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Three USC College Faculty Appointed University, Distinguished Professors

"Their outstanding accomplishments do honor to the university,” USC President Steven B. Sample said.

Three USC College Faculty Appointed University, Distinguished Professors

USC President Steven B. Sample has appointed neuroscientist Richard Thompson, a leading authority on learning and memory, and holder of the William M. Keck Chair in Biological Sciences in USC College, as University Professor.

In a separate appointment, Sample has honored as Distinguished Professor James Higginbotham, an international figure in philosophy and linguistics, and holder of the Linda MacDonald Hilf Chair in Philosophy in the College.

University Professor Solomon Golomb, holder of the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Chair in Communications in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and a professor of mathematics in the College, was also named Distinguished Professor.

“Richard Thompson, James Higginbotham and Solomon Golomb have made vital and lasting contributions to their fields,” College Dean Howard Gillman said, “and all of us at USC College are privileged to be able to call them colleagues.”

Thompson joins 20 professors university-wide who hold the title of University Professor, an honor reserved for faculty members who have displayed significant accomplishments in several disciplines.

He joins 13 other University Professors with appointments in the College, including renowned historian Kevin Starr, honored by President George W. Bush with the 2006 National Humanities Medal, and Caleb Finch, a trailblazer in the field of aging research.

“I am, of course, extremely pleased and honored to be appointed University Professor,” Thompson said. “It’s the kind of honor that one can hope for but not expect. Like other extraordinary honors, e.g., National Academy of Sciences, many are deserving but few are chosen. My thanks to the university.”

In a career spanning more than a half-century, Thompson has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the neurobiological substrates of learning and memory. Regarded by many as the world’s leading authority in his field, he was the first neuroscientist to identify and map the neural circuits responsible for classical conditioning — or Pavlovian learning.

Before arriving at USC College in 1987, Thompson was Bing Professor of human biology and professor of psychology at Stanford University, where he served as chair of the human biology program.

At USC, Thompson served as director of the Neural, Informational and Behavioral Sciences Program from 1989 to 2001, and was instrumental in recruiting many leading neuroscientists, who collectively formed one of the nation’s first interdisciplinary neuroscience programs.

Thompson, who also holds an appointment in psychology, is recognized as an exceptional mentor, guiding the careers of more than 60 graduate students and postdocs, many of whom are now senior leaders in the field of behavioral neuroscience.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the National Science Board.

Higginbotham and Golomb join 19 professors university-wide who hold the title of Distinguished Professor, including six with appointments in the College. The honor is given to professors whose accomplishments have brought special renown to the university.

Specializing in the philosophy of language, Higginbotham is a pre-eminent expert in generative grammar and linguistic semantics. For the past three decades, Higginbotham has continued to make key contributions to the study of philosophy and linguistics.

“The honor was most unexpected,” Higginbotham said. “In the past, I have been honored to be appointed to the British Academy, and to sign my own name in ink in the very register previously signed by some of the giants of my subject. I’m equally honored by my appointment as Distinguished Professor at USC, and to be counted in the company of such a diverse group of renowned scholars and scientists.”

Before his arrival at USC College in 2000, Higginbotham was the professor of general linguistics at the University of Oxford, 1993–2000, and a professor linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1980–1993.

Currently, Higginbotham is chair of linguistics and the former director of philosophy in the College. He has been credited as the key catalyst in the recruitment of several prominent philosophers and oversaw the philosophy faculty’s expansion from 12 to 18.

He has served on the College’s Initiatives Advisory Committee and the University Committee on Academic Policies and Procedures. He also has served on the University Committee on Academic Review, the University Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenure, and the College’s Strategic Planning Task Force.

Higginbotham is also an editor of the series Oxford Cognitive Science, and is an associate editor of The Journal of Philosophy.

In 1976, Golomb became USC’s first faculty member to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and he received the USC Presidential Medallion in 1985. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Golomb received the 2000 Richard W. Hamming Gold Medal of the IEEE, for outstanding contributions to communications.

He has also received the Claude E. Shannon Award, the highest honor for those making consistent and profound contributions in the field of information theory. Among his more than 250 publications are epoch-making papers and monographs in 50 distinguishable subject areas of science and engineering.

Before arriving at USC in 1963, Golomb earned his bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University and master’s and doctorate at Harvard University.

He was a researcher and research supervisor in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, during which time his JPL team bounced a radar signal off Venus — the first successful contact with another planet. Fifty years ago, he was part of the JPL team that launched Explorer I, the nation’s first successful Earth satellite. His team pioneered the entire field of space communications, and was at the forefront of digital communications.

In mathematics, Golomb has made major contributions to combinatorial analysis, geometry, number theory and abstract algebra, including cyclotomy.

Golomb’s 45 years at USC have included service as president of the USC Faculty Senate and vice provost overseeing research.