Skip to main content

Dr. Norman Levan

Dr. Norman Levan was professor emeritus and former chief of dermatology at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree in 1939. Dr. Levan was a literature major as an undergraduate at USC, and holds a Master of Liberal Arts from St. John's Univeristy. After serving in the Army Medical Corps during World War II where he experienced the full fury of the battle of Okinawa, Levan began a long and distinguished career in medicine. He started a practice in dermatology and joined the faculty at the USC School of Medicine, becoming chair of the Department of Dermatology from 1961 to 1981. He established the Hansen's Disease Clinic for leprosy at the Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center in 1962. Dr. Levan endowed the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics in 2007 and the Norman E. Levan Chair in Medical Ethics at Keck in 2010. In 2014, Dr. Levan passed away at the age of 98.  

Excerpted from an article by Annette Moore for USC News 2/07/07

Norman Levan, a Trojan alumnus, professor emeritus and former chief of dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, contributed the first major gift supporting USC’s arts and humanities initiative—a gift that in 2007 created the USC Norman Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics to issue a Grand Challenge - to engage with, understand, and internalize the timeless values at the core of our humanity - to every new student who comes to USC.

For Levan—whose enthusiasm, twinkling eyes and ready laugh belie his 91 years—this mission hits close to home. Although he ultimately entered medical school, Levan originally enrolled as an English major at USC. After earning his M.D., he went on to serve in the Army Medical Corps before opening a private practice and returning to the university as a voluntary member of the medical faculty. In 1961, he became the first chair of USC’s department of dermatology—a post he would hold for two decades.

“I found considerable freedom to indulge my longtime interest in the humanities,” Levan said about his tenure at the university. In the pediatric dermatology program, for example, he brought in visitors representing imaginative literature, cultural anthropology, astronomy and many other fields to talk with patients, residents, and house officers.

Together with religion professor J. Wesley Robb, he helped create USC’s first classes in bioethics—an effort that ultimately led to required ethics classes for medical students at the university.

In reflecting on his 72-year relationship with USC, Levan is frequently reminded of a discussion group formed by Peter Lee, Robert Maronde, Helen Martin and several other university faculty members nearly half a century ago. Members of the group—who still meet on a monthly basis—discuss topics ranging from flag burning to one month’s selection of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch.

Over the years, the group has provided an effective sounding board for reflection about members’ professional as well as personal lives.

In many ways, the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics will serve a similar function for new students at USC, providing a forum in which they can explore different modes of thinking and responding to the world. “I see no advantage for professional people to load themselves up with sciences,” Levan said. “My feelings are that you can’t be truly educated by concentrating solely on your trade school or professional training.”