University of Southern California

About USC

Annual Address to the Faculty

by Steven B. Sample

President, University of Southern California
February 2002


The focus of my remarks today is the making of promises to constituents, and, more important, the keeping of those promises. What are the promises we have made and delivered on, and what are the promises we have made that are yet unfulfilled? I also want to consider our pivotal role as members of the faculty in building USC’s reputation for excellence, because that reputation for excellence is one of our most important assets as an institution.

Many of you may know that I wrote a book this past year, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. As so often happens with faculty, this book grew out of my teaching. During the 30 years I have served as a full-time administrator, I have always taught at least one course every year. Normally I teach electromagnetic theory, which is my particular subspecialty in electrical engineering. And occasionally I’ve been brave enough to teach a freshman course in literature. But for the last seven years I’ve been teaching a course entitled “The Art and Adventure of Leadership” with Distinguished Professor Warren Bennis. The course is open through a competitive application process to juniors and seniors from across the university. One of the things that makes this course so exciting is that it brings together the best and brightest students from every discipline. So while we admit only 40 students to the class, we make sure that we have humanists, business majors, social scientists, physical scientists, engineers, filmmakers, public administration majors, and so forth.

This course has been a great laboratory and testing ground for some of my own ideas about leadership. As I’m sure is the case with all of you, I’ve learned as much or more from teaching this course as my students have learned from taking it. Let me cite a specific example.

One of the books we read in this course is Machiavelli’s little handbook The Prince. After teaching this course a few times, one of my students (who at the time was maybe 20 years old) came up to me and said, “Professor Sample, have you ever read Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy’s History of the Roman Republic?” And I said, “No, frankly, I haven’t.” He said, “Well, you really ought to read it. It would broaden your perspective quite a bit.” I said, “You know, Greg, I’ve read The Prince five or six times, and I’ve taught it several years in a row. I should think that’s about all the Machiavelli I need.” “No,” he said, “I think you ought to read the Discourses.” I asked him to be more specific as to why. And he replied, “Here’s the point, Professor Sample: When you teach Machiavelli, you teach him as an ancient because he wrote The Prince 500 years ago. But when you read the Discourses, you find Machiavelli is looking back 2,000 years to the origins of the Roman Republic and you’re looking back 2,500 years to the same events. Suddenly there’s not that much difference in your and his temporal perspectives – that is, you and he become contemporaries for all intents and purposes. And that experience will change your view of The Prince in important ways.” I told him I thought he had a good point, and forthwith read the Discourses in its entirety.

As the foregoing anecdote illustrates, the fundamental relationship which defines the university experience is the relationship between an individual student and an individual faculty member. Many of you have heard the expression “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other” as a way to describe the essence of the teacher-student relationship. I looked up that quotation and found that it comes from U.S. President James Garfield in a speech he gave to Williams College alumni in 1871, in which he said: “I am not willing that this discussion should close without mention of the value of a true teacher. Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins [president of Williams at the time] on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus and libraries without him.”

The supreme importance of the relationship between an individual faculty member and an individual student holds true for all levels of instruction: undergraduates, professional students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. Just do the following test: Ask an alumnus what he remembers most fondly about his undergraduate experience, and he will almost always talk about a select group of individual professors, but never about “the faculty” as a group.

My wife and I recently paid a visit to our alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Being on that campus triggered a flood of memories and emotions, as you might expect. But what I remembered most clearly were a few of my professors who were truly outstanding teachers.

My point is that as we evaluate our teaching effectiveness – as individual faculty members, as departments, as schools, and as the university as a whole – we must always ask how strong are the bonds we’re forging between individual professors and individual students.

It is a tremendous responsibility and a singular honor to be a university teacher – to be a member of the professoriate. I’m an engineer by education and licensure. I’m paid full-time to be the president of USC. But I’m a faculty member first, last, and always. Of all the titles I bear, I am most proud to be a tenured full professor at the University of Southern California, because I believe the professoriate is a calling, not a job. As Frank Rhodes has famously observed, university teaching is quintessentially a moral vocation, whether one’s students be postdocs or medical residents or freshmen.

Being a member of the professoriate carries with it extraordinary privileges and extraordinary responsibilities. With our strong system of tenure here at USC, of which we can be justifiably proud, we as faculty members enjoy considerable freedom and independence. But tenure is not license. Tenure places on each of us as faculty members enormous responsibilities. Tenure works only when we take our responsibilities seriously. One way to think of these responsibilities is as a series of promises – promises that are implicit in our Role and Mission Statement.

