Thanksgiving Day, continuing a tradition we began shortly after my inauguration in 2010. The San Marino Outlook published an excellent story on this year’s event, and I’d like to share it with you here.
We were especially fortunate that this year the chairman of our Board of Trustees, John Mork, and his wife, Julie, joined us in hosting these students, who hailed from all over the world. Many of the students who attended were far from their families, so this was an opportunity to experience this uniquely American holiday among Trojans. For others—including some students from places as close as Pasadena and Glendale—this was an opportunity to spend this special day with their new Trojan Family. Niki and I were particularly pleased that our own daughters—Georgiana and Maria, both of whom are USC graduates—shared in this experience. It was a very special and memorable afternoon.
USC Pacific Asia Museum gala
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Niki and I attended the Festival of the Autumn Moon Gala, the first since the Pacific Asia Museum became a part of the USC family. The beautiful event honored USC Trustee Dominic Ng, chairman and chief executive officer of East West Bank, for his professional and philanthropic accomplishments, as well as his ardent support of Asian art and culture. Along with his wife, Ellen Wong, Mr. Ng stands among our nation’s leaders in introducing contemporary Chinese art to American audiences.
The event raised a record amount of support for the museum and drew more than 550 guests, including USC Trustee Ming Hsieh and his wife, Eva. The Hsiehs are passionate collectors of Asian art, and Mr. Hsieh has been instrumental in connecting the museum with new members of our community. This event takes place annually, and this year’s gala signals a magnificent future for the USC Pacific Asia Museum.
USC Institute of Urology gala raises $2 million
At another exceptional event in November, the USC Institute of Urology raised $2 million to support its world-class patient care and research programs—and it did so in a single night! The gala honored Derrick Hall, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks major league baseball franchise, who stands proudly as a prostate cancer survivor and advocate. Mr. Hall received the inaugural Louis Zamperini Courage Award, which bears the name of the late Olympian and USC alumnus who survived a harrowing imprisonment during World War II. Dean Carmen Puliafito of the Keck School of Medicine and Dr. Inderbir Gill, the institute’s founding executive director, hosted the event, which included performances by singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow and comedian Jay Leno, and was emceed by Joe Piscopo. USC Trustee Rick Caruso and his wife, Tina, graciously served as co-chairs, along with baseball executive Ken Kendrick and his wife, Randy.
As Niki and I reflect on a truly remarkable year for USC, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you warmly for serving as a USC Ambassador. In sharing the university’s successes with your friends and family, you contribute tremendously to its stature among a much wider community, and you help tell the USC story to new audiences and supporters. For this we are truly grateful.
Niki and I look forward to the coming year, and all that it holds for our Trojan Family. We hope 2015 is a particularly special and productive year for you.
C. L. Max Nikias
November 26, 2014
As the holiday season begins, Niki and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. We look forward to welcoming nearly 400 students to our home on Thanksgiving Day again this year, continuing a tradition we began when I became president. This is always a special highlight of our holidays.
President’s Distinguished Lecture series
Earlier this month, we welcomed President Bill Clinton to Bovard Auditorium, as part of our President’s Distinguished Lecture series. President Clinton delivered thought-provoking remarks, and then engaged in a lively one-on-one discussion with Dean James Ellis of our Marshall School of Business. Speaking directly to our students, who filled Bovard to the rafters, President Clinton said, “The next 20 years look good to me. I wish I were your age. I’d love to see what’s going to happen. We’re entering an age of unprecedented discovery.” Last year, as part of this same lecture series, we welcomed President and Mrs. George W. Bush.
Accessibility of higher education
The Washington Post recently published an op-ed I wrote regarding the cost of higher education, and the need for more private universities to offer opportunities to community college students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. USC admitted 824 of these students last year; however, at most elite, private institutions, fewer than one of every 1,000 students are transfers from a community college. We have found that, at USC, these students graduate at the same rate as those who enter as freshmen, and 44 percent are the first in their families to attend college. This is an important success—both for USC and society—as these graduates often become leaders in their communities.
