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USC President Max Nikias and Championing Democracy. By Max

August 24, 2010

C.L. Max Nikias will be inaugurated as USC’s new president on October 10th. Considering that the central mission of USC is the “development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit,” I thought it was worth investigating Nikias’s credentials to determine if he’s up to the task that lies before him.

Although there’s research that could be done to investigate what other admirable ventures Nikias has been involved in, I had to look no further than his official biography on the USC website to be impressed (http://www.president.usc.edu/bio/). Rather early in the biography, it states that “[Nikias] enjoys teaching freshmen about ancient Athenian democracy …” It’s tremendously reassuring to know that my university is being run by a man who knows a little something about democracy.

Before we discover what an upright man he is, I’d like to point out the oddity of calling Nikias’s office a ‘presidency.’ If by president, you mean he was elected by the people over whose lives he will govern, like in a democracy, then he’s not really a president. USC students were not consulted in the least concerning the appointment of the next president of our university. But students have so much work to do that it’s probably for the best that decisions like these that bear heavily on their lives are made for them.

Among his notable examples advocating for democracy, Nikias “oversaw the transfer of University Hospital and Norris Cancer Hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corporation to the university.” In the process of this transfer, USC hired a consulting firm, The Wiessman Group, to try to break the decades-old unionization of the workers at the hospital. On the Group’s website, a whole subsection is devoted to its “Union Avoidance Consulting and Strategy”, including the claim that “unionization brings with it the cost and uncertainty of collective bargaining…” Tearing down collective bargaining seems to be the Group’s primary concern, and doing so is in blatant support of democracy.

Despite USC’s insistence that they support the workers’ right to choose and have never partaken in ‘union-busting’, USC did exactly that and was the target of a student-faculty-worker coalition campaign at the end of last semester to expose USC’s anti-union practices. This coalition fought long and hard to have a meeting with the USC administration regarding its labor policies and was flatly ignored for weeks. After finally getting a response from the administration, they dismissed all of our appeals for an open forum or discussion on the topic. USC is now facing multiple charges of illegal intimidation of workers for their actions. Intimidating workers and ignoring student concerns is again a triumphant victory for democracy. (Also: “He currently chairs the USC Hospitals Governing Board”; being the head of a non-elected board that governs totally a whole hospital sounds like it involves a ton of democracy.)

Although The Weissman Group is a very expensive firm whose services USC probably paid at least hundreds of thousands of dollars for, as students we are not permitted to know how much of our tuition money was spent on intimidating workers, or know much of anything else for that matter. As anyone who will try to research quickly finds out, USC’s commitment to the democratic value of transparency is absolute.

Nikias has also been involved in building university relations with some of the most esteemed corporations in the business community. His official USC biography states: “He also established key partnerships with corporations, among them Pratt and Whitney, Airbus, Boeing, Chevron, and Northrop Grumman…” For the latest available statistics of 2008, Boeing and Northrop Grumman were the 3rd and 4th largest defense contractors in the world, together totaling $45 billion in arms sales. Pretty impressive. It’s so good to hear that the president of our university has ensured that we make friends with those who have been spreading democracy with war and guns to such regions as Iraq. The UN claims that there are 5 million orphans in Iraq in large part due to the invasion and the World Health Organization claims that 70% of Iraq children are suffering from symptoms of trauma. If not today, someday those Iraqi children will grow up and surely appreciate all of that democracy we so generously gave to them.

Chevron has a rich history in California. In 1950, when Chevron was Standard Oil, it was convicted in the US District Court for the Southern District of California along with 8 other corporations of illegally buying out the streetcar companies that provided Los Angeles with a robust public transportation system, dismantling them, and then putting petrol buses in their places. Buses are a less efficient, more expensive, and more polluting form of public transportation than electric streetcars. Standard Oil and the other corporations benefited from this scheme by making more money off of their bus service than they had on streetcars and secondly, a worse public transit system encouraged more people to buy cars and gasoline, which was also immensely more profitable for the corporations. But having your own car means you’re free, which means democracy won the day.

But the past is the past, more recently Chevron has been found guilty of $3.25 billion of tax evasion from 1970 – 2000 due to a price fixing scheme in Indonesia and has been found guilty of $28 billion worth of economic devastation in Ecuador, though Chevron claims that its deals with the Ecuadorian government make it exempt from such charges. Environment or no environment, cars running on gas = freedom = democracy.

So it looks like Nikias is the right person for the job at USC, where the “enrichment of mind and spirit” is so emboldened. The Weissman Group, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, and Chevron are the kinds of outstanding businesses that USC needs strong relationships with so as to teach students about democracy and encourage democracy around the world. I wish I were a freshman this year so that I might have the chance to take one of Nikias’s freshman seminars so he could teach me more about democracy.

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