Gladly Will He Teach…and Gladly Learn
Esteemed Reverend Cecil Murray joins USC
By Kaitlin Solimine
Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray joined the USC College faculty in January of this year, but that doesn’t stop him from claiming to be a student.
“I think with a school like USC,” says the septuagenarian, “you come as a student. Whether you are in fact a student, faculty or staff member, if you come to USC as a student, you will benefit and be of benefit.”
And Murray certainly knows how to be of benefit to his surroundings: as senior pastor at Los Angeles’ First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) for the past 27 years, his leadership increased church membership from several hundred to more than 18,000. He also helped build FAME Renaissance, the church’s economic-development nonprofit arm, which brings corporate interests, jobs-training programs, affordable-housing development, homeowner loans and small-business incubation into the church’s low-income neighborhood.
Murray is commonly recognized in Los Angeles as a prominent figure in the city’s religious and civil landscape, remembered for his and his church’s efforts to end community violence during the 1992 Rodney King riots. While Murray was at the pulpit, FAME was regularly visited by a host of politicians and public figures, including President George W. Bush and Reverend Jesse Jackson. Murray officially retired from his post at FAME on Sept. 18, 2004.
At USC, Murray will hold the Tanzy Chair in Christian Ethics and lecture on a variety of spiritual and societal issues as well as serve as an unofficial ambassador, linking USC to its surrounding community. He has also been named a senior fellow at the College’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
“Reverend Murray is a distinguished civic leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the USC campus and our surrounding community. The impressive nature of his leadership will be an inspiration to all of the students he encounters at USC and we are looking forward to working with him to build even stronger bridges with the community,” says Joseph Aoun, Dean of USC College. “Personally, I can think of few people better qualified to carry out the university's mission of developing human beings and society through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit."
Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life at USC, agrees. “Reverend Murray has now formally assumed a role that, in a way, he has held for a long time—as USC’s senior statesman,” she says.
No Stranger to USC
In the past, Murray has been a frequent guest lecturer in an undergraduate course on leadership taught by USC President Steven Sample and University Professor Warren Bennis. He also served as a speaker at USC baccalaureate ceremonies, and received a USC honorary doctor of humane letters in 2002. He is eager to join what he describes as one of the most dynamic and inspiring environments in Los Angeles.
“Starting modestly in 1880, USC has outgrown its garment—and to outgrow your corpus is an indication that you must be doing something right,” he observes.
USC’s recent emphases on the study of globalization and on enhancing applied research also fall in line with Murray’s own hopes for the university.
“USC has 117 nations represented on its grounds—and those are nations that bring so much to the table,” he says. “In addition to USC’s multiculturalism, it has a hunger for growth through research. The book seems to be constantly in writing.”
“Pass the Bread, Please”
Murray sees USC’s numerous outreach programs as the University’s most effective way of making academe—which is often seen as insular and distant—an active and engaged force in society.
“USC is placed at this unique point in time and history, to serve as an exemplar of multiculturalism, of pluralism and of positivism,” says Murray. “The world is hungry and is reaching out saying, ‘pass the bread, please.’”
Murray will be directly involved in facilitating this outreach at USC, serving as an interpreter to community groups of the University’s research and how it relates to them, says Grace Dyrness, associate director at the College’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
The College’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), one of the oldest service-learning programs in the country, is one such outreach program that Murray says is an example of the greatness USC students, faculty and staff are capable of accomplishing.
“Anybody who wants to be cynical has only to stand on the front porch of the JEP program and look at these volunteers come and sign up to help others who cannot help themselves,” he says. “It is a blessing to the leadership that gives a philosophy of service beyond self.”
He continues: “The school and its numerous outreach programs seem to say, ‘my mind is my mind, but my mind extends beyond me and mine.’ It extends to the world and perhaps even beyond that world. And whenever you can find such a creative environment, you find an environment with a mission, on a mission that cannot fail.”
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