USC Michelson Center construction begins
USC recently broke ground on the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience—a significant step forward in our ambition to create a vibrant, interdisciplinary hub for convergent bioscience. Dr. Gary K. Michelson, a retired orthopaedic spinal surgeon who has pioneered more than 955 issued or pending patents worldwide, provided a $50 million gift for the center, which will foster collaborations between our Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Viterbi School of Engineering. At the event, Dr. Michelson noted that USC is an engine for entrepreneurs, and predicted that our city will be the next wellspring for biomedical advances. “Los Angeles should become to medical research what Silicon Valley is to information technology,” Dr. Michelson said. “We owe it to the world. We owe it to L.A. We need to invest in this.”
Renowned Scripps scientists join USC
Two recent recruits to USC—Professors Raymond Stevens and Peter Kuhn—have moved their labs from The Scripps Research Institute to the USC Michelson Center, and their recruitment to USC already has received tremendous attention, as they will also bring approximately 50 researchers with them. The Chronicle of Higher Education described them as “game-changing” biomedical scientists, and in the same article, Professor Stevens said he was drawn to USC’s emphasis on convergent bioscience. Professor Kuhn added that at USC, “You work together on incredibly relevant problems to find solutions that are truly meaningful.” The story mentioned that in the past several years, USC has recruited 75 new faculty and institute directors to Keck Medicine of USC.
Meanwhile, in the Times of San Diego, Professor Stevens said USC’s expertise in digital art will prove critical in bridging the scientific and engineering disciplines. Professor Kuhn added, “USC unites the best of the best, who align on the vision of improving human health.”
Iovine and Young Academy receives accolade
The USC Iovine Young Academy—founded with a generous gift from music industry icons Jimmy Iovine and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young—continues to draw praise. The Wall Street Journal recognized the academy founders with the WSJ Magazine 2014 Innovator Awards for Entrepreneurship. The accompanying story describes the USC academy as a “dream factory” dedicated to developing entrepreneurship and innovation in the music industry. In the piece, Mr. Iovine said, “We wanted to build a school that we feel is what the entertainment industry needs right now.” The academy’s executive director, Erica Muhl, said, “There are a lot of other programs around the country that marry business and technology, but they’re all missing that arts and cultural component. The difference with us is we start with the arts part.”
C. L. Max Nikias
October 31, 2014
This has been an extraordinarily exciting and busy month on the USC campuses, and Niki and I have a number of wonderful news items to share. On the one-year anniversary of their arrival at USC, Professors Paul Thompson and Arthur Toga received two Centers of Excellence awards from the National Institutes of Health. The centers—with combined funding of $23 million—will form part of a “big data” initiative, which will make massive biomedical data sets more accessible to researchers. Professor Toga will draw on the cell and brain samples of 30,000 patients from around the world to develop data management and analysis strategies. Professor Thompson will gather 307 scientists in 33 countries, scouring their data for solutions to a range of diseases, from autism to depression and mental illness.
Jill and Frank Fertitta Hall breaks ground
Meanwhile, construction on our campuses continues apace, and in recent weeks, our community came together to celebrate two historic, new buildings. In September, USC began work on Jill and Frank Fertitta Hall, which will provide a new home for undergraduates at our Marshall School of Business. This building will stand at the southeast corner of our University Park Campus, and reflect the Fertittas’ expansive vision for how our students can grow as entrepreneurs in our increasingly globalized society.
Wallis Annenberg Hall dedicated
We also marked the official opening of Wallis Annenberg Hall. This leading-edge facility bears the name of one of the university’s greatest supporters; as USC’s longest-serving trustee, Wallis Annenberg has provided stellar guidance and counsel to our university for more than four decades. And thanks to her support—and with the building’s high-tech digital tools—USC will help Annenberg students create and convey timeless stories that connect and chronicle the human journey for generations to come.
Iovine and Young Academy disrupts the status quo
This fall, we welcomed the inaugural class of the USC Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, and Billboard magazine published an excellent story on the academy’s highly creative students and their new learning laboratory, “The Garage.” Producers and namesakes Jimmy Iovine and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young pledged $70 million to found the academy, which is cultivating the next generation of “disruptive” innovators. As a follow up to this story, during the USC Global Conversation in New York earlier this month, Mr. Iovine discussed his vision for the academy, and how USC became its home.
