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Honorary Degree Recipients

by Meg Sullivan, Bob Calverley, and Zsa Zsa Gershick


Frank Gehry: Architect Extraordinaire
Doctor of Fine Arts,
Honoris Causa

by Meg Sullivan

When the University of Toronto gave an honorary doctorate in 1998 to native son Frank O. Gehry, the renowned architect behind the acclaimed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Bunker Hill’s eagerly awaited Disney Hall was appreciative but realistic.

“I said, ‘If I’d stayed there, I wouldn’t have been me,’” Gehry recently recalled.

No such disclaimer will come from Gehry this week when he accepts an honorary doctor of arts degree from USC, where he earned a bachelor of architecture degree in 1954. “I don’t think another school could have produced Frank Gehry,” he said in a recent interview.

Indeed, the architect credits USC’s School of Architecture not only with helping him find architecture to begin with, but also with helping him lay the foundation for his utterly unique approach that melds space-age technology with undulating shapes, whimsical sculpture and imaginative material ranging from chainlink to titanium. Near by Exposition Park is even home to Gehry’s first public commission: the Aerospace Museum.

Perhaps that’s why the honor – one of numerous honorary degrees that he’s earned over the years – means so much to the architect whose local designs include the1983 Geffin Contemporary Museum, the 1991 Chiat/Day building in Venice, the Pico-Union campus of the Loyola Law School, Santa Monica’s Edgemar complex and his own, often-photographed home in Santa Monica.

“It’s wonderful that the place I went to school is honoring me this way,” he said. “It makes you feel loved.”

Not that there should be any doubt. Last year the American Institute of Architects gave Gehry its highest honor: the Gold Medal. In 1989 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize, which is considered architecture’s Nobel Prize, and in 1998, President Clinton gave Gehry the National Medal of Arts. And these are just three in a long list of impressive honors.

“Frank Gehry is a genius,” Progressive Architecture proclaimed in 1997. “It’s so much the conventional wisdom these days that even the architect’s detractors agree.”

Perhaps most impressively, Gehry’s celebrity extends well beyond his field. He was the only architect named as one of America’s 25 “Most Influential People” by Time magazine in 1996. In the wake of the astounding popularity of the Guggenheim, which has drawn more than 3 million visitors since its 1997 opening, Gehry has been called “The other Frank” – as in Frank Lloyd Wright, the only other architect who enjoys the same household-name status.

“Unquestionably, Frank Gehry has become the most significant architect in the world today, and he is one of the most prestigious of USC alumni,” said architecture Dean Robert Timme.

But the distinction might have eluded him. Gehry, who had moved from Toronto to Los Angeles at 17, originally studied art at USC. But one of his painting professors, glassblower Glenn Lukens, was building a house designed by the modern architect Raphael Soriano.

“[Lukens] invited me to his house, and I got all excited, and he called me and said, ‘I think you should take an architectural design class,’” Gehry recalled.

Gehry took the advice, got an A and was bumped by his professor into the program’s second year. He fondly recalls studying with such masters of modern residential design as Gregory Ain and Quincy A. Jones and listening to lectures by such architectural luminaries as Rudolph Schindler and Erich Mendelsohn. “USC was the only architecture school in Southern California, so it was the focus of the architectural intellectual community,” Gehry said.

“All the best architects were either teaching or speaking there. It had a freedom that [architecture schools in] other parts of the country didn’t have. It was very free and open and democratic and accessible and very energized, very energized.”

For someone whose name is synonymous with avant-garde architecture, Gehry’s favorite building on campus may seem surprising. As a student he particularly enjoyed the Spanish revival Mudd Hall of Philosophy, a perennial favorite.

“I love the serenity of the cloisters,” he said.

Another nearby favorite: the rose garden at Exposition Park. In fact, he intentionally positioned the Aerospace Museum’s terrace to overlook the garden.

“I made watercolors there as a student,” he said.

Ironically, the Disney Hall – now a decade in the planning – may increase the following for such local attractions.

“I’m optimistic that downtown is coming back,” Gehry said. “It’s always appeared like such a long shot because nobody lives down there, but maybe … the cathedral and the Disney Hall will change things. If people start living in downtown they’ll start attending lectures and events at USC. It will become an anchor for cultural activities like UCLA on the Westside. If people start moving downtown … I think there’s a big role for USC to play. It’s a real asset.”


