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Still Striving to Be the Best

“In 2000, as I became dean of USC College, we took a look at where we stood and decided to embark on a bold plan to become among the best.”

With these words, Dean Joseph Aoun of USC College reprised the launching of a decade-long strategic plan and introduced his fifth State of the College address, which informed College faculty of the plan’s progress at its midpoint.

Aoun cited the visionary leadership of President Steven B. Sample as instrumental to the ascent of the College. “He recognized early in his presidency that the overall reputation and prospects for the university are wedded to the fate of the College,” Aoun said.

The address took place shortly after Aoun announced the College’s ambitious $400 million “Tradition and Innovation” initiative, which will finance the plan. Also speaking was USC Provost C. L. Max Nikias, who characterized the College as “the beating heart of the university” and expressed his strong support for Aoun’s leadership at the helm.

In his talk to College faculty and staff, Aoun described the essential principles that have guided his administration. These include a focus on strategic themes, not just departments; an emphasis on leadership in emerging fields and the rethinking of established ones; and leveraging resources through internal and external collaborations.

A high priority has been placed on innovation and risk-taking � not doing “business as usual.”

Aoun emphasized eight benchmarks to gauge progress over the five-year period. He also charted the corresponding future challenges and opportunities:

Undergraduate education: Admissions are more competitive, with freshmen SAT scores rising nearly 200 points, to 1,371 for College majors. The general education program has been greatly strengthened with better advising and more innovative interdisciplinary majors and minors. Since the College is now competing for the very best students, however, Aoun called for continued improvement of the educational mission. He cited as priorities a new honors society and even better advisement, continued expansion of majors and minors, improved multimedia literacy and distance learning and introduction of so-called 4+1 masters programs in selected fields. These efforts will create something truly unique to USC College, he said.

Faculty: Still smaller than competitors, the faculty is 20 percent larger and more diverse, with 40 percent more tenured women and 53 percent more minority faculty. Aoun credited the Senior Faculty Hiring Initiative for reinvigorating the faculty with 162 new hires, many already distinguished, including 86 at the junior rank. He also noted that joint appointments grew from 87 to 285 over the period. Moving forward, he said the College would focus on the provost’s initiatives to support diversity and joint hiring of interdisciplinary faculty. Also targeted are “Info-Bio-Nano” to harness growth in information technology, life sciences and nanotechnology; an energy initiative to optimize resources; and another thrust in the arts, culture and the humanities.

Graduate programs: Funding to support Ph.D. students nearly doubled, to $47 million, enabling the College to compete for the best candidates. New university-wide programs in history and economics enable more students to impact contemporary problems. Graduate certificate programs have been introduced in several fields, capitalizing on interdisciplinary and interschool resources. In order to meet intense competition from private elite institutions, Aoun said the College will need to invest even more resources and that programs will need to create compelling signatures that set them apart.

Partnerships: Sixteen new partnerships � seven outside the university � expanded the College’s reach and leveraged resources. Included are two with the Huntington Library and one with the Shoah Foundation. The partnerships will be consolidated and integrated more fully into the College in the coming years.

Sponsored Research: A gain of 59 percent to $58.2 million reflected both new grants in cutting-edge scientific areas and the strength of continuing programs. Moving forward, the College intends to broaden its efforts to acquire center grants and training grants. The offices of research and advancement will be engaged to assist faculty proposal efforts.

Infrastructure: Half of all College space � 320,000 square feet � was added or remodeled, including a new imaging center, a 100,000-square-foot molecular and computational biology building and new facilities on Catalina Island.

Budget: The College budget has grown to $236 million from $151 million. The College’s growth has been carefully and responsibly managed, and the budget is in balance.

Fund raising: Essential for reaching the $400 million “Tradition and Innovation” target, College fund raising has grown from an annual rate of $27 million in 2000 to $40 million this year. More than $150 million in cash and new pledges was raised, and fund-raising assets, especially volunteers and donors, have grown substantially.

“We have an exceptionally strong constituent base,” Aoun said.

The initiative is energized by the work of several important advisory boards, including the College Board of Councilors, chaired by Robert Erburu, and a steering committee chaired by USC Trustee Pat Haden.

The “Tradition and Innovation” initiative, Aoun said, will prioritize the raising of $400 million by 2010 by focusing on the four traditional areas of undergraduate and graduate education, faculty, partnerships and the academic environment, while embracing efforts to encourage programs that help to shape Southern California and encouraging research that has immediate societal impact.

“Our overarching, collective goal remains the same,” Aoun concluded, “and that is to be one of America’s best colleges in a research university.”

Still Striving to Be the Best

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