USC and WIRED create new online degree
Continuing innovation at the graduate level, this month we announced a partnership with Condé Nast and WIRED magazine to create an online master’s degree in Integrated Design, Business, and Technology. Our partnership combines USC’s academic rigor with the expertise of WIRED’s writers, editors, and designers. The 18-24 month program will educate creative thinkers and technologists, preparing them to reimagine the world of industry and enterprise. The first cohort will begin next fall.
Two USC faculty receive special accolades
Los Angeles Magazine tapped Professor Roberta Diaz Brinton as its Woman of the Year, recognizing her decades-long research to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Brinton has developed two compounds currently in clinical trials that have exceptional potential to address the progressive condition, which currently afflicts more than five million people in the United States alone.
Meanwhile, Fortune magazine included Professor Tracy Fullerton among its list of the 10 most influential women in video games. Professor Fullerton directs the USC Game Innovation Lab at our School of Cinematic Arts. The story noted USC is one of the top gaming schools in the world.
I’d like to conclude with a few special updates. Dominic Ng, chairman and chief executive officer of East West Bank, recently joined the USC Board of Trustees. Mr. Ng stands among our city’s most venerable civic leaders, and brings tremendous breadth of experience to this role.
In addition, CNN published a list of top schools with billionaire undergraduate alumni, and USC ranked an impressive fourth, after only the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Yale—and ahead of Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford. And finally, I recently sat down with a reporter from C-Suite Quarterly for a wide-ranging interview regarding USC and its place among our nation’s top private institutions. Our discussion included major USC supporters, such as Gary Michelson and Glorya Kaufman, as well as USC’s economic impact on our region. I hope you enjoy the resulting article.
C. L. Max Nikias
Topics: News, Uncategorized
C. L. Max Nikias, Niki C. Nikias, Erna Viterbi, Andrew Viterbi
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering community celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the school’s naming gift on Sept. 30, 2014. The $52 million gift was generously bestowed by Andrew and Erna Viterbi in 2004, and the gift was a milestone for the university under the dean of that time, C. L. Max Nikias, now president of USC.
Communications pioneer and USC Trustee Andrew J. Viterbi — who in 1962 earned one of the first doctorates in electrical engineering granted at the University of Southern California — is widely recognized as the engineer whose work enabled the development of CDMA mobile phones, wi-fi, and host of other current technologies.
September 30, 2014
As the academic year moves forward, Niki and I reflect on the first full month of classes with tremendous pride and gratitude. The USC community has celebrated a number of landmark events in the past few weeks, highlighted by the groundbreaking for the USC Village, the largest development project in the history of USC, and, we believe, the history of south Los Angeles.
USC’s first-rate faculty and student body need first-rate facilities, and Los Angeles needs its private university—its largest private employer—to be at its best, its most productive and influential. The USC Village—with its majestic architecture, park-like piazza at the center, and ground floor lined by trees and filled with cafés and restaurants—will serve as an inviting new town square for all members of our community, and create a true home away from home for our students. It will add 2,700 beds for student housing, dramatically increasing the university’s residential space, and include a gym and a Trader Joe’s grocery store that will serve our entire neighborhood.
Leavey Honors Hall at the USC Village
The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Honors Hall will stand at the heart of the USC Village, and house up to 600 of our most academically ambitious students. Leavey Honors Hall was made possible by a generous $30 million gift from Trustee Kathleen McCarthy and her family’s foundation, and speaks to her longstanding commitment to our undergraduate students. In Leavey Honors Hall, our students will enjoy an unsurpassed range of options for academic, social, and cultural growth, as they work with, and live alongside, our most distinguished faculty. I am particularly pleased that Mrs. McCarthy has stepped forward with the first major gift to our USC Village.
Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. McCarthy’s support continues a suite of stellar gifts from trustees, including a historic $20 million gift from Trustee Ronnie Chan and his wife, Barbara, directed in support of our top-ranked occupational science and occupational therapy program. The Chans’ gift honors Ronnie’s dear mother, and will endow and name the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. This is the first naming gift and the largest ever made to any occupational therapy program in the history of the field.