I always like to tell the story about how USC’s Role and Mission Statement came about. In 1992 at a trustee retreat, one of our board members said, “You know, Sample, I’ve been on this board for years, and I’ve been listening to presidents and others tell us how USC is similar to the other great research universities in the country, and how at the same time USC is different from any and all of her peers. Why don’t you go up on a mountaintop somewhere and write all these essential similarities and differences down for us on one page in 12-point type.” It was the “one page in 12-point type” restriction that made this a very challenging assignment. I spent at least 100 hours of my own time on this project. I think there were 17 drafts of the Role and Mission Statement sent out to various groups for comment, always with a cover note from me saying, “Feel free to add anything you please to this statement, but then show me what you’d cut out.” The final statement was approved by the trustees in February of 1993, just about a year after the assignment was first made.

Over the past nine years, hundreds of thousands of copies of our Role and Mission Statement have been printed and widely read throughout the Trojan Family. Let me quote a few excerpts:

What comes across in our Role and Mission Statement are repeated promises of excellence. Fortunately, there are many areas in which we are delivering, or have delivered, on those promises, including undergraduate education, fundraising, endowment growth, facilities, faculty, and research funding.

Promises Delivered

Undergraduate Education
During the past decade we repeatedly promised excellence in undergraduate education, and we have delivered on that promise. We’ve used a number of counterintuitive strategies to achieve our goal of excellence in this area. For example, we reduced our target class size by 500 students relative to its historic maximum. This past fall our entering class had average SAT scores of almost 1320 and a 3.95 average grade point; both of these figures represent dramatic increases from the corresponding figures of 10 years ago. Our students now come from the top 10 percent or better of their high school classes. Twenty percent of our freshman class are legacies – children and grandchildren of Trojan alumni.

Our undergraduates are an extraordinarily talented group. We are now getting 10 applications for every opening in our freshman class, and those applicants are increasingly academically talented. We’re competing head-to-head for students with the best of the Ivy League institutions. But the fact is, the better we become, the harder we must work in order to recruit an outstanding freshman class. I would therefore ask that all of us do everything we can do to help our new vice provost for enrollment, Michael Thompson, as he works to bring in an excellent class for the fall of 2002.

In addition to improved recruitment, our faculty radically changed the undergraduate program at USC. We developed a new six-course corecurriculum which is required of every undergraduate. We developed 101 different minors – the broadest array of minors of any university in the United States – and encouraged our undergraduates to develop “breadth with depth” by taking a minor which is far removed across the intellectual landscape from their major. We developed strong community service programs, so much so that community service is now an integral part of a USC undergraduate education. We established a number of very successful residential colleges. As a consequence of all these things, we have received widespread national recognition for the excellence of our undergraduate program. Indeed, today USC is considered to be a pacesetter university nationally.

Fundraising and Endowment
We promised excellence in fundraising, and we have delivered on that promise. You may remember that the Building on Excellence campaign started out with a goal of raising $1 billion in seven years. That goal was increased to raising $1.5 billion in seven years. We then expanded the goal to raising $2 billion in nine years, through the end of 2002. We now stand at $2.1 billion with 11 months yet to go.

I’ve received oral commitments for three new gifts totaling $200 million, which I expect we shall be able to firm up and count as part of the Building on Excellence campaign before the end of the year. That would bring us to nearly $2.3 billion. If we can raise another $200 million or so, we’ll reach $2.5 billion by December 31. We would then have achieved the third most-successful fundraising campaign in the history of higher education, surpassed only by Harvard’s and Columbia’s most recent campaigns.

Our current run-rate for cash received from private sources is now $300 million per year, which is three times what it was 10 years ago. By the way, that’s not $300 million per year in pledges; that’s $300 million per year in cash received.

We also promised to increase our endowment significantly, and we have delivered on that promise. Our endowment quintupled in the last decade; it was $440 million in 1990 and $2.2 billion in the year 2000. Among private research universities, we’ve moved up five positions in 10 years – from 23rd to 18th – in terms of total endowment. We are one of only two institutions in the nation that significantly improved its endowment in the 1990s relative to its competitors.

Our growth in endowment through fundraising during this decade ranks fifth in the nation. In other words, we are fifth in the nation in generating new cash contributions to our endowment. There are two ways for an endowment to grow: market run-up, and new gifts. USC started the decade with a relatively small endowment, so the absolute dollar growth in our endowment attributable to market run-up is relatively small. But in terms of attracting new funds for endowment, we stand among the top five in the nation.