George W. Housner: The Father of Earthquake Engineering
Doctor of Science,
Honoris Causa

by Bob Calverley

Because of George W. Housner, you have never been safer from earthquakes.

Housner, the C.F. Braun Professor of Engineering emeritus at Caltech – known as the father of earthquake engineering, – will receive an honorary doctor of science degree from USC at the May 12 commencement ceremonies.

“He is the founding father of modern earthquake engineering,” said Thomas L. Henyey, professor of earth sciences and director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, who will read the citation for Housner’s honorary degree. “Many of the country’s earthquake engineers can trace their roots back to him.”

Although Housner has long been associated with earthquake engineering and Caltech, he was born in seismically stable Saginaw, Mich., and received a B.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1933. He then came to California to earn his M.S. degree from Caltech in 1934.

“There was a lot of excitement about the Long Beach earthquake [March 10, 1933] and my professors were going over the data,” recalled Housner. He noted that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was accepted as an act of God, but the Long Beach quake had a profound effect on government. “After 1933, most cities in California began to put seismic requirements into building codes and adopted laws on schools.”

In the years before World War II, Housner was a practicing engineer who designed numerous structures in Los Angeles. He returned to Caltech to earn his Ph.D. in 1941 and then began working for the Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles. From 1943 to 1945, Housner did scientific analysis for the Air Force, which was still part of the Army, in North Africa and Italy, eventually receiving the Distinguished Civilian Service Award from the U.S. War Department.

Housner came home to join the faculty of Caltech in 1945 and embarked on a breathtaking career in teaching and research.

“After World War II, we began serious research to record ground motion and study the behavior of buildings,” said Housner, who devised new methods to analyze how structures responded to ground motion. For example, he recommended that instruments be installed in a large number of different types of buildings to measure their performance during actual earthquakes. Every significant earthquake became his laboratory as he studied why some buildings failed while others did not.

“Old, weak buildings perform poorly,” Housner said in the simple, precise and direct language for which he is known, adding drolly, “So do new, weak buildings.”

Housner did not confine his investigations to buildings but analyzed all kinds of man-made structures and the behavior of the soils upon which they were built. He served as a consultant for the seismic design for many projects, including the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System; the California Feather River Water Project; the Trans-Arabian Pipe line; the long-span suspension bridge over the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal; nuclear power plants in the U.S., Japan and Italy; and numerous offshore platforms, high-rise buildings, dams and port facilities around the world.

Since 1941, Housner has contributed to more than 20 books and written nearly 200 technical papers. He was the president of the Seismological Society of America in 1977, the president of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute from 1954 to 1956 and president of the Inter national Association for Earth quake Engineering from 1969 to 1973. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1965 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1972.

Housner received the Vincent Bendix Award for Research from the American Society for Engineering Education in 1967 and the Theodore von Karman and Nathan M. Newmark medals from the American Society of Civil Engineers (1974 and 1982). In 1989, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute established the George W. Housner Medal, and Housner was the first recipient.

“He is truly a giant,” said J.P. Bardet, professor of civil engineering and an earthquake engineer at USC who studied under Housner at Caltech. “There is hardly an area of earthquake engineering that he did not turn his attention to early, and in many, many of those areas, he is still the authoritative voice today.”

Now in his 90th year, Housner continues with his research at Caltech and lives in La Cañada. An avid reader of history and literature, he finds time for classical music, especially chamber music.


Elaine Otter Leventhal: Civic Leader, Philanthropist
Doctor of Humane Letters,
Honoris Causa

by Zsa Zsa Gershick

Philanthropist Elaine Otter Leventhal has had a lifelong love affair with books and learning. Still, she didn’t expect to receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters at USC’s 117th commencement ceremonies May 12.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Leventhal, whose dedication to higher education, culture and literature has fueled her support of such organizations as the Friends of the USC Libraries, for which she serves as a director, Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and UCLA’s Inter national Student Center. “It wasn’t anything I ever thought I’d receive. I’m just flabbergasted.”

But this recognition is no fluke. Her work on behalf of civic and educational organizations is legendary. Among her many contributions: In 1996, Leventhal and her husband, Kenneth, gave $15 million to the USC School of Accounting, which now bears their name. (See related story.) At the time, it was the largest gift ever made to an accounting program in the United States. And the couple’s funding and professional expertise led to the school’s being ranked in the top five nationally within five years of its naming.

