USC’s College of Letters, Arts & Sciences is all too often perceived as the university’s dowdy, bookish older sister.
In the wake of a recession that caused a 25.6 percent drop in USC’s endowment — one of the largest hits among private institutions in the country — and a hiring freeze that lasted two years, the College was not enjoying the same spoils as some of its flashy younger siblings.
The School of Cinematic Arts, for example, bolstered by a $175 million gift from alumnus George Lucas in 2006, launched a blitzkrieg construction project that culminated in the gilded building on 34th Street.
Last fall, the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism also struck gold with a $50 million donation for a new, 90,000-square-foot building that will house studios and newsrooms.
But despite its large student population — some 10,000 undergraduates and graduate students — the College didn’t have a George Lucas, someone to help improve old facilities, hire new faculty and build on a thinly stretched course catalogue.
Enter Dana and David Dornsife.
The university announced this week that the Dornsifes are donating an unprecedented $200 million to the College, the largest single gift in USC history.
What’s more, the donation is unrestricted, meaning the College can allocate funds as it sees fit.
And though the university has yet to announce specific plans, this newfound largesse can and should go where the College needs it most: hiring new faculty members and retaining the ones it has.
The university-wide hiring freeze ended in June, but it seems its effects are still being felt in the College, especially in the humanities departments.
Language departments, in my experience, have been stretched thin in the last few years. Some of my professors said they were taking on more classes in an attempt to beef up a dwindling course list.
The Spanish department, according to its website, encompasses the largest number of students of any foreign language at USC. Yet, it seems the department has a hard time accommodating the mass of students; at the beginning of each semester, registration stragglers often crowd the classes, hoping to get in.
Meanwhile, other languages have met gruesome ends. German is an all but dead language at USC today, as the department was dismantled in 2008, leaving only a handful of introductory classes and provisions for then-majors and minors to finish their degrees.
President C. L. Max Nikias, a man who deserves kudos for bringing in more than $300 million already in his short time at the helm of the university, emphasized the singularity of the donation in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“This gift makes a big statement about the importance of the humanities and social sciences in the university, not just the sciences,” he told the Times. “It’s a very, very transformative gift.”
According to the Times, humanities and social sciences typically receive far less federal and private money than the natural sciences, which, until this week, rang true at USC.
The Dornsifes’ gift represents a milestone for USC and a loud vote of confidence for its humanities and social sciences programs.
And though construction of buildings will be important to house a burgeoning faculty, the university’s first priority should be ensuring the faculty is in fact burgeoning.
We can only hope USC heavily favors faculty growth in allocating the $200 million, the best way to support the College’s many students and its fewer, but no-less intrepid, professors who have weathered tough times.
Lucy Mueller is a senior majoring in cinema-television production. Her column, “Everything is Copy,” runs every other Thursday.