USC State of the University: Carol Folt

USC President Carol Folt delivers her State of the University address in Bovard Auditorium on Tuesday. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


State of the University: President praises campus community’s strength, grace

In the second of two addresses, Carol Folt announces Charles Murry as the new director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

March 27, 2024 By Chinyere Cindy Amobi and Emily Gersema

USC President Carol Folt brought news to the Health Sciences Campus in her annual State of the University address on Wednesday, announcing Charles Murry as the new director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

Murry is also the new chairman for the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. He is coming to Keck School of Medicine of USC and Keck Medicine of USC from the University of Washington, and he succeeds Andrew McMahon, who had led the center and department since 2012. McMahon is among USC’s most highly cited researchers.

State of the University: Carol Folt in Mayer Auditorium on the University Park Campus
President Carol Folt drew a full house in Mayer Auditorium on the Health Sciences Campus on Wednesday. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Folt also shared updates on the financial health of the university, noting the success of Keck Medicine of USC in boosting revenues and retaining medical employees while other hospital enterprises are still reeling from COVID-19 and post-COVID losses.

“We are pretty darn stable financially,” Folt said and highlighted that revenues are up 600% since 2009.

Folt also noted that there are plans in the works to bolster research at the Health Sciences Campus, in particular the Discovery and Translational Hub, which could accelerate research growth at the campus. USC leaders are awaiting permit application reviews and approval by the Los Angeles City Council to begin construction, she said. The university also has plans for new construction for the USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences that will fortify the school’s research and classroom spaces.

State of the University: Carol Folt at Health Sciences Campus
USC President Carol Folt praised specific researchers at the Health Sciences Campus during Wednesday’s address. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Folt also highlighted research wins and praised specific researchers at the Health Sciences Campus for discoveries and developments, such as the “smart boots” developed by David Armstrong at Keck Medicine of USC, the Keck School of Medicine and the Center to Stream Healthcare in Place for patients with diabetes. The boots relieve pressure, speeding up the healing process in the legs and feet.

Shout-outs from the president went to Trojans including new department chairs across the Health Sciences Campus and Yang Chai of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC for receiving the prestigious Paul Goldhaber Award from Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The award recognized his lifelong work on craniofacial research.

Addressing the University Park Campus

On Tuesday, Folt spoke to the faculty, staff and students at the University Park Campus. She began the address with gratitude as she faced a full house in Bovard Auditorium.

Folt described the university as a “bubbling beaker,” filled with kinetic energy that can be felt throughout a vibrant campus. She pointed out that with that energy — complete with opposing ideas and different approaches to work — comes the inevitable churn.

“One of our responsibilities is to create some joy out of that chaos,” Folt said, emphasizing that it is leadership’s responsibility to maintain the university’s function as a “public square” where all points of views are accepted and respected.

While praising the work of the Trojan community, which runs the gamut of authors, actors, researchers, Olympians, astronauts and much more, Folt acknowledged that she could never recognize all of their achievements in one address.

“When you think about all that, that crucible, that wonderful world we live in, that is truly the state of our university: the people that are here, the things they do and the impact they have,” Folt said.

Folt emphasized that the state of the university is strong by sharing admissions statistics that represent a promising first-year undergraduate class: In the last year, USC experienced record application volume and enrolled a first-year class in which nearly 1 in 4 students are first-generation, a similar number are international students, and 39% are from California high schools. Their median GPA: 3.95 (unadjusted).

State of the University: Bovard Auditorium
Bovard Auditorium hosted Tuesday’s address. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

“Admissions are a measure of how the world views us, and the numbers just keep going up and up and up,” Folt said.

She also shared details from USC’s “culture journey,” including surveys to help leadership better understand student, faculty and staff experience with the university’s core values on campus.

“We began the whole culture journey five years ago, and I applaud all of you for being so important to it — engaging thousands of students, faculty and staff and trying to really work on our unifying values,” Folt said.

Additionally, programs such as Advise USC, an academic advising program that launched last year, are helping to ensure that students stay connected to campus and the goals that brought them to USC. “It’s a wonderful platform that is really helping our students and, I’m told, really helping the student-faculty connectedness,” Folt said.

Building toward a brighter future

In addition to discussing how the USC community is working to create an inclusive and collaborative culture on campus, Folt discussed how the university is physically changing to match the vision, aspirations and inclusivity goals of the evolving Trojan Family.

Folt mentioned a series of renovations to the Student Equity and Inclusion Programs area — located on the fourth floor of the Gwynn Wilson Student Union building — that dramatically expanded the space from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. As a result, student-centered groups including Asian Pacific American Student Services, La CASA, the LGBTQ+ Student Center, and the Native American and Pasifika Student Lounge now have more space for programs that promote intersectionality and aim to create a sense of belonging and well-being.

The move also created more room for the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, which was relocated from the fourth floor to the first.

“We’re seeing much more movement back and forth between these groups than we ever used to see because of the proximity,” Folt said.

