Faculty meet to discuss Living University concept

President of the Faculty Alex Capron pushed forward his vision of transforming USC into a “living university” at a retreat organized by the Academic Senate and the Office of the Provost in Huntington Beach this weekend.

Capron’s concept of The Living University is to engender an environment brimming with intellectual, artistic, cultural and educational opportunities that embraces and sustains a community of students, faculty and staff who live at or near the university. This community, he hopes, will radiate its lively energy to the university’s immediate environment, the city of Los Angeles and the West Coast at large.

This weekend’s retreat brought together approximately 80 faculty members and eight USC students to brainstorm ways to make Capron’s vision a reality.

The retreat featured eight brainstorming sessions that focused on either residential issues, community vibrancy, engaging the community or promoting a sustainable campus.

Attendees were divided into four different groups — one for each aspect of The Living University concept — and met once in the morning and again later for a second meeting focused on a different aspect in the afternoon.

Phillip Ehret, a senior majoring in psychology and one of the eight students invited to the retreat, said one of his break-out groups focused on building a more vibrant community on campus.

“There was a lot of talk centered around Visions and Voices,” Ehret said, referring to the university’s Arts & Humanities Initiative. “Right now, everyone goes, everyone leaves. Now, with the new campus center, they can have a place where students sit down with professors over coffee and cookies and continue those discussions outside of the venue, continue the thoughts and the learning that happened.”

Capron said the retreat was a successful first step in what will undoubtedly be a gradual process.

“This wasn’t a decision-making meeting,” Capron said. “There were lots of ideas, and some of them won’t work out.”

Ultimately, Capron’s major goal is fostering a stronger sense of community for USC students, faculty, alumni, and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Capron suggested that the great universities — places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton — place great emphasis on this relationship to their communities and community members.

He acknowledged this effort is more difficult because USC sits in a city rather than a university town, but Capron expressed excitement at the changes in the city scape around USC.

Capron acknowledged that USC, especially the University Park Campus, has made significant progress in the past two decades, evolving from a “commuter school” to one that provides housing for freshmen and sophomores in school-owned facilities with resident faculty and space for activities.

Capron further noted that USC is an increasingly vibrant place, pulsing with numerous productions, recitals, exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, concerts and other events by outside speakers and performers brought to the university by programs like Visions and Voices.

Expanding the Visions and Voices program was among the ideas presented at the retreat, Capron said.

“An idea that was put forward that got a lot of strong response was this concept of ‘Weekends at USC,’ where we’d be reaching out to faculty, students and alumni in a series of connected activities,” he said.

Capron also said he wants to build on the university’s increasing involvement in the community — improving schools, neighborhoods and public safety through student, faculty, staff and alumni efforts. Finally, Capron commented with pride that USC is making significant strides toward becoming a greener community.

“It’s further development of all the things that go on outside the classroom that add to the education of students,” Capron said. “By putting them all together, you help move the university forward more broadly. It’s an idea that’s linked to other things, part of the vision of what things could become.”

The participation of all members of the USC community is needed to make Capron’s vision a reality.

“It’s going to be a combined effort,” Ehret said. “Students have to put in the effort to communicate more, teachers have to put in the effort to communicate more. It’s great to see that the faculty has that willingness, now it’s about taking that potential and making it happen.”

Though realization of The Living University concept is a long way down the road — administrators have only just begun brainstorming potential steps — student participants at the retreat were inspired by this new vision for the university.

“I felt I was in the highest concentration of smart people I’ve ever been around,” said Collin Evans, a senior majoring in international relations. “USC has grown under President [Steven B.] Sample’s leadership. We’ve had great progress, but we’re not done if we want to be the Yale or the Harvard of Southern California.”