Fas Regna Trojae: The Destined Reign of Troy

USC’s historic $6 billion campaign – the most ambitious in the history of higher education – heralds the ‘destined reign of Troy.’

Photo by Philip ChanningPhoto by Philip Channing

Six billion dollars. That’s the figure President C. L. Max Nikias vowed USC will raise in the comprehensive campaign that launched on Sept. 15. It’s the most ambitious campaign in history – not just Trojan history, but the history of American higher education.

Why such an extraordinary sum? Because, says Nikias, it’s what USC must do if it is to reach the pinnacle of excellence in its academic ascent – what the president calls “undisputed elite status.” And according to Nikias, the campaign will ensure that USC’s contributions to society will be fully realized. “These things are not only possible; they’re within our grasp. They’re right here for the taking. They’re just a few steps down the road,” he says.

The stage for the Campaign for the University of Southern California was set at Nikias’ inauguration, when he pledged an all-out effort to expand and strengthen USC at an unprecedented rate and in a short period of time. Within a few minutes of the new president’s formal investiture on Oct. 15, 2010, the university announced two separate gifts of $50 million: one from USC trustee Ming Hsieh ’83, MS ’84 to establish an interdisciplinary cancer research institute bringing together engineers, scientists and physicians; another from USC trustee Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation to finance a new building for the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Since then, four additional donors have made leadership commitments to USC: in March, Dana and David Dornsife ’65 gave $200 million (the largest single gift in USC’s history) to name the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; in April, Julie and John Mork ’70 gave $110 million to fund undergraduate merit scholarships and stipends, and longtime USC supporters Roger and Michele Dedeaux Engemann gave $15 million to support a new student health center on the University Park campus; and in June, the W. M. Keck Foundation gave $150 million to accelerate groundbreaking medical, clinical and translational research and education at USC.

In total, USC has raised more than a billion dollars in President Nikias’ first year!

“Fas Regna Trojae”

From the beginning of his presidency, Nikias vowed to tirelessly push USC forward and upward, while drawing strength from its history. In his inaugural address, the newly anointed president called attention to a little read inscription on the southwest-facing base of the Trojan Shrine: “Here are provided seats of meditative joy … where shall rise again the destined reign of Troy.” In Latin, the second line translates to “fas regna trojae.”

For Nikias – an electrical engineer by training, but a classicist by temperament – the couplet is loaded with meaning. The Trojans stand for excellence and purity of purpose: “No one worked harder than the Trojans, no one was more determined than the Trojans. And their will toward greatness could even bend the will of the gods in their favor,” Nikias said in his address.

In Virgil’s epic, the battle-weary Trojans – routed by the Greeks from their native Ilium – take to the high seas, battling monsters and sirens, triumphing over every adversity. “And when they reached their destination,” Nikias added, “they would lay the cornerstone for the great city of Rome – the mightiest and most enduring of all empires.”

Therein lies a metaphor for today’s Trojans.

“Our own quest for undisputed elite status could be likened to the voyage of Aeneas,” Nikias continued. “It means the difference between being a ‘hot’ and ‘up-and-coming’ university and being undisputedly one of the most influential institutions in the world.”

What has USC got going for it to give Nikias such confidence? A dynamic blend of the arts and humanities and culture, certainly. Cutting-edge science, medicine and technology, social sciences and professions – no doubt. Now add to that the gold standard of real estate – location, location, location.

“As our world today is shifting away from an Atlantic to a Pacific Century, USC is better positioned than anyone else to become the foremost laboratory of experimentation of ‘East-West’ ideas – in scholarship and the arts and media and journalism and culture, to become the campus where the influencers of the Pacific Age will be educated, shaped and molded. This is our moment,” Nikias says, “and, I believe, that should be our vision.”


USC’s academic ascent, like that of every great university, is fueled by the strength of its endowment. Over the course of four major fundraising campaigns since 1961, the endowment has grown from $18 million to $2.9 billion.

But more will be needed to lift USC to the highest pinnacle of academe. Endowment marches in lockstep with academic excellence. If USC does not get its endowment rank in the top tier, it will not be taken seriously by its private peers. A principal goal of the campaign is to add another $3 billion to USC’s endowment.

Nikias believes momentum is on USC’s side. “Right now is a perfect storm of economy and opportunity. Right now is the moment when our competitors are on their heels, when our peers are picking up the pieces in a time of great economic turmoil,” he says. “In uncertain times like these, I hope you find great comfort in USC’s sound financial planning and management. While other universities are looking to cut back, USC is planning to move forward.”

Campaign Priorities

By the Numbers: The Campaign for USC. Illustration by Russ Ono

“USC must ensure the excellence of our faculty and fund scholarships that enable the most talented students to attend USC regardless of their financial need,” says Al Checcio, senior vice president for University Advancement. Half of the $6 billion campaign goal will be earmarked for endowments supporting these priorities, including research. The remaining $3 billion will finance immediate academic priorities, as well as capital projects and infrastructure improvements.

“Only five schools left at our university remain unnamed. These schools are some of our jewels,” noted Provost Elizabeth Garrett at a trustees retreat in March. The unnamed schools are architecture, theatre, pharmacy, social work, and policy, planning, and development.

How would a much-enlarged endowment transform life at USC?

Take scholarships. Currently, only about 4 percent of undergraduate scholarship aid comes from endowment income. Yet USC hands out more than $225 million a year in undergraduate student aid. The lion’s share comes from unrestricted funds, which are not as stable a source of support as an endowment.

Or consider endowed chairs. Top faculty expect to receive this form of internal recognition. Trying to recruit the best professors in the world without being able to offer them endowed chairs puts the university at a disadvantage.

“We have 400 endowed chairs or professorships for a faculty of 3,300,” Garrett explains. Compare that to 500 at Stanford, with a faculty of just 1,900.

USC is likewise committed to recruiting exceptional Ph.D. students. For example, the Provost’s Ph.D. Fellowship Program targets individuals who show outstanding promise for careers in academic research and teaching. USC’s campaign will seek to endow fellowships such as these to attract talented students and provide them with the support they need to do their best work.

Beyond Endowment

There are other compelling priorities beyond building endowment.

A key campaign goal is to erect a number of new buildings – for example, an undergraduate business building, a social science building encouraging collaboration between economists with appointments in law, business, and policy and planning, and a building shared by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that brings together stellar new hires working in the areas where life sciences and engineering converge.

The campaign also aims to fund dramatic discoveries and developments in medical research, teaching and patient care.

And there is talk among the arts deans about creating a one-of-a-kind program modeled on the Rhodes Scholarship – an international award that brings the best arts graduate students from the Pacific Rim and India to USC.

The rising energy level is palpable. “It’s time for USC to embrace its destiny,” Nikias says.

This, as he stated in his inaugural address, “is the great journey. This is the way forward to the ‘destined reign of Troy.’ ”