Let us keep in mind, however, that our endowment per student still lags behind that of many other private research universities. USC’s endowment per student at the end of FY 2000 was $84,000. That sounds impressive, but Stanford’s endowment per student is eight times that amount, while Caltech, Harvard, and Princeton each have more than $1 million of endowment per student.

0ur senior vice president for university advancement, Alan Kreditor, is developing a plan to move USC into the top 10 of private research universities in terms of total endowment. His plan will require us to raise several billion dollars in new endowment gifts over the next decade in order to displace eight of our current competitors; and his plan means that by the year 2012 we’ll have to achieve a run-rate in cash received from private sources of $600 million per year. Daunting? Yes. Doable? Yes, if we’re willing to work hard enough.

The pursuit of academic excellence carries with it an implied promise to construct world-class facilities, and we are delivering on that promise. We are now entering into the biggest construction program in the history of the University of Southern California. Most of the construction financing for this program is in place, but we must still raise substantial amounts of gift capital for program support.

Some of these projects have already been completed. The Doheny Library was completely renovated and retrofitted at a cost of $21 million. The new Kathleen McCarthy Quadrangle, which connects Doheny Library with Leavey Library, has been completed, and I think it is one of the most beautiful spaces in American higher education. We just opened the International Residential College at Parkside, which accommodates 400 students in a facility that is as good as anything of its kind in the country.

In addition to these completed projects we have a great deal of new construction in various stages of completion. This new construction will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. The Business Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees will continue to approve each project as to site, design, architect, cost, financing, and start date.

Several projects are in the works on the University Park campus. We have purchased University Village and the Radisson Hotel to give us a little more room in which to work. We’re going to build a new student activities center to provide additional meeting and club space for undergraduates, and the Alumni Association has expressed interest in including a new alumni center in that same facility. We’re going to build a new performing arts center, and we plan to renovate and expand Bovard Auditorium. We’re going to build Tutor Hall for the USC School of Engineering, and a new molecular biology and computational genomics research building, and we will renovate North Science Hall. Finally, we have high hopes of raising sufficient funds to build a new campus events center.

On the Health Sciences campus we also have a very ambitious construction program underway. The new 125,000 square-foot neurogenetics research center should be completed within the year. The Harlyne Norris Research Tower, totaling 190,000 square feet, is in the planning stages, and we hope to build another 200,000-square-foot biological research building which will be close to neurogenetics and the Harlyne Norris Tower. Taken together, these three facilities will provide over half a million square feet of new research space. We desperately need this space in order to take advantage of the unprecedented amounts of funding available through the National Institutes of Health for research in the biological and life-related sciences.

Our own health-care facilities, and those of our public and private hospital partners, will be substantially augmented and improved over the next few years. USC will build a new Healthcare Consultation Center, which will provide more offices for an expanded clinical faculty. Tenet Healthcare, which owns the USC University Hospital, is in the process of expanding that hospital by 60 percent. The County of Los Angeles is building a new $800-million 600-bed hospital which will be staffed by our faculty physicians and medical residents. Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, with which we have had a very close and mutually beneficial partnership for 70 years, is going to build a new hospital, and USC will help raise the funds for that important project. We must always keep in mind how fortunate we are that USC does not own its major teaching hospitals. If it did, a very large part of our total fundraising efforts would be siphoned off toward hospital construction.

Finally, we are trying to develop a major BioMedical Research Park contiguous to our Health Sciences campus. If we are successful in securing the land, we have an opportunity to establish a 110-acre facility which will be attractive to biomedical start-ups as well as established biomedical firms, and which will greatly enhance the community of East Los Angeles.

Faculty Quality and Research Funding
The pursuit of academic excellence carries with it an implied promise to build and maintain a world-class faculty, and we are delivering on that promise. USC’s faculty continues to reach for and attain higher levels of distinction every year. There are so many measures of excellence to which we can refer – for instance, George Olah winning the undivided Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1994; and the fact that USC now has 40 members of the National Academies of Science and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

This year, seven assistant professors from the USC School of Engineering received National Science Foundation Career Awards. Seven Career Awards at one university in one year is almost unheard of, even for a highly ranked engineering school like ours. Indeed, in FY 2000 we were glad to have even one NSF Career Award. Then too, in a number of fields in which federal research funding plays a major role, USC ranks number one or number two in terms of funding per principal investigator. But most important of all, the quality of our new faculty appointments continues to rise, as does the quality of those of our existing faculty who are being promoted and awarded tenure.