Their gift also greatly extends the division’s international reach, as it creates the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Occupational Therapy China Initiative, which will establish a partnership with a top Chinese university to develop a graduate program in occupational therapy in China. In addition, this gift endows the Mrs. T.H. Chan Professorship in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, which will be held by the division’s leader, Dr. Florence Clark. The Chans’ gift—their third major gift to USC—reflects their family’s ongoing dedication to the university.
Dauterive Hall welcomes scholars
Earlier this month, the USC community came together to formally dedicate Dr. Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall, the university’s first interdisciplinary social sciences building. Trustee Verna Dauterive—a two-time alumna of USC—committed the $30 million gift in memory of her late husband, Peter, a graduate of our Marshall School of Business. The couple met in Doheny Memorial Library during their student days. At the dedication ceremony, Dr. Dauterive said, “I am deeply humbled and very excited about the building, but I am even more excited about what will happen inside: gifted bright stars working together to change the world in wonderful ways that will create brighter futures for all societies.”
Viterbi professors honored for innovation
MIT Technology Review recently published its prestigious annual list of Innovators Under 35, all exceptionally talented technologists whose work has tremendous potential to transform the world. USC faculty routinely appear on the list, and this year, an impressive three USC Viterbi faculty were recognized: Professor George Ban-Weiss, as a humanitarian for his contributions to climate research; Professor Megan McCain, as a pioneer who advances personalized cardiac medicines; and Professor Maryam Shanechi, as a pioneer who uses control theory to understand the brain.
Judge Widney statue dedicated
As the semester began, our campus community came together for a memorable ceremony to dedicate a statue in honor of Judge Robert Maclay Widney, USC’s chief architect and founder. Judge Widney played a seminal role in USC’s birth and early growth. He personally drafted the university’s articles of incorporation, served as the first chairman of our Board of Trustees, and donated $100,000—an extraordinary amount in that age—for the university’s first endowment fund. He was a dreamer and a builder, and through force of will, he reimagined a region and the destinies of countless others who would follow here. For generations of Trojans, this statue will serve as a monument to his permanent place in USC history.
C. L. Max Nikias
Topics: News, Uncategorized
On September 20, 2014, USC President C. L. Max Nikias was honored as the recipient of the Los Angeles Police Museum’s 21st Annual Jack Webb Awards. The award is presented annually to individuals who make positive contributions to their communities by partnering with law enforcement.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck presented the Award to President Nikias in recognition of his and USC’s longstanding work and close cooperation.
Beck said, “President Nikias has been an extraordinary partner and exceptional friend, not only to me, but to the men and women who proudly serve the City of Los Angeles. He exemplifies the values and traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and is deserving of the Jack Webb Award for his significant commitment to the LAPD and life-long support of the entire law enforcement community.”
Topics: News, Uncategorized
(left to right) Community representative Maria Guadalupe Garrido, graduate student government President Yohey Tokumitsu, Vice Provost, Student Affairs Ainsley Carry, USC Trustee Kathleen McCarthy, USC President C.L. Max Nikias, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Tomas, Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price and undergraduate student government President Andrew Menard during the USC Village Groundbreaking Celebration. (USC Photo/ Gus Ruelas)
Hundreds of supporters, civic leaders, and USC leadership arrived for the historic groundbreaking of the USC Village—a new student housing, retail, and dining center adjacent to the USC campus. In attendance were Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, Councilmember Curren Price, former Los Angeles City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilmember Mitch Englander, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Compton Mayor Aja Brown.
The biggest development in the history of USC at $650 million, the project also will be one of the largest in the history of South Los Angeles, providing thousands of jobs and pumping billions of dollars into the local economy.
Phase one of this development project involves 1.25 million square feet of land that includes greenspace space, retail space, communal space and residential housing, all within a masterpiece of collegiate Gothic architecture redefined for the 21st century.
A special guest at the event was USC Trustee Kathleen Leavey McCarthy, who, with the Leavey Foundation donated $30 million to create the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Honors Hall at the new USC Village.
Read more at USC News.
