Until his sudden downfall, C.L. Max Nikias enjoyed an extraordinarily successful presidency at the University of Southern California. During his eight-year tenure, he raised over $6 billion in a capital campaign, opening a new campus in record time. Housing for students doubled, classroom space increased by a third, and the student body became one of the most diverse in the nation for an elite private institution. Over 100 new endowed chairs were created, and the faculty garnered more awards than ever before. USC’s Board of Trustees gave Nikias a $1.5 million bonus in 2015.
And yet, when Nikias sent a note to the campus community in mid-May outlining a USC gynecologist’s sexual misconduct and a plan to move forward from the scandal, the faculty erupted in protest. Within a week, a faculty group had collected over 200 signatures on a letter calling for Nikias to resign. Although the Board of Trustees sent a note to the college community expressing support for Nikias, he announced his resignation on May 25 and stepped down this week.
How is it possible that someone who had accomplished so much in a relatively short time could be ousted so quickly for something that was not a personal transgression? What went so wrong?