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10th President of USC Inaugurated : Education: Steven Sample pledges to maintain the high standards of the university. He exhorts the school to show more commitment to its neighborhood.

September 21, 1991|LARRY GORDON | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

With elaborate pomp and colorful ceremony, Steven Browning Sample was inaugurated Friday as the 10th president of the University of Southern California and pledged to lead the school into the highest national ranks of academic reputation while improving relations with its neighbors.

"I do not believe it would be appropriate for USC to rest on its laurels and survey with satisfaction the thousands of colleges and universities it has surpassed. Rather we should focus our attention on those very few universities which are in some sense academically superior to us," Sample told the 9,000 faculty members, students, alumni and other guests who gathered in front of the Doheny Memorial Library for two hours of music, marching, rituals and speeches.

However, Sample, whose previous job was as president of State University of New York at Buffalo, also warned that all of American higher education is in a new era of financial limits. "We must learn to do more with less, and do it better," he said, without giving specifics on possible spending cuts.

The inauguration was an upbeat affair except for that single note about budgets and the absence of Sample's predecessor, James H. Zumberge, USC president since 1980, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

The morning's carefully staged spectacle began with a 40-minute procession of faculty members and trustees in black and red academic gowns. The USC School of Music's brass ensemble performed Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and the Trojan Marching Band followed with the "Crown Imperial" march by William Walton, both blasted over a public address system.

At the moment of investiture, Forrest Shumway, chairman of USC trustees, draped the gold presidential medallion over Sample's shoulders. Martin L. Levin, president of the USC Faculty Senate, presented Sample the university mace, a ceremonial scepter. Frank Rhodes, president of Cornell University and a friend of Sample during their time together as heads of universities in Upstate New York, gave an introductory address highly praising the new man at USC's helm.

Sample's 15-minute speech contained no surprises. Rather, it was a more poetic summary of themes he has discussed publicly since his appointment was announced last December and since he moved to USC in April. True to Trojan tradition, he thanked the football team for its recent victory over Penn State.

Sample said USC should improve its undergraduate education by forming small seminars for students to meet senior professors and by making teaching skills more important in faculty hiring and promotions. Sample also called for more ethnic diversity among faculty, staff and graduate students and for more attention to be focused on USC's health-science programs and hospitals.

The 27,500-student, 111-year-old university sometimes has an image of being a privileged island among low-income neighborhoods. To combat that, Sample said the school should do more to encourage staff to live and own property in adjacent areas, an initiative started with construction of faculty townhouses near the main campus. Sample also urged that neighborhood residents be given preferential treatment in hiring for USC jobs.

But USC alone cannot solve the problems of Los Angeles, Sample told the audience, which included Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the USC area. USC is "a university, not a public service agency," Sample said. "As such, what we do well is teaching, research and patient care. We can be very effective at helping public service agencies carry out their missions, but we tend to stumble badly when we try to act as though we were a public service agency in our own right."

Symbolizing a commitment to the neighborhood, children from nearby elementary and high schools participated in the procession. During the speeches, they were excused and entertained by student actors in a campus theater.

Sample, 50, wore a black robe and the deep blue tam and sash that represent his doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois. On Friday, he was also granted tenure as a professor of engineering at USC. An inventor of some of the controls behind microwave oven panels, Sample taught at Purdue University and was executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska.

During his subsequent eight years as head of SUNY Buffalo, that school won membership in the Assn. of American Universities, the prestigious organization of 58 top research institutions. Sample noted that only four of the 27 private AAU schools are west of the Missouri River: Caltech, Rice University, Stanford University and USC. "So in a real sense we have a very large and richly endowed sandbox almost to ourselves," he said.

His speech was well received by faculty members. John Petruska, professor of molecular biology, said Sample's emphasis on academic improvement was not new at USC but that the president "articulated it a little more forcefully and decisively." English professor Luther Luedtke said Sample showed "the kind of amiability and collegiality with the faculty that is really important."

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