“Elaine’s contributions to USC are matched only by her modesty,” said Alan Kreditor, senior vice president for university advancement. “She’s a woman of great vision and energy, and we’re grateful that she’s a member of the Trojan Family.”

In 1940, Leventhal earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA, but her early education was hardly formal. In fact, she was largely home-schooled through the seventh grade, attending formal classes only from January to June and traveling with her mother, an alumna of the University of Chicago, for the rest of the year.

“Mother would find out in June what would be studied the following year – multiplication tables, the Battle of Valley Forge, the Boston Tea Party – and then she’d take me to all the places that my classmates would be studying about,” said Leventhal, who moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1929, at age 11. “We’d spend the summers in New Jersey, surrounded by colonial history, and in this way history became a living thing for me. In February, I’d return and take the exams with the rest of the children. I always passed with high marks. Mother taught me well.”

In fact, it was an appetite for education that changed her life.

After working her way through UCLA as a baby-sitter (at 20 cents an hour) and as a student librarian (65 cents an hour), she collected her sheepskin. Her job prospects, however, were poor.

“It was the tail end of the Depression and good jobs were scarce. I graduated from college and couldn’t earn a sou!” said Leventhal, who promptly enrolled in the Wright-Mac Mahon School, a formal secretarial school in Beverly Hills where students wore hats and gloves as if they were going to work. She graduated in 1942 and returned to teach there.

However, said her superiors, her accounting skills were not quite up to snuff. Would she consider taking some courses at UCLA? This she did – and soon after met her husband-to-be.

“I was eager because I always loved going to school,” said Leventhal, “but accounting was the least thing I was interested in.”

Leventhal enrolled in beginning accounting, worked hard, did well and signed up for the advanced class.

“The first wave of returning GIs, 97 men, signed up for that course, with only three women or so. It was tough,” recalled Leventhal, who, taking a break, met her future husband at the drinking fountain. “Ken helped me with my homework, and I suddenly became very interested in accounting. I took every class he took after that.”

Leaving school just shy of a degree in accounting and a CPA certificate, Leventhal and her husband launched their accounting firm – Kenneth Leventhal & Co. – just four days after their wedding in 1949. When her first son, Ross, was born in 1954, she reduced her work hours. When her second son, Robert, was born, she retired from accounting altogether, focusing on raising her sons and performing community service. Along the way in 1989, she earned a master’s degree in liberal arts from the USC Graduate School.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“We first got involved with USC cheering for our son, Ross, who was on the freshman crew team,” said Leventhal of her induction into the Trojan Family. “You go to events and cheer for your child, and we just kept getting involved. It all just fell into place.”

The secret to Leventhal’s success? Being of service and staying active. Just days after accepting her honorary degree, she’ll be cycling across the country – from Savannah, Ga., to the Berkshires, flying home midway to receive an honor, the coveted Grace Award, from the Girl Scout Council of Los Angeles. She’ll be in heady company: Past recipients of the prize, which honors service to the community, are former First Lady Betty Ford, Los Angeles Councilwoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, La Opinión publisher Monica Lozano and former USC basketball star Cheryl Miller.

“You collect a lot of things over time, especially if you’ve been living in the same house for 41 years,” said the bibliophile whose bookshelves gobble up a good portion of her home. (She favors history, biography and historical novels and is currently reading biographies of Walter and Moses Annenberg and John D. Rockefeller Sr.)

“And I found my old Girl Scout uniform, and I tried it on. I thought it’d be a kick to wear it to the Girl Scouts award ceremony. It’s a little tight, but it fits. I’m in it – that’s the important thing.”

With Leventhal it’s not only the fact of the accomplishment but the trying, the aiming, that counts. And enthusiasm and boundless energy are her signature. She is currently director of the USC Medical Faculty Women’s Association Research Fund and Luminaires, a support organization of the Doheny Eye Institute, and vice chair of the Doheny Eye Institute’s board of directors.

“We didn’t foresee the Great Depression, that my family would be stuck here and never return to the Midwest,” said Leventhal of the unexpected events that made her a Californian. “And we’re still stuck here! But what a stay it’s been.”


