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Nikias cites USC’s creative spirit in State of the University address

President C. L. Max Nikias greets audience members after his annual address to the faculty. (Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

USC has made impressive progress on numerous fronts — from research and medicine to globalization and online education — because its academic community has embraced a creative, collaborative and adventurous spirit, said USC President C. L. Max Nikias, whose message about innovation and risk-taking were at the heart of his annual address to faculty.

At a Town & Gown luncheon on Feb. 14, Nikias began by citing Petrarch and Francis Bacon as models of intellectual enlightenment in the humanities and sciences.

“Within our academic community, among you,” he said, “we have those who live in the spirit of Petrarch, in the lineage of Francis Bacon, here now within this latest Age of Discovery” — an era of the Pacific, of biology and of medicine.

Nikias highlighted the extent to which faculty members have been recognized in the global community. In the past year, 33 faculty earned major national and international honors and honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science, and 15 were elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, bringing USC’s total to 90. Over the past three years, the number of national academy members increased by 13, for a total of 62.

Noting that the Princeton Review has listed USC as a top 10 dream college for several years, Nikias said there were 48,000 applicants for the freshman class from all 50 states and 98 foreign countries.

“That will allow us to build a freshman class of 2,700 students, representing unprecedented quality and diversity,” he said. “One in seven will be first-generation college students. One in five will be underrepresented minorities. And one in five will be scions.”

USC’s popularity among prospective students is no accident, Nikias said.

“Not only did we visit more high schools than anyone else, we offered more financial aid than any other American university — nearly $270 million in unrestricted financial aid from our own sources. This constitutes a 50 percent increase in four years.”

Nikias thanked Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, for leading the work with the Academic Senate and faculty committees on major changes in the general education curriculum.

Citing the importance of learning through immersion in international commercial and cultural centers, Nikias pointed out that more than 2,300 USC students studied abroad last year, which would rank USC sixth among American universities in the number of students studying abroad for a semester.

USC’s other efforts on the global front include the imminent opening of its eighth international office, this one in Sao Paulo, as Nikias prepares to lead a delegation to Brazil to explore academic partnerships. The USC Marshall School of Business also launched a first-of-its-kind World Bachelor in Business degree program in alliance with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Bocconi University in Milan, Italy — more than 800 students have already applied to be part of the first cohort of 40.

The day before his address at Town & Gown, Nikias spoke to faculty at the Health Sciences Campus, where he emphasized that USC is reaping the benefits of aggressive investment in the fields of biology and medicine.

“USC’s medical enterprise represents a significant 42 percent of our overall annual budget of $3.4 billion,” he said at Aresty Auditorium. “USC’s medical sciences research, health care delivery and policy efforts are assuming a central role in the life of our community.”

Nikias told his audience at Town & Gown that the Keck Hospital of USC and the USC Norris Cancer Hospital have seen revenues increase from $390 million to $621 million over the past three years while maintaining the highest inpatient acuity rate west of the Mississippi.

“Our physicians treat the most complex cases and perform the most difficult surgeries regionally, nationally and internationally,” Nikias explained. “Our world-class physicians continue to develop new therapies and perform groundbreaking surgeries, such as the first total artificial heart implanted on the West Coast.”

Nikias also pointed out that while funding sources are under severe strain nationally, USC’s Washington, D.C., Office for Research Advancement has led the efforts to bring nearly $290 million in new interdisciplinary awards since its inception six years ago. USC reached $454 million in federal research expenditures last year, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. Some of USC’s most sophisticated research is contributing to the nation’s defense efforts, Nikias noted.

USC has developed a global online education enterprise, reaching more than 5,500 students, with annual revenues expected to reach nearly $110 million this year. Nikias emphasized that while these programs maintain USC’s “all-important standards of academic rigor, integrity and quality,” they focus solely on professional, graduate and continuing education.

“Even though USC is the world leader in digital and immersive media technologies for education,” he said, “USC will not franchise its distinctive undergraduate educational experience online or through satellite campuses abroad.”

Infrastructure growth, he added, has kept pace with needs of the faculty and students; numerous building projects are either completed, breaking ground or moving forward in the planning stages.

Nikias mentioned that a gift from philanthropist Glorya Kaufman to create and endow the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center at USC will establish the sixth independent school for the creative and performing arts and the first new endowed school since 1975. He also said that USC “reached a milestone” when the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to approve plans for the USC Village development and that USC continues to examine the prospect of a 90-year master lease for managing and upgrading the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

As an update on “the most ambitious fundraising campaign in American higher education history,” Nikias indicated that USC has raised $2.4 billion in its $6 billion Campaign for the University of Southern California. More than 50 percent of that funding has come from 16 gifts of $25 million or more, including four gifts above $100 million each. What is even more remarkable, Nikias added, is that the rest of the money (close to half) has come from 180,000 individuals around the world.

In closing the address, Nikias invoked the ambition of the American revolutionaries and quoted the Roman poet Ovid, who wrote “the gods favor the bold.”

In his final words to the faculty, Nikias said, “Let us go forward with passion, with confidence and determination.”

Nikias cites USC’s creative spirit in State of the University address

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