YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Zumberge, USC President for a Decade, to Step Down


James H. Zumberge, a former Antarctic explorer who has been president of USC for a decade and is credited with improving the institution's academic stature, announced Wednesday that he will retire as soon as a successor is chosen and takes office.

"There is a time to come and a time to go, and I think the time to go is now," Zumberge, 66, said in an interview. "I'd rather make a decision myself than have my doctor make it or the Board of Trustees make it or the good Lord make it."

Zumberge stressed that he has fully recovered from his 1985 surgery for prostate cancer and his decision is not prompted by health concerns. Rather, he said, it is a good time to retire because USC recently topped its goal in a $567-million fund drive, one of the largest in American academia. And Zumberge said he wants to work on a ninth edition of his well-known geology textbook and possibly teach at USC.

On and off campus, educators described Zumberge as a capable chief executive who helped raise an enormous amount of money to beef up academic programs and construct new buildings at USC. He is also commended for leading the school out of football recruiting and ticket sales scandals that he inherited in the early 1980s, and for easing tensions with USC's neighbors.

However, he is criticized by many students and faculty members as aloof and as too corporate in his administration of the university. Also, opposition by Zumberge and the USC Board of Trustees to complete divestments of USC-owned stocks in companies that do business in South Africa has been controversial.

University trustees said a national search for a successor to Zumberge may take up to a year. They clearly want to avoid a repetition of the fractious, 15-month search that brought Zumberge to USC after several other leading contenders dropped out of consideration.

Candidates to succeed Zumberge already at USC include Cornelius Pings, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Robert Biller, vice president for external affairs, and Scott Bice, dean of the law school, administration sources said. But there is believed to be no preference for someone now at USC.

Forrest N. Shumway, elected Wednesday as Board of Trustees chairman, said he regretted Zumberge's decision because administrators with his combination of credentials are "rare birds."

"A lot of college presidents have the academic and intellectual credentials. But you need a business sense also. I think he was very well qualified in that area," Shumway said of Zumberge, who was president of Southern Methodist University in Dallas for five years before coming to USC.

Zumberge said he hopes he helped USC "become known for being more than just a place that consistently fields a strong football team. I like to think that we are gaining academic respectability without losing our tradition of being competitive in intercollegiate athletics."

Among his regrets are that tuition and fees have risen much faster than the general rate of inflation: from a total of $5,310 in 1980 to $13,446, excluding room and board. He blamed the increases and similar ones at other private universities mainly on faculty and administrative salary increases. And, he said, he is worried about a drop in black student enrollment, which has plunged from 7.3% of freshmen in 1981 to 3.9%, although there have been increases in Latino and Asian students.

"Many in Los Angeles still look at USC as a school for rich white kids. That is another one of the myths we have to keep working at to dispel," Zumberge said. "And I'm sure that that's not going to be an easy task."

During his tenure, USC's student body grew 6%, to 29,157, while full-time faculty increased 18%, to 2,196. Meanwhile, the school's annual operating budget doubled to $1.3 billion, partly because of substantial increases in federal research funds. USC's endowment grew from $154 million to about $460 million, although it is still considered small for a school of USC's size.

Since 1980, USC has started or completed 20 new buildings, including the Norris Cancer Hospital, a new bookstore and an activities center. The university began programs in neuroscience, molecular medicine and urban planning, but killed what was thought to be a marginal school of library sciences.

Many on the USC faculty worry that undergraduate programs remain weaker than those in the well-regarded graduate and professional schools. When the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges accredited USC for another 10 years in 1987, examiners said the campus appeared to lack "intellectual excitement and vitality," but they praised the school for making "striking improvements overall."

Zumberge is known, and sometimes criticized, for delegating authority--especially to Pings concerning academic matters. Zumberge, who earns $205,000 a year as USC president and also is paid for serving on several corporate boards, estimates that about 80% of his time is related to USC fund-raising.

Los Angeles Times Articles