On Thursday, USC President C. L. Max Nikias gave his State of the University address for the third time, in three days, for three different audiences: the faculty and staff of the Health Sciences campus, the faculty and staff of the University Park campus, and today to an audience of USC staff at Bovard Auditorium.
He used each opportunity to laud USC's efforts toward amplifying diversity, to increase academic standing in comparison to other similar private universities, and to announce two enterprises – a new hospital on the Health Sciences Campus and a five-year extension of the already-successful Campaign for USC.
"I honestly believe we have reached a point where we truly have no one else to chase anymore," Nikias said, of USC's academic rank and diverse population. "But I believe it would be a mistake to rest on our laurels. We are defined by the magnificence of our dreams, so why should our dreams narrow while USC blossoms?"
Jeffrey de Caen, president of USC's Staff Assembly, alluded to Nikias' calls for continued development and encouragement of diversity in his introduction to today's address, which he tailored to the staff audience with a focus on unification and representation.
"E pluribus unum," de Caen said, pulling from the traditional motto of the United States. "Out of one, many. We are stronger because we merge many people, races, genders, religions, languages, sexual orientations…[and all embark on the common] mission of the cultivation of the human mind and spirit [at USC]."
Especially given today's polarized political atmosphere, Nikias' pride in USC's history of inclusion was welcomed by the staff audience, whose applause slowed him down as he read off numbers and university rankings.The university has the highest of Pell Grant recipients of any university in the U.S., the second highest amount of Latino students in the country, and the third highest number of African American students, according to Nikias.
In terms of academic standing, Nikias pointed out that this year, USC ascended to No. 15 in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings – just one of three schools west of Chicago, all three private.
USC also contributes more than $8 billion per year to the Los Angeles County's economy: "Keep reminding our elected officials of this," Nikias said.
Nikias' optimism was obvious as he talked about USC's scholarly pursuits. After briefly noting the passing of Professor Bosco Tjan in December, Nikias encouraged a strengthening of relationships between students and faculty, and increased interconnectivity between disciplines. For him, to come "closer to achieving critical mass academically," all of these things must be in play.
"[It] requires harnessing the energies of various disciplines and focusing them on society's most pressing challenges," Nikias said. "USC is better positioned than any other American university – especially because of our geographic location – to become a place where the influencers of this new age will be educated, shaped and molded."
Nikias touched on the school's strength academically, athletically and financially.
"Those of us who've been here many, many years can feel a change in the classes we teach," Nikias said. "We now enroll as many Stanford-caliber students as Stanford University does. We also have much more than Stanford and CalTech. We compete for the world's finest conservatories for the very best young artists, unconventional talents who infuse our community with creative energy [at Kaufman]."
After lauding the university's athletic prowess and graduation rates, and describing the success of its online graduate programs, Nikias launched into his plans for future projects – one of which includes a new hospital and biotechnology park by the Health Sciences Campus.
"Keck Medicine of USC has experienced its greatest period of academic ascent and expansion," Nikias said. "We have opportunities to guide a human healthcare renaissance, but we must begin serious planning for the future."
Fundraising and planning have already begun as groundwork for building the new hospital, which will add operating rooms, intensive care units and cancer patient programs to serve critically ill patients, according to Nikias, who says he hopes to make a statement that USC is the "destination to treat the very sick patients."
Meanwhile, construction is advancing on a biotechnology park beside the Health Sciences Campus, which Nikias expects will help make Los Angeles county a global leader in the biotechnology revolution, and provide thousands of construction and permanent jobs for Los Angeles residents.
Nikias hopes the new hospital will also promote diversity on the Health Sciences Campus, with over one quarter of recent medical school acceptances made up of underrepresented minorities, and over half of the accepted class made up of women.
"We have reached the point where we can recruit anyone we want to," Nikias said. "We must continue capitalizing on this, especially as the aura of invisibility of other academic medical centers in California is evaporating because of our achievements. We're building the medical enterprise of tomorrow."
Nikias also announced an extension of the university's Campaign for USC through Dec. 31, 2021. So far it has raised nearly $6 billion for student scholarships, facilities like the University Village and academic support – 18 months ahead of schedule.
"During this time, we will seek out tens of thousands of new supporters, intensify our working with many people and promoting USC's ambitious academic initiatives," Nikias said. "We know it will bring our university to its final and glorious destination."
Sixty four percent of donations so far have come from non-USC graduates, Nikias said, with a quip about how USC loves stealing other schools' alumni. Half of the funds have come from 33 gifts of over $25 million and five gifts of around $100 million. One third of donations have come from the university's Board of Trustees.
Alex Chang, associate director of the Asian Pacific Alumni Association, attended the address and walked away reassured of USC's commitment to its staff.
"It's important for the university to maintain our morals and our values and what's important to our culture given our times," Chang said. "I think the campaign is paramount right now in the university and the fact that everyone was there, 18 months ahead of schedule is fantastic news. I think the trajectory of our university, the way that President Nikias presents it, is something that we all can be proud of as staff. Besides the faculty, we are the lifeblood of the university and I think it's great for morale and it's great for everyone at USC."
In particular, Nikias' final words resonated with Chang:
"While we have come so far, we see today we must go much farther," Nikias said. "The last leg of any journey is usually the most difficult, most demanding and most expensive. We have caught [a] glimpse of an ocean of grand possibilities, the promise of a brighter future as an indisputably elite academic institution. Let us therefore go forward with passion, with confidence and determination, and let us transform the promise into a magnificent reality."
Reach Staff Reporter Rennie Svirnovskiy here.