President and Mrs. Nikias Host the Trojan Family

May 1, 2014
by C. L. Max Nikias

Good evening, my fellow Trojans!

These are exciting times for USC, and for the entire Trojan Family.  This is a time of unprecedented growth for us, and a time of renewal for many of our greatest traditions.

USC is now recognized globally as one of America’s great success stories.  You have been USC’s frontline ambassadors during this time, here in one of the nation’s most dynamic regions.  The Trojan Family is in a position to make history, and to build an undisputedly academically elite university for the 21st century!

This USC academic revolution is all the more astonishing when we consider USC’s humble origins.  Think back to USC’s founding 133 years ago, in a dusty outpost on a lonely American frontier.  All the influence and all the prestige resided thousands of miles to the East.

USC was one single white building, housing 53 students and 10 faculty members in a town that still lacked paved streets or electric lights.  Today, USC consists of almost 38,000 world-class students and 3,600 distinguished faculty members, situated in the heart of one the world’s most diverse metropolitan areas.  And today, USC is by far the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles.

The changes can seem sudden, but they were not.  It was a process that called upon the determined contributions of hundreds of thousands of members of the Trojan family.  Generation after generation after generation, the Trojan Family built USC into one of the most dynamic universities anywhere.

Now the potential is there for USC to play an astonishing role in the coming years.  If you locate Chicago on a map and draw a straight line down the map all the way to Houston, and you look west, you’ll notice that there are only two top private American research powerhouses:  USC and Stanford.  Given the way the world is tilting to the Pacific and South East Asia, USC represents invaluable assets for America’s economic and cultural progress.  In other words, there has been a seismic shift, and our location finally works to our advantage, and USC is beginning to capitalize aggressively on this.

Let me start by discussing USC’s faculty, because faculty serve as the foundation of all academic excellence.  That foundation has been strengthened dramatically in the past four years – including a major recognition that occurred recently.

Arieh Warshel, who is a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  Together with his colleagues, he developed the key principles behind computer simulations that we now use to study chemical processes.  Professor Warshel has been with our university since 1976, and he brings the total of Nobel Laureates at USC to four.

Our goal is simple: To serve notice that USC is the place where the best minds in the world can come to do their best work and teach the best students.  Not just excellent faculty—better than excellent.

Three years ago, USC had 41 people on campus who were members of National Academies—in other words, 41 academic heavyweights who bring international renown to USC.  Today, that number has increased to about 63.  So we’ve seen a 50 percent gain almost overnight, thanks to some very aggressive recruiting efforts.  Our goal is to increase the national academy members to more than 100 in the next decade.

In the past three years, 32 of our faculty were strategic, transformative hires, including superstars like the stem-cell pioneer Andrew McMahon from Harvard, Nobel laureate health economist Daniel McFadden from UC Berkeley, Lee Epstein from Northwestern, and Scott Fraser from Caltech.

We also welcomed the greatest brain sciences researchers in the world, Professors Art Toga and Paul Thompson with their group of 110 people, who left our crosstown rival behind to join us at USC.  They brought with them dozens of the most gifted young researchers in America.  These and other efforts are helping us to build the foundation for a great faculty.

If the faculty are the foundation of all excellence at a university, the students are the pillars that are built over that strong foundation.  USC’s student body represents one of the greatest success stories in American higher education.

Our university provides an educational experience that is unlike that found at any other university in the nation.  This is a place that welcomes students interested in science and technology as well as those who are passionate about the arts, the social sciences and humanities.

In fact, USC’s student body has become a microcosm of the entire world.  This rich tapestry of geographic and global diversity is evident in the fact that we currently enroll students from all 50 states and more than 115 nations.

USC has more international students than any other university in America.  We also have more than 90 student religious groups, which is the most in the nation.

According to the latest data, more than 2,300 of our students studied abroad in the past year.  This exposure to such a variety of diverse perspectives helps our students become citizens of the world and helps them feel at home in a global society.

