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Dean Aoun Lauds USC College Momentum at State of the College Address

Dean Aoun Lauds USC College Momentum at State of the College Address

Announces formation of general ed panel, welcomes 31 new faculty

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
October 2004

In the annual State of the College address held on September 29, USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences Dean Joseph Aoun announced the formation of a distinguished panel of USC College faculty who will conduct a reassessment of the general education program.

This review panel will be co-chaired by University Professor of English Leo Braudy and Professor Werner Dappen, who is the current chair of the General Education Committee and a physics professor.

“After a broad consultation and discussion, the university has just updated its strategic plan. Although the general education curriculum overseen by the College has been continuously reviewed,” the dean stated, “we should nonetheless check to insure that our approaches are still attuned to the changing educational landscape and the demands of today’s students.”

“The new emphasis on student-centered approaches to learning offers both challenges and opportunities that we should now address,” said Aoun.

At the State of the College address, Dean Aoun stressed the College’s dedication to undergraduate education and the importance of providing students with a range of opportunities for life long learning. The speech, delivered in the Mudd Hall of Philosophy, was followed by a new faculty reception in the building’s courtyard.

In 2000, the College developed a strategic plan that paralleled the university’s initiatives in undergraduate education, life sciences, urbanization and globalization, and language and mind; and language and culture. Crosscutting emphases included computation and information; and diversity. 

Since that time,  “It’s been a success story,” said Aoun.

As a result of focused attention and investment, the College student body improved dramatically since 2000. Applications for the Class of 2008 rose 27 percent from four years ago, from 11,960 applicants to 15,139. The mean SAT score for College majors was up from 1302 to 1362.

With major support provided by the Provost’s graduate initiative the College made a huge investment in graduate funding. In particular, there was a 30 percent annual increase in graduate student support, totaling a $140 million allocation over four years. Programs have been revised and updated, with neuroscience, economics and history expanding to university-wide graduate programs.

Since 2000, 122 new faculty members have been recruited. The size of the College faculty—469 professors—is at an all-time high. The number of minority faculty increased 32 percent over the past four years, while the number of women faculty increased 16 percent.

Thirty-one professors were welcomed this fall, and 19 of those appointments went to senior professors or “rising stars”—well-established associate professors noted for their leadership in interdisciplinary fields and teaching.

Dean Aoun pointed out that the size of the College’s faculty is still small in comparison with competitor institutions. On average, college in top private research universities have 675 faculty members.

“One way for the College to continue its growth is through partnerships, both inside and outside of the university,” said Aoun.  “These can range from simple collaborations involving a handful of professors in two departments, to comprehensive regional centers that involve dozens of institutions.”

Within USC, the College has partnered with the Annenberg School for Communication to create the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to create the Center for High Performance Computing and Communications. Aoun announced that a total of three partnerships now exist with the USC Law School and a new Interdisciplinary Program in Drug Discovery begin this fall in cooperation with the USC Pharmacy School.

In addition to collaborative centers, graduate programs have been developed in conjunction with other USC schools and joint faculty recruitment efforts have resulted in a number of faculty with joint appointments in law, engineering, communication and cinema.

Thirteen of the new faculty hires have joint appointments, such as Anne Balsamo, a professor in the interactive division in the School of Cinema-TV and the College’s Gender Studies program, and Andrei Marmor, who will teach philosophy and law.

Many professors also have multiple appointments within the College, such as Anne Porter, who is appointed in three departments: religion, art history and classics.

The number of off campus partnerships has also grown dramatically in the past four years, Aoun said.

“We look first at our immediate geography,” Aoun explained of these collaborations. “These partnerships allow us to make leaps that we would not be able to do on our own.”

External partnerships include collaborations with the Getty Research Institute, the Huntington Library, Shoah Foundation and Hebrew Union College.

Aoun cited the new Huntington-USC Institute on California and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute as two examples of how the College is leveraging its resources. “They have a magnificent collection of books and archives,” said Aoun of the Huntington. “We have a first rate group of faculty who specialize in California and the West and early modern history.”

Groundbreaking research continued to be conducted in various College institutes that draw faculty from across disciplines, said Aoun, including the Wrigley Institute, the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Dean Aoun then moved on to discuss the impact of these achievements, discussing the growth in research. Funded research has grown from $36.1 million to $54.1 million annually—an increase of 50 percent. 

Dean Aoun also discussed the physical changes around campus. “For the first time in the College’s history two major capital projects got underway,” he said, referring to the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, which opened in September 2004, and the Molecular & Computational Biology Building, which will be dedicated in April 2005.  The past four years were also marked by massive remodeling projects which included major upgrades to Science Hall, Taper Hall, the Social Science Building and Grace Ford Salvatori Hall.
“We have devoted ourselves to improving the physical facilities that are critical for first rate education and research,” Aoun said. To date, the College has invested $74 million for classroom, lab and office upgrades.

Additionally, the Dean remarked that the budget and fundraising at the College were “solid and sound,” with four years of a balanced budget and annual fundraising up from an historic average of $18 million to a high $35 million raised last year---an increase of 94 percent.

The Future

Charting the course for the next six years, the Dean pointed out the challenges facing higher education today; and discussed how the College can use these challenges as opportunities to improve the educational experience for all USC students.

Aoun commented on societal changes that have made it imperative to rethink an undergraduate, liberal arts education. “Knowledge is becoming more extensive and complex,” he said. “People are living longer and our students will likely have many careers throughout their lifetime.”

Aoun said the best way to prepare students for these new realities is to develop new ways of teaching and innovative programs.

“The high caliber students we have been attracting have real choices,” he said. “We have to offer them an education that is exciting and distinct, an education that will prepare them for a changing future and lifelong learning.”

Aoun encouraged College faculty to rethink how they can provide additional opportunities for team learning, service learning, undergraduate research, overseas study, internships and distance learning. “These are the elements of a signature USC College education,” he said.

Dean Aoun also announced a renewed commitment to improve the quality of graduate programs.

“Our goal, is to attract the best graduate students,” he said. “We must continue to think creatively about how to improve our existing programs and become leaders in emerging fields,” he said, citing computational biology, geosystems and geobiology as examples of disciplines in which the College has significant strength.

Aoun said the faculty play a key role in insuring the College remains a leader in graduate education. “You know your own field better than anyone else. What does its future look like? As a College, we need to examine where the disciplines are going.”

Aoun called upon faculty to explore how the College can develop graduate programs that lead to professional certificates.

He then stressed the importance of reformulating and redefining existing fields in innovative ways. He cited the College’s efforts in religious studies, in art collecting and display, and in literary, visual, and material studies, as a few examples of how the College is moving boldly ahead.

Aoun encouraged faculty to partner with colleagues within and beyond the College to create new research centers, which increasingly benefit from federal grant support. “The multidisciplinary research center of today, may well be the discipline of the future,” he said.

Additionally, Aoun said that targeting lifelong learners over the next six years will build on the College’s premise that that its audience for students is not exclusively 17 to 22 year olds, but also will target those in the work force who wish to change direction and find new opportunity. One program, called College on the Corridor, offers classes in creative writing to professionals in downtown Los Angeles.

The future will also hold more infrastructure upgrades, said Aoun. “Despite extensive upgrades, more and better space is still needed to support College activities.”

Aoun also announced the upcoming launch of a fundraising initiative that is expected to exceed $300 million. The kick-off, scheduled for spring 2005, will coincide with the dedication of the Molecular & Computational Biology Building.

After reflecting on this moment in the College’s history, Aoun said: “As we move boldly into the future, our goal remains the same.  The USC College vision is to become one of the best research colleges in a private institution by the end of this decade.”

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