Kenneth Leventhal: Savvy Businessman, Philanthropist
Doctor of Humane Letters,
Honoris Causa

by Zsa Zsa Gershick

Yes, it’s true. Kenneth Leventhal began an auspicious accounting career as a child hawking the Los Angeles Herald-Express on the streets of 1930s Hollywood.

In fact, Leventhal – who’ll receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters at USC’s 117th commencement ceremony May 12 – may just owe his career to a young man with a pencil.

The Herald-Express route manager who delivered fresh newspapers to young Leventhal and collected his cash each afternoon mentioned one day that he was taking a correspondence course to become an accountant. “What’s an accountant?” asked the 10-year-old. The man pulled a pencil from the pocket of his tweed jacket. “See this?” he said to the boy. “Being an accountant means that with just a pencil I can go into business.” “Hmm,” thought the boy, “a pencil costs a nickel, and I can always earn a nickel. I think I’ll be an accountant, too.”

“From that moment, he never deviated,” said Leventhal’s wife, Elaine. (See story this page.) “He’s a very enterprising fellow.”

So enterprising that soon after, as a student at Holly wood High, Leventhal had become the manager of a network of newspaper routes.

After a hitch in the U.S. Army during World War II, the Airborne infantryman attended UCLA on the G.I. Bill. There he met his wife, and in 1949, the pair founded Kenneth Leventhal & Co. By 1994 the firm was to become the nation’s ninth-largest certified public accounting firm. (The firm merged with Ernst & Young in 1995.) At the same time, the firm’s international affiliate, Clark Kenneth Leventhal & Co., had become the world’s 12th-largest accounting outfit.

“I’m not sure that I’m deserving of an honorary doctorate, but I’m thrilled,” said Leventhal with characteristic humility. “I have no advanced degree, and my pursuits have not been academic. There are so many outstanding scholars who are deserving of such an honor. I’m overwhelmed.”

But Leventhal’s pursuits have, in fact, been decidedly academic: He was one of the founders in the 1960s of the USC School of Accounting, and in 1996, Leventhal and his wife, Elaine, gave $15 million to the school, which now bears their name. That same year, Leventhal was appointed chairman of USC’s phenomenally successful Building on Excellence campaign. (The campaign results have to date reached $1.6 billion.)

“It all began when UCLA discontinued its accounting degree program and stuck its accounting students into the economics department,” recounted Leventhal, who had been teaching accounting part time at his alma mater. “Accountants shouldn’t be in the economics department. It’s wrong. So I came over to USC, which has always been so entrepreneurial, so willing to try things. I thought it would be a good place to spend my efforts. They probably already had the idea of creating a separate ac counting school. I just helped things along.”

And help things along he did: In fact, the Leventhal School is consistently ranked among the nation’s top accounting schools.

“USC’s School of Accounting is an outstanding school today due, in large part, to Kenneth’s commitment to and passion for accounting education,” said Alan Kreditor, senior vice president for university advancement. “We’re pleased to honor his substantial efforts.”

Leventhal, a member of the USC board of trustees since 1977, has served on the boards of councilors of the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Leventhal School of Accounting. He is a member of USC Associates, USC Accounting Circle and USC Accounting Associates and is a former director of the California Society of Professional Accountants.

But Leventhal plays as hard as he works. An enthusiastic cyclist, he puts in 50 to 60 miles each weekend, riding up Sepulveda Boulevard, through San Diego’s Balboa Park or along the coastline, down along the San Gabriel River or up through Ojai. For the past two decades he and his wife have ridden around Europe each summer.

“In adulthood, the progression of activity is: First you run. And when you can’t run anymore, then you ride a bicycle,” said Leventhal, in his dry-humored, understated way. “After that, you take a cruise. We’re almost at the cruise stage.”

In his many years of service to the university, Leventhal has endowed the Kenneth Leventhal Professorship in Accounting and made important gifts to the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences John R. Hubbard Chair in History, USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and USC Athletics. But his special pet will always be the School of Accounting, which he said, has a special mission as we head into the 21st century.

“As the world adopts capitalism, you have to have capital markets,” said Leventhal. “And in order to have capital markets, you have to have reliable financial information. One of the fundamental cornerstones of capitalism is reliable financial information and top-notch accounting education. I believe there’s enormous potential and need for well-trained accountants – USC-trained accountants – who can inculcate the world markets with integrity and independence.”


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