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The College Commons

This September we welcomed an extraordinarily talented and bright group of new freshmen into the College, and more than 30 new and accomplished faculty members. You will meet a few of them in this issue.

As you read, you will see that our new faculty conduct research on topics such as immigration, fundamental cellular processes, genomics, nanoparticles, learning and memory, the development of human cognition, the intellectual and political life of ancient Greece and Rome, European integration, the evolution of the Earth’s climate, genocide, nuclear proliferation, religion and civic life, and drug addiction.

That’s quite a range of topics. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

USC is a big place, and much happens in our 17 professional schools and art schools. But what happens in each of these schools cannot compare to the scope of inquiry represented by the faculty in USC College — not just because of our size, but because of the sweep of our vision. Every day our faculty and students explore the origins of the universe, the evolution of the planet, the development of human civilizations, the great philosophical conversations of humankind, the dynamics of social life, the nature of social justice, the mysteries of the mind, and the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

All of this happens within one Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences because our College is committed to one common belief system: a belief in the importance and pleasure of scholarly inquiry across the spectrum of knowledge; a belief that to be an educated person is to be exposed to, and nurtured by, our world of ideas; a belief that our teaching and scholarship are central to human enlightenment and progress.

It is in service of these fundamental beliefs that I introduce you to The College Commons.

The College Commons is designed to engage our faculty in the creation of a special set of signature programs that will, with some regularity, bring us together as a community around compelling conversations that have broad appeal. These conversations will highlight the excitement of our world of ideas and underscore the importance of the distinctive mission of a Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The College Commons may begin as a series of signature or interrelated workshops, lectures, debates, or colloquia that have broader appeal than what we may normally find within a single department or institute. It is our hope that the success of The College Commons will weave its way into the fabric of our community, build new relationships, spark new ideas, enrich the classroom experience, drive learning communities, inspire new programs, and attract new people to our community — students, faculty, supporters.

This will serve us well. We are at a pivotal time in the history of USC College when new advances in undergraduate education, graduate programs, and distinctive research and scholarship will depend on our willingness to think in bold and creative ways across existing departments, programs and disciplines.

Hilary Schor, professor of English, comparative literature and law, will oversee The College Commons. The steering committee members are University Professor Michael Arbib, holder of the Fletcher Jones Chair in Computer Science and professor of biological sciences and psychology; David Bottjer of earth sciences and biological sciences; Jo Ann Farver of psychology; Karen Halttunen of history and of American studies and ethnicity; Clifford Johnson of physics and astronomy; Karen Pinkus of French and Italian and of comparative literature; and Greg Thalmann of classics and comparative literature.

The committee released a call for proposals in October, and events for The College Commons are slated to begin in the spring of 2009.

In my remarks to the Class of 2012, I reminded them that a vast landscape of inquiry and discovery lay before them. I urged them to approach this time with a spirit of exploration. I encouraged them to expand their horizons, find new passions, and do justice to their curiosities.

The College Commons will make it easier for students to take that advice and apply it to their lives now and in the future. It will stimulate innovative thinking by our faculty in the development of academic programs and new research agendas. It will remind our alumni and the larger community of the importance of our scholarship.

I look forward to gathering with you on that common ground. Until then, I know that you will enjoy learning about some of the recent news and events in the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. And be on the lookout for a revitalized College Web site in early 2009!


Howard Gillman
Dean of USC College
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair


Previous Messages from Dean Gillman:


A World of Ideas
September 2008


The Wonder of It All
September 2007


New College Initiatives
September 2007


New Administration

July 2007