September 2, 2014
C. L. Max Nikias
Good morning! I’m delighted to be here, and to personally welcome you all to the Trojan Family. Your time at USC is going to be one of the most meaningful experiences of your life, an experience that will indeed last a lifetime. Once you become a Trojan, you are a Trojan for life.
Today I also want to affirm USC’s commitment to sportsmanship, embodied in the NCAA’s rules and regulations. They represent the guidelines to which we and our competitors have agreed to abide. They represent the foundation of sportsmanship and the foundation of our own efforts to reach greatness.
But first, I’d like to begin by thanking our athletic director. One of the high points of my time as USC president has been the opportunity to work alongside Pat Haden. I am grateful for how he took on this challenging assignment, at a particularly challenging time.
Years from now, people will be singing the praises of Pat Haden for his patient and principled and firm leadership—for how he brought USC Athletics through an important era of renewal, even as intercollegiate athletics themselves are going through a transformation nationally.
I also want to thank Dave Roberts, our vice president for compliance, and Clare Pastore, our Faculty Athletic Representative, for their incredible leadership, wisdom, and hard work. They have our student-athletes on course for the greatest success in life. But they also understand that we are in a sensitive position.
Even while the NCAA is undergoing dramatic changes, any new infractions here could be seen as repeat violations that would bring severe punishment to our programs. So even a minor, debatable, unintentional violation by anyone associated with USC could take our destiny out of our own hands, and place it in the hands of others.
We must do our best to keep this from happening. While the rules may be evolving, let ourselves continue to be guided by timeless codes of honor. Protect your team, and expect them to protect one another, rather than to look out for their individual interests. Avoid making serious mistakes, and avoid making silly mistakes.
At USC, we speak of winning with integrity. Integritas was a Latin term. It stood for wholeness, for completeness. Only something that was whole and complete could be seen as good and pure.
Let me tell you how special you are. Last year we received 53,000 applications for the 2,700 seats in our freshman class. The applicants were extraordinary—some of the best in America. It’s a reminder that it is very hard to become a student at the University of Southern California, and you are now one of them.
But it is even harder—much harder—to be a student-athlete at USC. I know you must make sacrifices that ordinary students do not make. Sacrifices that athletes elsewhere do not make. I understand that. I deeply appreciate that.
But I know that this is for a reason: Because you are not ordinary people. You are Trojan student-athletes, who have been marked out for greatness. We will be here for you, to help you reach greatness.
In this regard, your coaches are your teachers, just like the professors in the classroom. All of them have been instructed to teach discipline and character to you.
Why? Because “Character is destiny.” A man or woman’s character is what inevitably shapes the course of her life. Through the centuries, this timeless truth has been reaffirmed by figures from Pericles to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Vince Lombardi.
You probably know that USC has produced more Olympians than any other school in the world. If USC competed as a separate nation, the Trojan Nation, our 288 all-time Summer Olympics medals would rank 16th most in the world, while our 135 gold medals would rank 12th.
I love this link to the great Olympics of antiquity. Those games celebrated excellence in mind and body and spirit. Excellence in all things! Like no other university community in America, the USC Trojans embody that ideal here in our day.
The ancient Greeks took this Olympic competition more seriously than life itself. Even if ancient Greek nation-states were at war, they were expected to honor a truce, allowing athletes to travel freely to the games.
Do you know why some of the decisive battles in the history of Western civilization, like Marathon and Salamis, were fought in the month of September? Because foreign armies knew the Greeks would be obsessed with the Olympics in August. So invading armies tried to use that timing to their personal advantage.
From those first Olympics, I would like to offer to some observations about honor and sportsmanship. In the original Olympic games, the winner received not a medal but a simple wreath made of a humble olive branch—just an ordinary and common object.
But that ordinary and common object had been infused with special significance: It represented honor, which was worth more than silver or gold. This too shocked outsiders, who wondered, “What sort of people compete so passionately for honor, rather than for money or fame?” The answer is that it was the kind of people who would go on to provide the foundation for much of the greatness that we enjoy in today’s world.
There are two contrasting examples of that ancient quest for glory. First, there is the cautionary tale of a boxer named Eupolus, who was one of the first athletes accused of disgracing the games in 388 B.C. Eupolus bribed three competitors to let him win, so that he could receive the olive wreath of victory.
