Throughout history, great research universities have been great because of the richness of their intellectual capital – the quality of their faculty, students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff who uncover truths, question, produce new knowledge, invent, create, relentlessly push against the boundaries of the impossible, and endeavor to change the world. But, as times change, so do the dispositions required to transform society. The world today is more diverse, mobile, technologically demanding, and interconnected economically and culturally than ever before.
The university must adapt to these changing conditions even as we steadfastly recommit to our core mission: the relentless pursuit of new knowledge and primary commitment to creative expression and free inquiry. This constant striving for truth and academic excellence is never ending because the world is ever changing. In answering this call, we must aspire to greater rigor and relevance, to vigorous intellectual deliberation and openness to new voices and differing perspectives, to the ceaseless desire for discovery, to an unyielding commitment to following evidence wherever it leads, and to higher standards of quality, accuracy, and accountability. Never has the university been more important and never has society asked more of it.
To strengthen our unique mission and lead in this changing landscape, we must mirror the world in how we teach and mentor, conduct research, develop the professions, practice the arts, learn, and serve others. In order to lead, we must continue to invest heavily in intellectual capital – to recruit and retain it, to build and diversify it, and to nurture and empower it.
Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Innovation is spurred not simply by necessity but by an individual’s adventurous and optimistic mindset – a mindset that undergirds notions of the American Dream, and animates those of the California Dream. Indeed, it is the sense that anything is possible which led visionaries to create Hollywood, the aerospace industry, Silicon Valley, and, most recently, Silicon Beach. Nurturing that mindset within American research universities made the United States the most innovative country in the world. For USC to lead, it must harness that same sense of innovation to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit.
Such efforts are not new to USC. In fact, being fearless in the face of possible failure was present in our founder, Judge Robert Maclay Widney, as he sought to create a major university in a small pueblo town almost 140 years ago, and it has been present ever since. We count among our faculty risk-taking Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur “Genius” Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Academy members, and National Medal recipients. We continue our innovation in the arts with the recent creation of the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the game-changing Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation. We have created unique testbeds for innovation, like the Institute for Creative Technologies, and have supported commercialization efforts through USC Stevens, the Alfred Mann Institute, and a recent National Science Foundation-funded Innovation Hub program. In an area in which USC has been a pioneer, we extended the promise of education to aspiring and practicing professionals, offering over 90 online graduate degree programs to spur innovation and serve social needs. And more recently, we created programs that harness the entrepreneurial spirit of our students, including courses of study in social entrepreneurship, the Health, Technology and Engineering certificate program, and exploring innovation across the arts, technology, and business through forward-looking academic programs and incubator opportunities.
To tackle the problems of the 21st century, universities must do more than simply recruit innovative people and help commercialize their ideas. To lead in this area is to fashion and support a culture of creativity, engagement, impact, and entrepreneurship (CEIE) across our campuses. In the coming years, we will put into place policies and reward systems that encourage CEIE by our scholars, researchers, and creative artists. We will invest in institutes and centers where success will be evaluated not just on standard academic measures, but on their success in translating ideas into impact, and in fostering CEIE in trainees. We will work with individual philanthropists, corporations, and foundations to create venture funds that will fuel the growth of new ideas. We will streamline our commercialization procedures so that they are as nimble and fearless as our entrepreneurs. We will be purposeful about making CEIE a formal part of our students’ education, both in the curriculum and through co-curricular activities. We will remind ourselves that informed risk-taking is a Trojan core value.
We will increase the opportunity for distinct voices to be heard on our campuses and we will instill the value of listening to those voices.
