Leading Through Values

For more than 150 years, the American research university has served the dual mission of providing education in the liberal arts and creating new knowledge to benefit society. The land-grant universities of the 19th century and the emergence of the modern research university in the 20th century were born in response to the social and industrial revolutions transforming the United States and the world. In every era, the greatest of these research universities have emerged by recognizing the urgency of the moment, by marshalling intellectual capital, and by deploying this precious resource in unique ways to not only transform society but to transform higher education as well.

Since its founding in 1880, the University of Southern California has embraced the two-fold mission of the American research university and has continuously evolved to meet its calling – to create informed and prepared citizens of the world, to advance new knowledge, and to serve the public good. When Los Angeles needed a professional class to meet the needs of a burgeoning city, USC created schools of engineering, business, medicine, education, law, public administration, and dentistry, among others. As the city became the creative capital of the world, USC, almost unique among research universities, answered the call by creating world-class conservatory-quality arts schools in music, the fine arts and design, architecture, cinema, theatre and, most recently, dance. When it hosted Olympic games in 1932 and 1984, USC helped Los Angeles welcome the world to Southern California and, as it has in every modern Olympiad, showcased its world-class international athletes and its exceptional athletic programs. When veterans of the Second World War returned home with the promise of new opportunities and the GI Bill, USC expanded to meet the need. As multiple needs emerged in our surrounding communities, USC increased its support for local schools, health facilities, community service, and neighborhood and civic engagement. And throughout its history, as the world needed scholarly research and innovation to respond to crisis or to make the lives of people around the world just a bit better, USC responded, whether it was by creating one of the first mobile health clinics, helping to invent the internet, launching a groundbreaking hydrocarbon research center, creating digital media centers and institutes, ushering the era of computational biology, or inventing a retinal implant that allows the blind to see.

And now, the 21st century calls, with its myriad unique challenges, but also with opportunities to be seized and acted upon. Compared to just a few years ago, the world has become smaller and more interconnected. Migration from rural environments into large, diverse urban “megacities” is accelerating. Populations are aging. Silicon-based intelligences are interfacing with biologically-based intelligences. Social media is changing how we communicate – how quickly and how accurately. The arts and humanities are more salient than ever as we strive for greater cross-cultural awareness and mutual understanding. Security, sustainability, and health care are not esoteric concepts, but daily urgencies. And, universities themselves and the roles they play are being questioned. Are liberal arts values still relevant in today’s world? Is higher education still a vehicle for upward mobility and the most secure route to prosperity? Are universities concerned with providing access and opportunity or is higher education only for those who can afford it?

USC is that institution – in the right place, at the right time, with the right outlook, and with the intellectual capital and academic values necessary to change the course of the 21st century.

What is required of a leading institution of higher learning is to rise to the challenges facing society and higher education for the 21st century. USC is that institution – in the right place, at the right time, with the right outlook, and with the intellectual capital and academic values necessary to change the course of the 21st century. Over the past two decades, USC has been on an unmatched trajectory to become a leading voice in what universities can and should be. The recruitment and nurturing of transformative scholars and creative artists, high-achieving students, and innovative and hard-working staff have created a pool of talent required for this mission. USC’s location along the Pacific Rim during the Age of the Pacific, and more importantly its location in one of the world’s great megacities properly positions USC for the task ahead. The tremendous support of alumni, parents, trustees, and other members of the Trojan Family, resulting in a successful and unprecedented $6 billion fundraising campaign over the past seven years, has provided the fuel for this mission. And, finally, the values of informed risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit, thirst for impact and the unfettered search for truth have prepared USC for the task ahead: to be the leading voice in higher education for the 21st century by transforming the world and higher education.

The modern university traces its roots back almost a millennium. Its longevity is in no small part due to core academic values that each institution interprets in its own way. At USC, we abide by four pillars: free inquiry, an institutional commitment to the search for truth to be defended against any external or internal threat; the values of the Trojan Family, including caring and respect for one another as individuals, appreciation of diversity, team spirit, strong alumni networks, and a commitment to service; a commitment to informed risk taking within a culture of targeted experimentation that helps USC prepare for an uncertain future; and, a commitment to ethical conduct as spelled out in USC’s Code of Ethics. Our core values represent our legacy and destiny. While those values are enduring, the contexts in which they apply are dynamic. Every age presents new challenges that test our commitment. But those challenges also present fresh opportunities to renew our values and to meet the needs and desires of a new generation. Whatever challenges we face, our actions must be in harmony, always, with our values.

Our mission – to serve our students, our patients, and our communities – must be judged not just on impact but on integrity, and not just on endpoints but on ethics. In the coming years, we will engage in university-wide discussions of our current values and those new values we need to embrace. We will identify ways to communicate our core values to our constituencies. We will prioritize ethical behavior as we recruit and retain university leaders. We will seek ways to identify and reward those faculty, staff, and students who exhibit and promote our core values. And we will seek ways to promote those values throughout our curricula. For USC to be a leading voice in the 21st century, we must be known not just for what we do but how we do it.