On Thursday, March 11 before spring break, when I left my last class of the week to go home and pack, I quickly checked my e-mail. Upon first glance, I thought I received yet another e-mail from Provost C. L. Max Nikias. Instead, the subject line read “C. L. Max Nikias named 11th president of USC.”
Suddenly, I realized the USC Board of Trustees’ unanimous selection of Provost Nikias to succeed President Sample displayed the final sign of Steven B. Sample’s phenomenal leadership.
Typically presidents of universities are selected from outside the university. Almost all of USC’s 10 presidents prior to Nikias followed this trend. USC President John R. Hubbard was the only person to have become president from the position of vice president and provost — Hubbard had only held that position for one year.
Perhaps, universities choose outsiders for this position because insiders tend to follow the footsteps of recent presidents and could lack a unique vision.
Nick Hamada, a senior majoring in international relations (global business), recalls an alumni event from Sample’s leadership course, The Art and Adventure of Leadership (MDA 365), last fall when a student asked Sample, “What qualities do you want in the next president?”
“I will not answer that because I will inevitably describe myself,” Sample replied. Sample had no vote in the selection of the next president. Presidents have their own flavor and their own initiatives. He did not want someone that would act exactly like him. He wanted the new president to have a vision for USC’s greatness, yet shape his own programs to realize it.
USC’s Presidential Advisory Search Committee unanimously chose Nikias to succeed Sample from a pool of 75 qualified presidents and provosts from around the country and world. He was chosen to be the future leader for the university for his vision.
Provost Nikias undoubtedly holds qualifications for this position, having established new programs and scholarships at USC, including the Progressive Degree Program and scholarships for global academic immersion. He also quintupled Ph.D. fellowships to $20 million.
He has served USC since 1991 when he initiated development of the center for multimedia research, which later became the award-winning Integrated Multimedia Systems Center. Nikias served his entire Trojan career under President Sample’s leadership and became Provost in 2005.
Under normal circumstances, an incoming president with 19 years under the leadership of one person would be a curse. Nikias could be a clone of Sample.
But leadership books properly place a great emphasis on the value of mentoring people to lead in one’s stead. A good leader will train a successor to perform even better. This is what leadership guru Jim Collins refers to as level five leadership.
The fact that Nikias embodies a new energy and a fresh and original vision for USC illustrates Sample’s success as a leader. Sample was able to share his platform with the provost — to allow Nikias to stand on his shoulders.
It is likely Nikias will move the Trojan Family, which he proudly embraces, forward by leaps and bounds. He will honor Sample’s legacy while bringing new direction and accelerating the reputation and integrity of USC’s academic community.
The selection of Nikias fully demonstrates what it has meant for Sample to be USC’s leader. It is the perfect honor of his legacy. It is his final encore.
Let us be grateful for President Sample’s phenomenal leadership, particularly as he instilled a culture of dreamers in positions of power. Let us be grateful for our future President Nikias.
Remember: As USC moves up in caliber, we all benefit and will continue to enjoy these benefits as we become alumni.
Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in economics and mathematics. His column “The Bridge” runs Wednesdays.