USC holds bipartisan meetings in D.C.
As President Barack Obama was reaching out to Democrats and Republicans in hopes of finding a solution to the sequester, USC President C. L. Max Nikias was also making the rounds to leadership on both sides of the aisle during a trip to Washington, D.C., on March 12.
Nikias and a delegation that included Provost Elizabeth Garrett and USC deans and trustees advocated for investing wisely in higher education research, health care, financial aid and military programs during a whirlwind of high-level meetings with a bipartisan group from Congress and the Obama administration.
Nikias, along with trustees Bruce M. Ramer, Jeffrey H. Smulyan and Richard DeBeikes Jr., Senior Vice President Thomas S. Sayles and Chief of Staff Dennis Cornell, met with Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Garrett, along with Trustees Barbara J. Rossier, Lydia H. Kennard, Robert Padgett, USC Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher and Vice Provost Michael Quick, visited the U.S. Department of Education, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the White House’s senior adviser for health policy, Rep. John Campbell and Rep. Karen Bass.
“We recognize the importance of having a strong presence in and relationship with Washington, D.C.,” Nikias said. “USC is a sound federal investment.”
While lawmakers are concerned about college costs and loan debt, Nikias pointed out USC’s commitment to making education affordable for all. USC now has $270 million in financial aid and more than 66 percent of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. In addition, underrepresented minorities comprise 20 percent of the student body, 12 percent are first-generation college students and 23 percent are low-income undergraduate students, as defined by Pell Grant eligibility.
Nikias also touted USC advancements that have come about with the backing of federal research dollars, such as the development of an artificial retina implant developed by Professor Mark Humayun that helps the blind to see. Federal funding has also led to 30 startup businesses founded at USC in the past five years that ultimately raised $425 million in venture capital and created more than 500 jobs, Nikias said.
With budget cuts looming, Nikias stressed that certain programs, such as those benefiting veterans returning from combat, are too important to cut. Two such USC programs lead the nation: the master’s in military social work, which trains students to deal with the special needs of returning veterans, and the Institute for Creative Technologies, which uses virtual reality to help military personnel deal with post-traumatic stress.
In addition, while politicians described comprehensive immigration reform as close but still far from a compromise, all seemed to agree with Nikias that the world’s brightest students who come to America to get an education should be allowed to work in the United States after graduation.
Over lunch, Michael Duffy, Time magazine executive editor and Washington bureau chief, shared with the USC delegation his pessimism that either side could find a way to end the gridlock currently gripping Washington politics.
Even as frustration over the stalemate was palpable as the delegation traveled back and forth from Democratic to Republican offices in the Senate and the House, Nikias said he sensed a shift.
“There is a lot of concern, but something may be changing,” Nikias said. “There is the beginning of an air of optimism.”