Let me put USC’s academic quality in a different perspective.  In 1980, the SAT scores for our entering freshman class stood at about the 50th percentile nationally.   Today they stand at the 95th percentile, representing an increase in demand and in reputation that may be unprecedented.  And our SAT scores are higher than those for UCLA and UC-Berkeley!

We have just as many SCions attending USC as ever, because many of your children and grandchildren would not think of going anywhere else right now.  SCions consistently comprise 20 percent of our freshman class.

Last year USC had 48,000 applicants for its freshman class—more than at any other private American research university!  That allowed us to build a freshman class of 2,900 students, representing unprecedented quality and diversity.

Our student body has been able to open up college access to an incredibly high number of disadvantaged students.  A full 22 percent of our students are Pell-Grant eligible, which is higher than at any private university of our kind.

But this is no serendipity, no accident of history: We leave nothing to chance.  This past year, our admissions staff visited a record 2,200 high schools, more than any of our competitors.  Not only did we visit more high schools than anyone else, we also offered more financial aid than anyone else—nearly $270 million in unrestricted financial aid from our own sources.  This constitutes a 50 percent increase in four years.

USC now brings in three times as many Caltech-quality freshmen every fall as Caltech does.  In fact, our freshman class includes 600 students who arrived with perfect high school records—straight As all through high school.  It means that they did not receive a single “B” for four consecutive years.

We also brought the world’s next generation of leaders in the cinematic arts and the dramatic arts and fine arts and music and architecture.  USC currently has 6,000 students majoring or minoring in our arts schools.  Indeed, one of USC’s secret weapons, which is becoming the envy of other top research universities, is our strength in the arts.

Last year, the philanthropist Glorya Kaufman made an exceptionally generous gift—arguably the largest in the history of American dance—to create and endow the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center at USC.  This establishes the sixth independent school for the creative and performing arts at USC.

Music industry icons Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre gave $70 million to USC to create a unique undergraduate experience, the USC Iovine Young Academy for Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation.

The USC campus is where a significant portion of the digital media revolution has been taking shape.  Ironically, some experts believe that the next phase of the digital media revolution will render campuses obsolete, and that online education will take its place.

But at USC, we recognize the benefits of combining both timely innovation and timeless tradition.  Beyond the hype, quietly and without fanfare, we have been developing the model of the future.  Business Week has called it “the world’s first online education model that is both academically and financially viable.”

More than 7,600 people are enrolled in online graduate degree-granting and executive education programs at USC.  We expect to double our enrollment and degree offerings within the next five years.  And USC will not franchise its distinctive undergraduate educational experience online or through satellite campuses abroad.

Today, our medical research, healthcare delivery, and policy efforts are assuming more and more central role in the life of our university.  Medicine represents more than 42 percent of our overall annual budget of $3.7 billion dollars.  (Four years ago it was only 14 percent.)

Over the last four years, we have made a major effort to identify and recruit transformative faculty in key areas such as cancer, stem cell research, neuroscience, the biological sciences, and preventive medicine.  We have recruited more than 60 professors at the medical school from other top universities and academic medical centers.

In 2013, we added to our momentum in medicine by acquiring Verdugo Hills Hospital, bringing our total number of USC-owned hospitals to three.  Our medical enterprise continues to grow with new office sites throughout Southern California, which provide even greater access to our world-class physicians and medical research.

USC’s medical doctors excel in treating difficult cases that require the most demanding and sometimes dangerous operations.  When patients’ lives are on the line, our doctors perform at the highest level.  That’s because the Keck Hospital of USC consistently has an inpatient acuity rate that is not only the highest in the state of California, it is also the highest acuity rate west of the Mississippi.  It’s not just about the number of patients we treat.  It’s also about quality of care.  And ultimately, it’s about saving and improving lives.

A world-class faculty and a world-class student body require world-class facilities.  When you next visit USC, I believe you’ll be amazed by the transformation of both of our campuses into places that symbol the highest aspirations of the Trojan Family.