Some years back we promised our constituents that we would significantly increase research funding at USC, and we have delivered on that promise. Among private universities, USC now ranks ninth for total research support, having moved from $174 million in FY 1990 to $325 million in FY 2000. And in terms of federal research expenditures among private universities, USC ranks 10th, having grown from $124 million per year to $210 million per year over the decade of the ’90s. Our Keck School of Medicine has developed a plan to move from $100 million per year in federal research expenditures to $400 million per year within the next decade. It is an extremely ambitious plan, but one that I think is clearly attainable. Moreover, Provost Lloyd Armstrong is developing a plan to move USC as a whole into the top five of all private research universities in terms of annual federal research expenditures. Again, a daunting but achievable goal.


A Promise We Must Fulfill

One major promise that we must still attend to is excellence in graduate education. Most of our professional schools are very strong, and several are at or near the top in their respective fields. But graduate education in general, and Ph.D. education in particular, need and deserve considerable attention at USC.

The first step toward this goal is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our graduate programs as they exist today. To this end, Provost Armstrong has instituted a comprehensive system of academic program review. At the heart of the process is a faculty-designed plan for strengthening our academic programs, with special attention paid to graduate programs. Over a seven-year period, every academic department and program in the university will be reviewed by both internal and external assessors. After each such review, action plans will be drawn up and the University Committee on Academic Review will monitor the resulting improvements in academic quality.

But we need to go far beyond simply assessing our current programs. We need an overall strategy for dramatically improving graduate education at USC over the next decade. No institution can hope to develop excellence in all fields, especially at the doctoral level. Therefore we must be selective with respect to which programs we invest resources in. This will mean identifying programs and interdisciplinary areas in which we can establish a leadership position. In other words, in order to achieve real excellence in graduate education we must establish clear goals for doctoral education that are based on the unique characteristics of USC.

We must recruit and support the most promising young scholars. We must provide the very best instruction at the graduate level so that each student will have a solid foundation in his or her major field, as well as opportunities to undertake interdisciplinary work.

In order to recruit the best graduate students, we must be able to offer competitive levels of support. We must be willing and able to go head-to-head with the finest research universities in the country in an effort to attract the very best graduate students to our campus. Our deans and many faculty leaders would like to be able to offer all Ph.D. students four to five years of full funding, consisting of a blend of fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships.

Fellowships and research assistantships are important because they allow a graduate student to focus on his or her research. But teaching assistantships are also an important part of the development of graduate students. It is through teaching that graduate students really learn the fundamentals of their respective disciplines; it is through teaching that graduate students have an opportunity to develop and test their own ideas in the crucible of the classroom; and it is through teaching that graduate students acquire the skills necessary for mentoring younger students. As with the professoriate, being a teaching assistant in a major university is a calling, not a job, and an important part of a graduate student’s education.

We already spend $37 million per year of institutional funds for research assistantships and teaching assistantships. Extramural grants supplement this figure by a considerable amount. But even all this is not enough for us to provide full funding for all of our Ph.D. students.

Therefore I should like to announce today that, upon the recommendation of the provost, we are launching a new fundraising initiative. Our goal through this initiative will be to raise $100 million for the support of graduate education. An endowment of this size will generate approximately five million spendable dollars per year. But until we are able to reach our $100 million goal, the provost will establish a “virtual endowment” by directly funding the difference between $5 million per year and the amount actually produced by the graduate education endowment. So far we’ve raised about $12 million for this special endowment, and this $12 million will produce about 600,000 spendable dollars per year. Thus in FY 2003 the provost will provide approximately $4.4 million in supplemental funds, so that the total available for spending in that fiscal year will be $5 million. I believe this special endowment for graduate education is one of the most exciting and worthwhile projects this university has ever undertaken.

In closing, I would ask that we remember that USC is a work in progress. As we evolve, our reputation for excellence will continue to be one of our most valuable assets. This reputation for excellence will be based in large measure on the promises we make, and even more on the promises we keep. We have made important promises and delivered on those promises in years past. But there remains much work to be done in fulfilling our overall promise of excellence, and that work will never be completed.

We have certainly achieved a degree of excellence that many people would not have thought possible just a few years ago. But we cannot rest on our laurels or become complacent. Instead, all of us on the faculty and staff, and most especially those of us who are tenured, must accept responsibility for aggressively pushing the University of Southern California up to the next level of academic excellence. And, as we do so, let us never lose our ability to dream audaciously, no matter how steep and forbidding the hill before us might appear. After all, if a tiny little college in 1880, with no resources to speak of, and located in a back-water village, can become an internationally renowned research university in a little over a century, just think what the next 100 years might bring!