Students, faculty discuss branding of Dornsife

What was once known as the USC College was dubbed “Dornsife” after Dana and David Dornsife donated $200 million in March.

Now, the school wants an identity to go with that name. To find one, it is using the Dornsife Commons, a venue for students and faculty to discuss the future goals of the school, as a vehicle for input.

A diverse group of students, faculty and staff convened at the University Club on Thursday to discuss the future of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Students who are in the College are studying many different sorts of disciplines, [so] we cannot be related to careers or career opportunities as the identification of the college,” said Charles Lanski, professor of mathematics. “There has to really be some kind of academic or intellectual identification that spans disciplines.”

Johannes Schmitt, a graduate student studying philosophy, raised the question of branding Dornsife College.

By and large, interdisciplinary studies surfaced as a way to develop the Dornsife identity. Jim Haw, professor of chemistry and director of the environmental studies program, talked about letting go of “the disciplinary game,” the traditional path to professional advancement.

“It is a revolutionary way of thinking about your career and your purpose and it does not occur without some people regarding you as turning your back on your career or your profession,” Haw said.

Muse Tan, a freshman majoring in psychology, came to discuss her hopes for modifying the college’s academic culture, which she sees marked by a domestic-international division as well.

“I think Dornsife should do more to let international students have more chances to voice our own values and beliefs,” Tan said. “At the same time it’s good for domestic students to get out of their own ideas, so they can get culture shock [like I experience] once in a while.”

Eve Lee, assistant professor of German, saw her department disbanded in 2008.  She said she came to find out about the future of German language study, which is in the Slavic Literatures and Languages Department.

Though the meeting did not ostensibly convene to address Dean Howard Gillman’s departure in May, the issue loomed in people’s minds.

Though Gillman’s announcement surprised many, its ultimate impact “depends on who they have to replace him,” Lee said. “We hope it’s someone who loves the humanities, who loves foreign languages.”

During the lunch, McCann called attention to the question featured in the Commons brochure’s event description, “What should the name ‘USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ mean?”

“Now I parse that as a philosopher; we know what the Dana and David Dornsife part means,” McCann said. “It’s the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences part we need to discuss.”

The discussion continues with a second Dornsife Commons lunch on Oct. 27.