Folt drew applause from the crowd as she announced the upcoming ribbon-cutting event for the new home of the USC School of Dramatic Arts in the historic United University Church building. Significant renovations to the nearly 40,000-square-foot space will offer state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty and staff.

“That arts corridor across 34th Street is just going to continue to grow and blossom, and we all know that arts is a huge draw for a community,” Folt said.

New leadership, fresh perspectives

Folt also highlighted several new senior administrators who will enter or recently entered major roles at the university. “It gives me great pleasure to say that every year we still bring in new people, and they’re amazing,” Folt said. Those include Melissa Just, dean of USC Libraries; Brett Steele, dean of the USC School of Architecture; Franita Tolson, dean of the USC Gould School of Law; Joel Curran, senior vice president of communications and events, and chief communications officer; Gaurav Sukhatme, the inaugural director of the USC School of Advanced Computing; and Jennifer Cohen, director of athletics.

Folt shared the work of several USC professors who received national recognition for their research this year. Professor Kate Crawford of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism made Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in AI list in 2023 for her research and advising on artificial intelligence’s impact on the environment and social and political systems. The magazine also named Keck School of Medicine of USC Professor Marlena Fejzo as one of its 2024 “Women of the Year” for her groundbreaking research on a hormone produced by human fetuses that triggers morning sickness during pregnancy.

A continued commitment to presidential moonshots

Folt took a moment to share brief updates on each of her presidential “moonshot” initiatives, ambitious goals designed to encourage intercampus collaboration while elevating the university on a national and global scale. She pointed out that because the moonshots are designed to mirror the values of the university, their scopes are ever-changing.

Health Sciences 3.0: Folt described the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Street Medicine program as “one of the most beautiful programs I’ve ever seen,” describing it as a model for the country. She also mentioned that the university is in the “$1 billion club” in regard to research expenditures. “That’s something that really reflects our breadth and strength, with a growing amount of corporate but also foundation-supported research,” Folt said.

Frontiers of Computing: Folt praised the opening of USC’s first new school in more than a decade, the USC School of Advanced Computing. Aimed at educating all Trojans regardless of major, the university’s 23rd school seeks to be a leader in the ethical use of computing technology.

USC Competes: Launched four years ago, this moonshot addresses the university’s salary, compensation and financial aid goals to make USC a destination of choice that draws the best and brightest to thrive and achieve their dreams. Folt stressed that the university’s ongoing budgeting concerns haven’t affected USC’s commitment to fair compensation for faculty and staff and generous financial aid packages for undergraduate and graduate students.

Sustainable Urban Futures: Folt applauded USC students, staff and faculty for the university’s recent gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The university achieved this rating one year ahead of schedule after receiving a silver rating in 2021. Folt also shared a video from the grand opening of USC’s new Sustainability Hub, a 1,500-square-foot multiuse gathering space for inclusive collaboration.

Athletics Reimagined: The crowd erupted in applause at the mention of JuJu Watkins, star player for the Women of Troy basketball team. “It’s been 30 years since the women have been to the Sweet 16 [of the NCAA tournament], and I have to say that when I first came here women’s basketball was in my sights — I am so excited to see it,” Folt said. She spoke with excitement about the university’s upcoming move to the Big Ten athletic conference, a transition that has the potential to make a financial difference for the university in the range of $50-70 million each year. She also shared details on the recent refreshing of the Galen Center, a face-lift that enhances the game day experience of student-athletes and fans.

USC Arts Now: Folt briefly touched on an emerging presidential moonshot geared toward enhancing the arts in every corner of the university and beyond. She praised Trojans who received recent nominations and wins in this year’s award season, including USC School of Dramatic Arts Professor of Acting Colman Domingo, who was nominated for an Oscar for his leading role in the 2023 film Rustin, and Ludwig Göransson, who studied at the USC Thornton School of Music and won an Oscar for Best Score for his work on the 2023 film Oppenheimer. She also highlighted USC Distinguished Professor Percival Everett, whose novel Erasure is the basis for the Oscar-winning film American Fiction. Everett recently became the first USC professor to win the USC Scripter Award, which honors the year’s best film and television adaptations and the works on which they’re based.

National and global influence increasing 

During her speech, Folt shared highlights from the university’s recent “Partner the Future” India trip, in which a delegation of 22 senior administrators, deans and researchers joined the president for a three-city tour promoting USC as a partner of choice for Indian students, businesses and governmental organizations. The visit built on more than 50 years of educational and professional relationship with the country.

She also mentioned the recently opened USC Schaeffer Institute for Public Policy & Government Service, the first major education and research facility with offices at USC’s new Capital Campus in Washington, D.C., and on the University Park Campus. The institute — which aims to increase the scope and international and national impact of the university — will expand upon the work of the existing USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and the Leonard D. Schaeffer Fellows in Government Service.

“It’s my real belief that the world needs places like USC now more than ever,” Folt said. “Our size and our scale give us immense impact, and we’re doing so much good in the world. We have to continue to keep that thrust going forward.”

This story was first published on March 26 and was updated at 12:15 p.m. March 27.