When I heard that President Steven B. Sample would be retiring at the end of the year, my first reaction was, “So what?”
In my time at USC, I have not met Sample; in fact, I doubt I would recognize him on the street. My reaction was so minimal because I really had no idea what it is that Sample does.
I don’t think I am alone. Sample has not been a visible presence on the campus that he has lead for almost 19 years. At many universities, presidents make an effort to promote their own name by making plenty of speeches and public appearances, but Sample has not done that.
And so, most students are not aware of Sample’s efforts, or of the fact that without him they would likely not be here today.
But USC students should be more cognizant of his impact on their presence and experience here at USC.
During his tenure as USC president, Sample hasn’t been the university’s most visible figure — a certain football coach fills that role — but he has focused doggedly on his goal of turning USC from the “University of Second Choice” or “University of Spoiled Children” to a top-tier research university that attracts high-caliber students and professors from around the world.
It’s a goal of many presidents at middling universities, but Sample is perhaps the best success story of all.
When Sample took over in 1991, USC was ranked 51st in the US News & World Report rankings of US research universities. Today it is 26th. Sample achieved this by increasing merit scholarships and becoming a wildly successful fundraiser, encouraging a virtuous cycle wherein good students, professors and money attract more good students, professors and money.
Many of us consulted the US News rankings when deciding where to go to school; we would not have been so interested in USC if it was still No. 51.
Many of us would also not have been interested in USC in 1991 because of the surrounding neighborhood. But instead of caving to pressure to move the school to Orange County after the 1992 LA riots, Sample became determined to improve the North University Park area by investing money and encouraging students to volunteer.
Today, the USC area, although far from insulated, is safer, and students enjoy great opportunities to become engaged with their surroundings by volunteering. This year USC was named the top “good neighbor” college in a national survey of colleges and universities.
Sample has also led amazing improvements to the campus itself. His fundraising efforts have allowed for the construction of new buildings like the Annenberg School for Communication, the Galen Center and the upcoming campus center that make student life at USC more comfortable, interesting and fun.
And while Sample has stayed out of the spotlight, he has not shied away from putting USC in it. He has worked tirelessly to promote USC’s reputation, and realizes that improving a school is only most significant when matched with a strong effort to market those improvements. As a result, USC’s name continues to gain prestige nationwide and worldwide, and those “University of …” monikers are fading away.
Without Sample, many of us would be attending other universities right now — probably ones without the combination of student lifestyle and academic prestige offered by USC.
So thank you, President Sample, for being our university’s invisible guiding hand. We hope that whoever the next president will be, he or she will learn from your vision and skills to continue pushing USC on an upward path.
Daniel Charnoff is a junior majoring in international relations (global business).