Embracing the Inclusive Spirit
Globalization and modern technology have made the world both smaller and larger: smaller in the sense that the world has become our neighbor; larger in the sense that our neighbors share unique life experiences and perspectives, some vastly different than our own, that can help expand our understanding, our embrace, and our worldview. For college graduates to navigate the 21st century and benefit from this diversity of thought, universities must model the 21st century for its community, and it must show students the value of diversity, equity, inclusivity, cultural sensitivity, and intercultural competence. This is even more true for research universities because diversity and inclusion spark unique, valuable perspectives and novel innovations to our research, scholarship, and creative work. Just as diversification in nature makes ecosystems stronger, generative, and more resilient, so it does for culture, society, and university communities. For USC to lead, it must embrace this inclusive spirit.
Creating a community of diverse viewpoints – economic, cultural, intellectual – in order to build a generation of innovators, leaders, visionaries, and creators remains one of the highest priorities of USC. From its humble beginnings, USC welcomed students from around the world and, in this century, has enrolled more international students than any other college in the nation. More recently, we have established a student body that ranks among the highest in the country among private research universities in the number of underrepresented groups, Pell Grant recipients, first-generation college goers, transfer students, military veterans, and religious orientations practiced, among others. We have created a number of programs to support further diversification of our student and faculty bodies, created pipeline programs to expand diversity at all levels, and, led by the Academic Senate, made significant progress in creating an inclusive campus climate with regard to age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religious affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, and veteran status.
We will continue to prioritize diversity and inclusion. We will ask every school to create and execute a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. We will invest in research programs that encourage evidence-based approaches to this work. We will create faculty leadership training programs so diverse voices have unfettered access to the mantle of university leadership here at USC and beyond. We will create programs for first-generation students – at all levels – that allow them to better navigate their campus experience and their chosen life and career paths. We will train faculty on how to foster a more inclusive classroom environment, and provide curricular opportunities for students to raise their cultural literacy. In sum, we will increase the opportunity for distinct voices to be heard on our campuses and we will instill the value of listening to those voices.
Fostering the Convergent Spirit
For decades, the overwhelming amount of information coming from major disciplines has led to a multiplication of ever-narrowing fields of discovery. Scholars have become experts in increasingly more restricted domains. Narrow expertise is still of immense importance, however, the problems of the 21st century do not fall into neatly and narrowly defined academic disciplines. For USC to lead, we must identify, recruit, train, support, and reward talent that sees problems and solutions, from multiple viewpoints, moves fluidly across disciplines, and works comfortably in large, disparate teams. And we must continue our commitment to curiosity-based research and inquiry, which so often inspires the mindset we hope to instill. USC must foster the convergent spirit.
USC has long been building convergence. It is quite common for faculty to have multiple appointments across schools. Over the past decade, USC has recruited a cadre of “Provost” professors, world-renowned scholars whose research and creative work has impacts in multiple disciplines. Dauterive Hall is a leading center for interdisciplinary social science research, and the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience brings together scientists and engineers in large-team settings to tackle increasingly complex problems, like cancer. Programs in Visual Studies, Gender Studies, Media Studies, and Thematic Option strengthen the convergence mindset across the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The Neuroscience Graduate Program, a university-wide Ph.D. training program launched in 1982, was one of the first of its kind. And top undergraduates completing degrees in multiple disciplines have long been recognized as Renaissance Scholars. Indeed, this is only a small sampling of work USC has done in the area of convergence.
Still, much more needs to be done. Over the next several years, we will invest in faculty whose work brings together divergent fields to solve intractable problems. We will invest in research in which the methodologies of one discipline are deployed in the context of one or more other disciplines to understand and attack from multiple directions the challenges of our time. We will create training programs for graduate and professional students, for postdoctoral fellows, and for junior faculty so that they become more fluent in multidisciplinary work. We will leverage USC’s immense strength in the arts, digital media, information technologies, and computer science to develop new learning and teaching paradigms. We will put into place policies and reward systems that encourage team research, creative team endeavors, and team teaching. We will create more opportunities for students to engage in group-based projects, we will create new ways students can show proficiency across disciplines, and we will make them adept at harnessing the wealth of information that currently exists across all domains of inquiry. We will change the conversation so that students speak less about their major and more about what great problems of the 21st century they hope to solve.