But it was taken from him, and he and the other three were all punished. They paid fines, they were flogged, and they were officially purged from the memory of society. Society always punishes cheaters and those who break the rules—never do that.
But in contrast there is the powerful example of a young man named Mandrogenes, who excelled in the sport of pankration. This was an intense combination of boxing and wresting. Mandrogenes would win with honor, but then he would always insist, “The credit goes to my coach, who is my teacher.” That spirit is the spirit of USC Athletics.
Mandrogenes’ coach once wrote to the young man’s mother about his unceasing, relentless determination in what was sometimes a very deadly sport. The coach wrote: “If you should hear that your son is dead, believe it. But if you hear that he is defeated, do not believe it!”
Mandrogenes did “Fight On,” indeed, with all his might, all his being, and all his honor. Always remember to give credit to your coaches. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Your coaches are your teachers. Acknowledge them, and give them credit.
We see that same spirit today, here at USC. We see it in our athletic director and our coaches. We see it in the legendary alumni who return here to inspire new generations of student-athletes like yourselves. And we look forward to seeing it in you when you return, years from now, to inspire and teach the next generation of Trojans.
Bear in mind that, on average, you will live to the age of 90, thanks to medical advances. In other words, most of you here will be alive for 70 years after your USC career is over. Even many of the most successful ones, who will be inducted into Halls of Fame, will be alive for 60 years upon the end of your athletic careers.
So, for USC, everything that we do—everything!—is done with an eye toward who you will be over the long course of your lifetime. Remember: Most of your life will come after your playing days. The crowds will grow silent as you grow older. Your life will then consist of what you have begun to build here: good relationships, good education, and above all a good reputation.
Yes, we speak of NCAA “compliance” today, but let us continue speaking of character, which understands compliance, but which rises above compliance. Compliance is a stumbling block for most people, but it is a stepping stone for those with high character. That is true greatness. It results from simple, hard work, and from good choices.
I am proud and pleased that you have made some wonderful choices so far:
You did not choose to pursue a degree from an ordinary college. You chose to have the life-changing experience of an extraordinary university with excellent academic programs.
You did not choose to live in an average city. You chose to spend your college years in one of the most exciting cities in the world. You passed up Florida and Alabama and South Bend and Eugene and Nebraska and Palo Alto. You came here, to the heart of Los Angeles, the most exciting city in the world!
No university in America combines USC’s undisputed commitment to championship athletics with excellent academics. No one else offers USC’s combination of quality and location, and worldwide alumni network and alumni life, and intellectual and social and cultural variety. Forget whoever claims to be the gold standard for academics and athletics combined: USC is building the platinum standard.
Remember: You are on the big stage now, under the bright, wonderful spotlight of Los Angeles. How you carry yourself will bring honor to your mothers and your fathers. You don’t lie, as the truth always comes out. How you compete will be watched by all. How you excel will inspire children around the country.
And it will strengthen those lifelong bonds that connect 300,000 members of the Trojan Family around the world.
So make it your non-negotiable goal to make the very most of these coming years. Make your experience here something that can last through all the decades of your long life. Give your Trojan Family your best, and we will give you our best, for the rest of your life.
Welcome again to this Trojan Family, thank you—and Fight On, always!
August 29, 2014
By C. L. Max Nikias
It is a tremendous pleasure to welcome you all on this historic day for our university. Today, the University of Southern California is a global institution that moves the world in every realm of human endeavor. USC is also a place that is rich with symbols and traditions and values unlike any other institution of higher learning.
These symbols and traditions root us in the past, guide us in our current work, and inspire every tomorrow. They forge our ethos and mission, tempering our character and potential in the hearth of destiny. Yet every great institution can point to very humble beginnings.
As Virgil wrote in his classic epic, The Aeneid, mighty Rome could trace its descendants and humble beginnings to the often fruitless wanderings of the exiled Trojan hero Aeneas. It is at these times that unbounded dreams intersect with unfulfilled potential.
Today, we honor the life and legacy of a man who stood at the brink of promise. Through sheer determination and a decade of relentless effort, this towering figure bent the arc of destiny and brought our beloved university into being.
