With the announcement that Executive Vice President and Provost C. L. Max Nikias will serve as USC’s next president, students and faculty members say they have high hopes for the continued growth of the university.
Student leaders said they hope Nikias will be visible and accessible throughout his tenure as president.
“If he came out showing a huge interest in listening to the student voice and listening and helping the students accomplish what they want to accomplish to make USC a better place for all of us, we couldn’t ask for more than that,” said Chris Cheng, the Undergraduate Student Government president-elect. “We’d love to see him proactively engage with the students.”
Both Cheng and Johannes Schmitt, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said they hope to hold regular meetings with Nikias to advocate student concerns.
“Something I know the students would appreciate is having their input given to him because he does make tremendous decisions for the university,” Cheng said.
Schmitt said Nikias has a tough task in succeeding Sample, but he does see several areas he hopes will be improved during Nikias’ presidency.
“The challenge for the next president is … to make the Trojan experience not only for undergraduate students but for graduate students as well,” Schmitt said. “Many of the things that are there for undergrads do not exist, at least to the same extent, for graduate students.”
Schmitt said increasing graduate-student housing to guarantee university housing for all first-year graduate students and offering competitive scholarships are ways to better include USC graduate students.
Amy Shah, incoming president of the University Residential Student Community, said housing is a primary concern among undergraduates as well.
“One of the ways to make USC stronger and have more people connected to it is by making it more residential and … making this really a home than a place where you are five days a week,” she said.
Undergraduate students also see the potential for improvement in academics, specifically the quality of professors, classroom dynamics and educational opportunities.
“A lot of emphasis needs to be put on showing students the opportunities available to them through their classes,” said Eric Ronan, the Interfraternity Council president.
Students have many concerns they hope Nikias will address as president, ranging from expanding the Lyon Center to making transportation more environmentally friendly. Sabha Salamah, a sophomore majoring in policy, planning and development, said the key is “having an open dialogue with the students to learn their concerns, so he could effectively address them.”
Students agreed that appointing Nikias as president will help continue the university’s success, though some noted there could have been benefits to hiring an outside candidate.
“The only downside I see is that you can’t bring good change from an outside perspective,” said Velma Coronado, a junior majoring in accounting, who would like to see more diversity in the USC student population.
Schmitt noted that many were still upset students were unable to sit on the search committee, but they appreciated that the committee considered their concerns about maintaining continuity.
“Because Provost Nikias has been here for so long and is as much a part of USC as anyone else, I think he can continue to build on what President Sample has done and take it in the next direction,” Shah said.
Faculty members agree that Nikias’ familiarity with USC will be good for the university.
“USC has a very unique culture, and I think it takes some time to understand what it means to be a part of the Trojan Family and I think Max has that now in his blood,” said Warren Bennis, professor of business administration, economics and finance as well as a faculty representative on the presidential search advisory committee. “It’s an enormous advantage.”
Bennis noted that he thought because Nikias is familiar with the university and how it runs, he will not be afraid to make changes.
“Max is capable of both, on one hand, adhering to and celebrating the symbols of what has led to our success, as well as reinventing in some significant uncharted ways of creating a new [and] a better USC,” said Bennis, who was formerly the president of the University of Cincinnati. “We can’t afford to do the same old thing.”
Bennis said that USC faces different challenges than it did 20 years ago, which will require a new perspective, the ability to gauge the future of the job market and the hiring of interdisciplinary professors.
Thornton School of Music Dean Robert Cutietta said he hopes Nikias will expand Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative and make that the centerpiece of his presidential philosophy.
“The arts are transformational. He can articulate that better than any of us,” Cutietta said. “Somebody like him who understands the arts and the power of the arts — that can be infectious.”
Another challenge Nikias will face is fundraising in a difficult economic climate, Bennis said, but faculty members are confident in his abilities.
“He has shown tremendous ability to engage people that are not necessarily USC alumni to support the university,” said Yannis Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering.
Robert Rasmussen, dean of the USC Gould School of Law, said Nikias’ experience as a professor, dean and provost will help him set a course for the school’s future.
“Provost Nikias already understands both why we’re a great university and how we can become an even better university,” Rasmussen said. “His emphasis on transcending boundaries is really going to transform who we are and continue to make us one of the leading universities in the world.”
Because Nikias will not need a year or two to become acquainted with the university, many believe he will be able to hit the ground running. The transitional period could have stalled USC’s recent growth, which some said they believed might have weighed heavily in the selection process.
“He has a very good sense of what needs to be done here,” said Elizabeth Daley, dean of the School of Cinematic Arts. “Max Nikias is a real visionary leader [and] absolutely the right person, at the right time, to lead this university.”