USC College Welcomes New StudentsBy Eva Emerson
September 1, 2006
This fall, USC College admitted approximately 1,150 freshman and 600 transfer students — and celebrated their arrival at its annual welcome picnic. An estimated 650 students new to the College joined some 30 faculty members for the catered, outdoor lunch in Founders Park on Aug. 18.
Peter Starr, dean of USC College and professor of French and comparative literature, personally welcomed the students. In his speech, Starr slyly introduced the kind of critical thinking skills soon to be second nature to his audience.
“I want to begin,” Starr told the crowd, “by mentioning what I’m not going to be telling you today.
“I’m not going to tell you that the College is the intellectual core of this university, and that you can find literally everything worth studying in the College,” he said, going on to mention a number of the College’s strengths, such as the fact that College faculty have won nearly 75 percent of the USC Associates Awards in Excellence in Teaching.
“I suspect you’ve long since caught me playing a classic rhetorical game, where a speaker says something, often quite forcefully, while feigning not to say it. Rhetoricians call this game ‘preterition,’ ” Starr said. The same psychological principle is at work, he noted, in the title of the bestselling book Don’t Think of an Elephant.
Starr also provided a few light-hearted life lessons gleaned from his “undistinguished career as a rock guitarist” in his youth. These included a tip on working on class projects in teams — a feature of the two recently launched College undergraduate programs, Multimedia in the Core and Team Research Communities.
He also spoke about the importance of choosing a major, even if it takes trying a number of subjects before getting it right. His third lesson called on students to get involved in active research and scholarship — even if they don’t feel ready.
“In academia, we’ve labored far too long under the assumption that undergraduates absorb knowledge, that professors produce knowledge, and that graduate school is a long rite of passage between these discontinuous roles of absorber and producer.
“These past few years, many of us in USC College have been working hard to break this assumption down, on the grounds that, whatever your age, you only truly master a field of study when you actively engage with it, put it to use,” he said.
“This semester, you won’t be asked simply to take in knowledge, but to ‘get up there’ and produce it. And it will be great!”