That man was Judge Robert Maclay Widney.
Judge Widney was the chief architect and the founder of USC. When he arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1860s, it was mostly a dusty village in a lonely frontier in the American Wild West. It was also barren of any dynamic educational institutions. But Judge Widney saw something special.
One night he stood in an empty field not far from here. And in that quiet field, Judge Widney had a dream. He looked around, and saw one of the most favorable environments ever known to humanity: majestic mountains with snow in the winter within easy reach; a vast ocean nearby, which offered open access to the world; and a climate designed by heaven itself, offering the unlimited expression of the human mind, body, and spirit.
This, he said, is where the next great world city will arise—this is where the next great world university will arise.
That night, a spark of intuition kindled his understanding that Los Angeles would need a robust university to be a key driver of growth and opportunity for the city. Such a university would also need a blossoming metropolis to nourish its own development and discoveries. It was a synergy born of pure vision and unbridled ambition, fueled by one man’s will to bring heaven to earth, and he would move heaven and earth to make it allpossible.
One simply cannot overestimate Judge Widney’s role in USC’s birth and early growth. He personally drafted the university’s articles of incorporation, which our statue now holds, and you’ll soon see. He asked and convinced three real estate partners – Childs, Downey, and Hellman – to donate the land. He was the first chairman of USC’s board of trustees. His brother, Joseph Widney, founded USC’s medical school in 1882 and later became the second president of the university.
Judge Widney donated $100,000 for the university’s first endowment fund—an extraordinary amount in that age—and he would later supervise the management of this fund. He was a dreamer, a visionary, a builder. Through force of will, he reimagined a region and the destinies of countless others who would follow here.
It is only fitting that the person who would shepherd USC through its humble beginnings was himself a man of modest origins. Robert Maclay Widney was raised on a farm in central Ohio and later spent years hunting and trapping in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. When he arrived as a young man in California, he chopped down trees for a living. And when he finally reached Los Angeles in 1868, he had one trunk of possessions and one hundred dollars to his name.
But as much as he was a man of the external world, he was also a man of the internal mind who was fiercely devoted to education.
A short time after graduating from the University of the Pacific, he became a professor in mathematics there—without pay. A true polymath, Widney also taught geology, chemistry, engineering and religion. His passion for teaching and learning was simply inexhaustible, and somehow he also managed to find time to write.
In his book The Plan of Creation, his rigorous intellect strived to understand religion through the prism of science and see the design of the divine through natural laws. He also studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1865. In 1871, he was appointed a U.S. district judge here in LA.
But it was also in that year—nearly a decade before USC’s founding—that the university’s character would be born. At the time, the American West was struggling with an early collision of cultures: Anti-Chinese sentiment ran high across the West. Jealousy, economic fears, and labor disputes fanned the flames of violence.
One night, anti-Chinese riots broke out in the streets of Los Angeles. Deadly mobs took to the streets. At a moment of high fever during those riots, Judge Widney plunged into a crowd besieging Chinese immigrants, at the risk of his own life.
Remember, Judge Widney was known as the “pistol-packing judge.” He carried his pistol everywhere, and in the statue you’ll see its outline underneath his coat!
That evening, Judge Widney held his gun high and fired a single shot. The crowd stepped back, and the future founder and first chairman of USC then escorted a number of the Chinese immigrants to safety.
In that moment, my fellow Trojans, the DNA of USC as a global institution first materialized. On that evening, the ethos, the character, of USC began to take shape.
Character is destiny, and USC would have a global character. A few years later, Japanese students would be among USC’s first graduates. USC would later develop the largest body of international alumni in the world, mostly from the emerging nations of the Pacific.
More than a quarter-century before Congress gave women the right to vote, a quarter of USC’s first professors were women. USC’s very first valedictorian was also a woman. In the realm of diversity, all things that universities today strive to be, we have long been.
Judge Widney is also widely considered the architect of Los Angeles. He worked to bring the Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles, which was critical in its development. He organized the city’s first chamber of commerce and its first light and power company. In addition, he was a real estate developer. And if one city weren’t enough to build, he was also the co-founder of Long Beach.
