President Steven B. Sample gave USC trustees until August to name his successor; in December, they said they would take until June. But when the trustees abruptly ended their search on March 11 by naming provost and executive vice president C. L. Max Nikias USC’s next president, they made the right decision.
President Sample had an unparalleled run in USC’s history and perhaps in the history of higher education. As he leaves, now is the time for an insider — someone intimately familiar with USC’s campus and life — to guide the university through a new slate of challenges and opportunities. Nikias has been at USC since 1991, as an engineering professor, the dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering and eventually the provost. He knows that the fabric of our campus and the spirit of its students and faculty can be as important as any ranking.
For the last 20 years, USC has faced many external tests. It has toiled to match up against the nation’s top universities and attract exceptional students from across the country and the world. As he continues these efforts, Nikias is the man best suited to look inward. Better than any other candidate, he can lead USC’s ambitious plan for expansion north of Jefferson Boulevard, the university’s Master Plan. He can foster a student body and campus, finishing the awkward transition away from being a commuter school. He can ensure that USC emerges as the jewel of a Downtown Los Angeles still trying to figure itself out.
One area where Nikias hopes to mimic Sample is USC’s endowment. Despite Sample’s prolific fundraising efforts — the president raised the endowment from $470 million to $3.7 billion during his tenure — USC’s per-student endowment is still dwarfed by the high-profile institutions Sample loves comparing USC to. As USC prepares for the next phase of a major capital improvement plan, a far sturdier endowment will be crucial, and Nikias is right to make doubling our endowment a clarion goal.
Nikias is not the administrator most well known to students. For us, the provost can sometimes seem out of sight, even obscure. But as a 19-year veteran of our campus, he will be able to forge a connection with students and make himself a visible presence on campus. He’s already part of the Trojan Family, and he knows what the concept means to the students, faculty and staff here — and why it makes our school unique.
We applaud the selection committee for choosing Nikias because we believe he embodies the promise of USC’s potential and has the vision to realize it.