We also reached a milestone when we gained unanimous approval recently for the new USC Village development, north of campus.  This is the largest development project in the history of USC, and indeed in the history of South Los Angeles.  The USC Village will be an architectural masterpiece, which redefines a medieval Tuscan village for the 21st century—its looks will give us 1,000 years of history we don’t currently have!  It will also feature close to 3,000 beds for student housing; a promenade; and various retail amenities including coffee shops, restaurants, a gym, and grocery stores.

I am often reminded that the spirit of this university is largely influenced by USC’s athletic spirit.  This year we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of USC’s athletic program.

I think it’s fitting that our first official sport was football.  To say that USC football had a humble beginning would be an understatement.  The coaches were also players on the team!  They didn’t have uniforms for their first game, so quarterback Arthur Carroll volunteered to make pants for all of his teammates.  This turned out to be good training because Arthur Carroll later became a very successful tailor in California.

USC’s first football game was played on November 14, 1888—just eight years after the cornerstone had been laid for the university.  USC won that first game 16-0, marking the beginning of an athletic legacy that has inspired and entertained the Trojan Family for 125 years.

Our athletic program has grown from a modest football team of 1888 into 21 men’s and women’s sports.  USC has produced more Olympians than any other school.  And we will always expect to reach the highest level of excellence in every arena in which we compete.

One key arena is the LA Memorial Coliseum.  We recently signed a 98-year master lease for assuming control, managing, and upgrading the Coliseum.  We will revitalize it as one of our nation’s assets and as USC’s beloved football home.

In closing, USC is advancing in virtually every area, from the quality of the students we attract, to the faculty we retain and recruit, to the many projects that are reshaping the university’s physical landscape.  This is what I tell our alumni: Our vision and audacious goals for the future of our university has by far exceeded our ability to pay for it!

That’s why, a few years ago, we announced the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the history of American higher education—the Campaign for USC, with a goal of $6 billion.  And not even in our wildest dreams did we believe that, only three years into the campaign, we would be reaching the $3 billion mark.   It is a testament to the Trojan Family and friends of USC.

No other university has ever achieved this.  Half of the money came from 23 transformative gifts of $25 million or more, including four above $100 million.

But the other half came from more than 200,000 gifts made by our vast Trojan Family, which means that a gift of any size truly makes a difference.

His is another observation: about $738 million has come from grateful USC parents.  Clearly these parents appreciate the value of a USC education and the experience their children receive!

But we have no illusions about the second half of the campaign—raising the next $3 billion will be more difficult, and that is why we will need your support.  USC is blessed with an amazing Trojan Family that includes alumni, parents, friends and supporters.  All of you in this room are leaders of this vital segment of the Trojan Family.

You can help us with your own contributions and with your continual advocacy.  Tell others about what’s happening at USC.  Pass on our accomplishments.  Share your passion for this university.  With your help and your support, we can create a university that would make USC’s faithful founder swell with pride.

I am reminded of the words of Virgil, describing the long and exhausting journey of the Trojans toward their greatest destination.  In one moving scene, the great Trojan leader Aeneas gathers the other Trojans together for a meal.

Aeneas looks upon them and says:

     You, the Trojans, have set forth on a great journey. 
     You have courageously navigated the uncertainties 
       of our world. 
     You have navigated your way through raging 
       winds and waters. 
     You have survived the anger and the unpredictability 
       of the gods and spirits. 
     And though we have reached destinations that seem 
       adequate, these destinations are not your destiny 
       or our destiny. 
     We have come far, but we have farther to go. 
     And we do so for a noble reason:  So that we might lay the cornerstone of a new City 
       of Troy, which shall be the envy of the world, and an inspiration to that world.

So said the great Trojan Aeneas.  And so may it be with the Trojan Family today.  May we all go forth in that powerful spirit, and may we go forth together, united with passion and determination.

Thank you, and Fight On!