Incredibly, he also found time to be an inventor. He held a patent for a fruit grader and separator, which is only fitting for a man whose many wide-ranging contributions cry out for sorting, even to this day.
Not long before Robert Maclay Widney’s death in 1929, his daughter Frances and her husband took him on a long automobile tour of the city he helped build—the city that was just a cattle town when he first arrived. They traveled from his downtown home through the growing areas of Pasadena and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. They showed him world-class railroads being built across the city, and the massive harbors that connected Los Angeles to the world. They visited the magnificent City Hall, which was still under construction. They gazed upon massive office buildings, and young movie studios emerging at the dawn of American cinema.
They saw a great city coming into maturity. For much of that ride, Judge Widney said almost nothing. Then, at the end of the long day, they brought him to the busy USC campus, abounding with life and radiating with untold possibilities.
Judge Widney turned to his daughter Frances, and said: “All my life, I have been telling people about the incredible future of Los Angeles. But in my wildest dreams, I never conceived anything as wonderful as this university!”
Those powerful words—Judge Widney’s vision for USC—now appear at the base of the statue we dedicate today, etched permanently on its plaque, a touchstone for generations of Trojans.
Today we pay tribute to this remarkable man who turned gusts of adversity into winds of opportunity. We do so through great art, erecting a new symbol on our campus in celebration of his pioneering accomplishments.
Standing at eight-and-a-half feet tall, its weight over 1,000 pounds, this mixture of bronze and steel is no lifeless memorial to the founder of USC. This statue is living testimony of Judge Widney’s vision in creating a dynamic global university. USC was founded in 1880 in the building right behind me, when Robert Maclay Widney was just 42 years old.
Its illustrious sculptor—Christopher Slatoff—joins us today. The son of an abstract painter, Mr. Slatoff was born and raised in California, and his highly evocative works appear throughout our state, as well as in Asia and Europe.
The Port of San Diego commissioned his majestic piece, “Sheltering Wings,” which has earned him international fame. Mr. Slatoff’s peers awarded him the Gold Medal for Best Sculpture, and have praised his work for exuding “the visceral meaning of life itself.”
Monuments such as Mr. Slatoff’s are timeless storytellers. They chronicle our past, while heralding our destiny. Monuments are frozen history, our values suspended in substance. Monuments are the physical embodiment of our dreams, the symbols of our humble beginnings, and the material repository of lessons learned. Monuments allow us to touch humanity’s relentless journey, to cup the face of promise, and to embrace our achievements.
And so, too, will this statue of Judge Robert Maclay Widney reconnect us with our humble past while inspiring a triumphant future. In doing so, it will radiate brilliance, the spirit and ethos of this exceptional man—and this enduring university—for many, many generations to come.
Thank you, and Fight On!
Topics: News, Uncategorized
The opening of Dr. Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall, a historic day for the University of Southern California, September 3, 2014. (USC Photo / Gus Ruelas)
The newest addition to the USC University Park Campus, Dr. Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall, officially opened on September 3, 2014 with hundreds of well-wishers and dignitaries in attendance. The six-level, 110,000-square-foot building is the first interdisciplinary social science building, and represents the future of research collaboration, as well as a key milestone in the $6 billion Campaign for USC. The new building, made possible by a $30 million gift from educator, alumna, and USC Trustee Verna B. Dauterive MEd ’49, EdD ’66, will function as a catalyst for creativity and a gateway to discovery—bringing together researchers from many disciplines in a shared environment.
USC President C. L. Max Nikias accompanies USC Trustee Verna Dauterive to the official opening of Dauterive Hall. (USC Photo / Gus Ruelas)
Dr. Dauterive’s gift – a pledge announced in 2008 to honor her late husband, Peter W. Dauterive ’49, founding president and CEO of Founders Savings and Loan Association, as well as the university – was groundbreaking not only for its extraordinary generosity, but also for being the largest ever made by an African American to a U.S. institution of higher education. The Dauterives, who met in Doheny Memorial Library while both were students, maintained strong, lifelong ties to their alma mater, providing previous support to the USC Marshall School of Business, USC Libraries, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, USC Price School of Public Policy, USC Rossier School of Education and USC School of Dramatic Arts.
Read more at USC News.