Nikias urges local involvement


President C. L. Max Nikias took the stage of Bovard Auditorium shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday to tell students about his goals to connect with the community and to provide additional undergraduate housing.

The first ever presidential address to students drew a modest turnout, with about a hundred empty seats on the first level of Bovard.

The 34-minute speech centered on community service and the relationship between USC and its surrounding neighborhoods — a relationship that, Nikias stressed, must be symbiotic.

Speech · President C. L. Max Nikias gave the University’s first presidential address to students in Bovard Auditorium yesterday. - Daniel Wang | Daily Trojan

“Great universities must be respectful partners with our communities. That is the ethos that USC brings. We respect and cherish our community and we learn humbly from our community,” Nikias said.

With that, Nikas outlined some of the previously announced initiatives USC has planned for its neighbors: expanding security west of campus, providing free high-speed Internet access to the 100 homes closest to the university and creating a new job development program for area businesses.

He also touched on USC’s Master Plan, a 30-year blueprint for development of the campus and surrounding area. Nikias assured the audience that additional housing for undergraduate and graduate students was a key component to that development.

“All this allows you to embrace your campus,” Nikias said.

Part of the reason campus development is important, Nikias explained, is that as the global community’s attention continues to shift toward Asia and the Pacific Rim, more attention will be placed on Los Angeles and, in turn, USC.

“Los Angeles and this university are the natural hub for this new world,” he said.

Nikias also challenged students to take advantage of the opportunities Los Angeles has to offer, commending programs like those offered by the Undergraduate Student Government that provide students free trips throughout the city.

“You can strengthen USC through one particular essential way — I want each of you and all of you to celebrate this city,” Nikias said.

Looking inward, Nikias outlined several major initiatives the university will undertake this year, the most significant of which is a fundraising campaign that Nikias called the “most ambitious” in USC’s history.

No goals have been finalized, but Nikias’ announcement that he intends to raise $1 billion in an endowment for scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students drew a few gasps from the audience.

During a 10-minute question and answer session following his remarks, Nikias also outlined plans for the new University Park Health Center, saying it will break ground this year and will be completed by December 2012.

“I know it took some time, thank you for you patience,” he said.

He also said that although USC is weighing whether or not to purchase the Los Angeles Coliseum, a potential purchase is not on his list of priorities.

“This is a work in progress,” Nikias said. “I really don’t know where this might lead.”

Nikias, who has made engagement with students a cornerstone of his presidency thus far, announced his plans for the address in November, crediting USG President Chris Cheng with giving him the idea.

“It hasn’t been six months since his inauguration, and President Nikias has already demonstrated that staying connected with the students is one of his utmost priorities,” Cheng said in his introduction Tuesday. “He diligently works to keep his thumb on the pulse of the student body.”

After Tuesday’s speech, Nikias said he was glad he had the opportunity to hear from the students. The question and answer session, he said, was something he pushed for.

“I loved it. I love the questions from the students, that was the best part,” he said. “I thought it was better to interact with the audience than to go up there and just speak.”

Joe Franco, a senior majoring in accounting, said he believed the speech did not distinguish Nikias’ plans from former USC President Steven B. Sample.

“[I’m] not too familiarized with [President] Nikias. Not too much has changed in my eyes,” Franco said. “He’s kind of just extending Sample’s vision.”

Stephen McAfee, a freshman majoring in engineering, said she enjoyed seeing this side of Nikias.

“[President Nikias is] actually pretty approachable. I didn’t think [his speech] would be like that,” McAfee said.

Overall, Nikias’ message to the students was clear: Though USC has made great strides in recent decades, there is still room for improvement.

“As you all know, the last leg of the great climb is always the steepest and the hardest and the most difficult,” Nikias said. “It is also the most memorable and the most rewarding.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that “President C. L. Max Nikias took the stage of Bovard Auditorium shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday to provide additional undergraduate housing.” Nikias only mentioned providing additional housing as a goal.

What did you think of President Nikias' speech?

  • I hated it. All presidents promise things for the student body and never follow through. (8%, 12 Votes)
  • It was ok. I wasn't particularly affected by it. (16%, 23 Votes)
  • I loved it! It was insightful and I can't wait for all the changes he talked about to be enacted. (29%, 41 Votes)
  • He gave a speech? I had no idea. (47%, 67 Votes)

Total Voters: 143

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  • Rick

    Im glad the President is so connected to the students. My question is, When is he going to start connecting with us, FMS and the rest of us in the background keeping this Campus and the buildings running. So far the year of the employee has been an utter flop. Maybe, just maybe, we will some day get the recognition from this university that we deserve.

  • Bryan

    I hope additional student housing actually means additional university-run housing. It doesn’t really help most lower- and middle-class students for private hosting companies to build palatial luxury condos like Gateway and Tuscany near campus. As much as some people may not like living in university housing, it keeps costs down, provides school-year long leases, eliminates predatory landlords, and keeps students engaged with university activities. The last thing we need is USC to turn the UV over to a private housing manager to build luxury apartments with plasma TVs and hot tubs that only kids with a sugar-daddy can really afford.