President Steven B. Sample, who has guided USC’s ascension through the academic, philanthropic and economic ranks for 19 years, announced Monday he will be stepping down in August.
“It has been a calling, an all-consuming passion to move this university ahead farther and faster than any other university in the United States,” Sample said in a statement released by USC. “We have been blessed to have pursued this mission in the company of many colleagues and friends who share our commitment to USC’s advancement. Our years here have simply been exhilarating.”
And in fact, Sample arguably has moved the university ahead farther and faster than any other president in the school’s history. During his storied tenure, USC’s acceptance rate has plummeted as SAT scores and qualifications have soared. He has boosted the school’s global outreach — particularly around the Pacific Rim, helped create plans for a dramatic expansion, oversaw the most successful fundraising campaign in higher education history and helped attract more highly qualified faculty members than ever before.
USC’s endowment — though it has slipped a bit in the last year — grew to nearly $4 billion under Sample. Seven professional schools were named for donors in the past 10 years. And five donations of more than $100 million — the most of that size to any school — have been given. As Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson said, Sample will be missed.
“President Sample will be remembered as one of America’s greatest and visionary university leaders,” Jackson wrote in an email. “Under his guidance and pursuit of excellence, USC has become an international powerhouse that students from all around the globe want to attend … We will miss him.”
Under Sample’s leadership, USC has transformed into a renowned research university with a wide reach. Not only has the quality of the student body improved, but the increasingly academic focus has made the school more attractive to both students and faculty.
“Steven Sample has been a transformative leader for USC,” Alexander Capron, president of the faculty, wrote in an email. “The university his successor will inherit is radically different than the one President Sample found when he arrived two decades ago from Buffalo [N.Y.]. From the faculty viewpoint, he set up a virtuous cycle: Better students led to a better reputation and more resources.”
The students are undeniably more qualified. SAT scores have risen 300 points over Sample’s 19-year tenure. The graduation rate has jumped from around 60 percent to nearly 90 percent. USC now enrolls 232 National Merit Scholars; 19 years ago, it hosted just 33.
These more academically accomplished students, also come from a wider variety of geographical locations. As a result, USC has been transformed from a commuter campus to a residential one.
“The faculty have benefited from USC becoming ‘The Living University,’ with increasingly residential and vibrant campuses, deep engagement with the community, the region and the world, and a clear recognition of the need for greater sustainability in all we do,” Capron wrote.
Though the university community has expanded to encompass students from across the world — USC boasts the largest international population of any school — President Sample kept focus on the community close to home, too.
Sample oversaw the creation of the Good Neighbors Program, which asks faculty and staff to donate a portion of their salaries to community outreach programs. He also spearheaded the development of the Master Plan, which will guide USC’s development during the next 30 years. William Tierney, the director of USC’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, said this is one of Sample’s top achievements.
“His major accomplishments include reframing how universities should work with local communities, rethinking what students should major in and study, and providing faculty and staff with a strategic direction and a sense of optimism,” Tierney wrote in an email.
These steps — bettering academics, economics and outreach — have faculty members believing Sample’s time at USC will not soon be forgotten.
“Sample has done an incomparable job of bringing this university into the front ranks of American higher education,” Geneva Overholser, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, wrote in an email. “The advances, both academically and fiscally, during his long tenure have been extraordinary. He’s earned a change of pace, for sure, and it will be exciting to see what the next chapter brings.”
Tierney added that he thinks Sample will be known as one of the top five university presidents of the past half-century.
With the announcement of his retirement, the Board of Trustees will begin searching for the university’s next president. The Los Angeles Times reported that Executive Vice President and Provost C.L. Max Nikias is one of the top contenders.
Board of Trustees Chairman Edward P. Roski Jr. said choosing Sample’s successor will be no small task.
“Dr. Sample has engineered the most dramatic rise in quality and ranking of any American university,” Roski said in a press release. “From the very start he understood the entrepreneurial zeal of USC and fueled our desire to be excellent … And the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Filling his shoes will be a big job for the trustees.”
Sample will be missed not just because of his contributions to the university, but also because of his personal character.
“Not only is he a brilliant leader, he is kind and makes you feel that you can accomplish anything if you stay focused,” Jackson wrote. “He leaves a great legacy and it is our responsibility to build on it so that future generations of Trojans can benefit from the resources of our great university.”