Taking the next step

In his inaugural address, President C. L. Max Nikias challenged USC to become an undisputed elite university:

“For this university and for our Trojan Family, our own quest … means the difference between being a “hot” and “up-and-coming” university and being undisputedly one of the most elite and influential institutions in the world.”

In response to Nikias’ challenge, Provost Elizabeth Garrett has launched a plan to transform departments and programs in the humanities and social sciences.

This program, said Executive Vice Provost Michael Quick, has the potential to bring USC to the next level.

“We have some good programs [at USC] and we want to work with them and their various deans to really move them to the top in the world,” Quick said. “By doing that we are putting ourselves in the top tier.”

Faculty review committees have been established to determine which departments should be selected. Two separate advisory committees have been formed, one for the social sciences and one for the humanities.

The provost’s office has called on departments throughout USC to submit proposals outlining how distinction and additional funding could propel them to the top of their fields. Departments will have to consult outside sources to identify faculty they would hire and research they would pursue if they are selected as transformative departments by the provost’s office.

The transforming departments program is a permanent change in the operations of the university, according to Quick.

“This is how we are going to be doing things from now on,” he said.

Hiring the best

One of the ways the program seeks to enhance USC’s programs is by enabling the hiring of esteemed faculty.

Dana Goldman, a member of the Provost’s Social Science Advisory Committee and a professor at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development, said faculty members are critical to paving the way for greater global recognition.

“With the appropriate investments, [a department] can be immediately recognized as a national leader in various areas,” Goldman said. “Hiring good junior [faculty] is an important way for USC to play a significant role on the national stage.”

Quick is confident USC can find the country’s best faculty because of the improvements it has made in the undergraduate programs.

“A lot of resources and energy has been put into the undergraduate education and it shows through USC’s rising in the rankings,” Quick said. “Doing the same with the faculty is the next step we need to take.”

Healthy competition

The provost’s program will greatly influence undergraduate and graduate education.

“[The provost’s program] will cause a ripple effect across campus,” Quick said. “Graduate students want to study with the top scholars across the country, and higher caliber graduate programs end up affecting undergraduate students.”

Undergraduates will be directly impacted as the selected departments will attract better teaching assistants, who are typically graduate students.

Goldman believes the program will also impact programs that are not selected. The program, he noted, creates healthy competition between departments, but also encourages interdisciplinary work, which can benefit all departments.

Goldman, who directs the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health and Policy Economics, an interdisciplinary research center, said he thinks the program will present a myriad of new opportunities.

“We are finding ways that we can have USC excel in areas that it has previously not,” Goldman said. “It will jump-start broad avenues of research that will have broad percussions for all departments”

Quick does not think there will be negative ramifications for departments not selected. He maintains that any department has the opportunity to become a transformative department.

“If [a department] makes a case that it can be great and internal faculty committees think that is the case, we are going to go with it,” Quick said. “Everyone has the opportunity to play.”

Philosophically speaking

Scott Soames, director of the department of philosophy, recently applied the philosophy department for recognition as a transformative department.

In the philosophy department’s application, Soames highlighted the current research being conducted at the department’s various centers including its Center for Philosophy and Language, as well as the department’s strengths in early modern philosophy and formal epistemology.

If recognized by the Provost’s office, Soames hopes to hire new faculty and establish a two-year postdoctoral fellowship program, which will help strengthen the department’s current curriculum and enhance its graduate programs. Soames also intends to expand the department’s philosophy, politics, and law major.

According to Soames, an emphasis on the undergraduate level is crucial for the university’s scholarly growth.

“The university as a whole is trying very hard to establish itself as an elite university research institution in all respect and a top-flight bachelor’s degree program is vital,” Soames said.

Quick looks forward to evaluating the applications for the transformative departments program.

“I hope that we get so many great proposals that we have to work hard to find the money [to fund departments],” Quick said. “As far as we are concerned that is a great challenge to have.”