USC Morning Buzz: A Nuanced Look At Max Nikias

I want to offer a more-detailed view of soon-to-be former USC president Max Nikias.

Perhaps no USC president wielded his power since Rufus B. von KleinSmid, who ran the campus for 26 years (1921-47). Nikias raised billions for the university. In the past 7 years, USC raised more than it did in the previous 65 years.

Nikias also oversaw an amazing amount of construction highlighted by the new USC Village. His power was seen everywhere: The McKay Center has an arch with a Greek-inscription (A sound mind and sound body) that he ordered built. He wanted the statue of Hecuba at the village and was ordering revisions to the statue even after it was erected on campus. He once told me of the trees he chose to adorn a campus project.

No detail was too small for Nikias to meddle. Students joked about all the spires for new campus buildings, which were part of Nikias’ master plan.

He was a micro-manager who could get incredible things done without any reins on his power. And that led to his downfall. Nikias felt invincible, too important to ever answer questions from the L.A. Times.

I always experienced cordial relations with Nikias. I remember he hugged me after USC upset Oregon in 2011 because he was so happy.

But I always heard plenty of stories of how difficult it could be to work for him.

Within the university, he was feared because of his seemingly limitless power and quick trigger when it came to removing people. The Board of Trustees bowed down to him, making it impossible for anyone at USC to keep him under control.

Nikias was adored by the mega-donors and never missed an opportunity to mingle with celebrities. Nikias wanted stars to run the university whenever possible. It was no accident he wanted Pat Haden and Lynn Swann, former USC football heroes, to be athletic directors.

One academic dept. conducted a search for a new dean and had a committee offer Nikias three candidates as finalists. He was unhappy and wanted to know why they did not consider a more famous person with no academic background.

The committee sent Nikias its top choice for the position of dean. He ignored them and hired his more-famous candidate.

It would be naive to think raising money was not paramount at USC since 1880. But Nikias made it feel like fund-raising needed to come at the expense of learning.

If you were not donating millions, you did not matter. Under Nikias’ tenure, you couldn’t even get into the president’s offices if you did not know a special computer code to open the doors. The little people did not matter.

Donors mattered. Stars mattered. Hot-shot doctors or professors mattered. And sometimes, coaches mattered.

Nikias did not just botch the medical school dean/deans and student-health center gynecologist situations. He also bears some blame for letting Haden make football a laughingstock with the whole Steve Sarkisian saga and not pushing Haden to fire Lane Kiffin after the 2012 season.

Let’s not fool ourselves and think Nikias was solely responsible for this current mess. He had a loyal group of subordinates that assisted in obfuscation and a weak Board of Trustees that just four days ago issued a statement of support for him.

There needs to be more accountability beyond getting Nikias to resign. But the fact the Board of Trustees forced him to step down demonstrated the USC community (students, faculty, staff, alumni, fans) can get results when properly mobilized.

If this energy can be harnassed, USC might actually make some real progress.


27 thoughts on “USC Morning Buzz: A Nuanced Look At Max Nikias

  1. I know a man, he’s a powerful man
    He’s got the people in his power
    In the palm of his hand.
    It’s the same old story, it’s the same old dream,
    It’s power man, power man, and all that it can bring.
    You call him names and he sits and grins
    ’cause everybody else is just a sucker to him.
    It’s the same old story, it’s the same old game
    It’s power man, power man, driving me insane


  2. I don’t believe it’s necessary to title this piece ‘nuanced.’ It’s so fair minded that it speaks for itself.
    [My only question: Couldn’t the people on the inside of the President’s offices —the ones in possession of the secret codes —-buzz the little people in]?


      1. Hey ‘fat boy on a throne’ what was the magic code that blocked any hard questions from the Times to Wooden back in the day – you know the one that had to go through Gilbert and then JD Morgan.


  3. Hubris is believed to have been the Greek’s downfall. Hubris is a Greek word Nikias doesn’t seem to have known the meaning of, which is the ultimate hubris.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lot of truth in what Wolfe posted specific to Nikias’ sense of no one controlling him. The scandal per Tyndall the gynecologist was the tipping point on top of what had been reported re. Porfiriato’s release but more importantly the events leading up to that LA Times report this past January 2018. The Times’ article cited two instances of ad. assistants taking messages re. Porfiriato’s behavior in Nikias’ office that that office claimed were not escalated up the internal chain of command – Nikias’ ignorance of such. Then came the hand delivered package from FedEx from a Times reporter after Nikias’ declined to be interviewed by the Times per Porfiriato’s mess. The subsequent separation with a ‘departure’ payment to Porfiriato mirrored the same given the monster Tyndall…allowed to leave with a package so no trial and ugly discovery against USC.

    The problem was further growns by USC’s statement they had on legal obligation to report Tyndall’s behavior to the state as USC is a private entity. That decision was made by someone way up that chain of command. Then the final bow on the package – >5,000 current graduate and undergrad students are from mainland China – the PRO was pointed in it’s contempt for how their female students were seemingly selectively harassed by Tyndall.

    The LA Times claims USC is a ‘federal’ system of entities across the board with little oversight – well they have an academic senate (rep) and president (executive) but no ombudsman (judiciary) for anyone to go to. Not a big fan of ‘Metoo#’ but his monster Tyndall and the cover-up is the reason Nikias is out. Just wish Haden would get tossed out and have no connection to USC, the Coliseum renovation or anything as a caboose for Nikias’ covering for him.

    Sad day for the university and yeah Papadakis stated lat week the LA Times is no friend fo USC – let’s hope this is the end and also that any other allegations are now moribund.


    1. Why because they’re females? Neither of them has any connection to the school and the two of them are ‘stanford’ grads – the heck with that. I trust the board to take a long look at what needs to be done – at a minimum oversight of the next president.

      Nikias laid the ground work for a lot of good things but he also offers an opportunity to wrest control from the old tiered cabal that has been part of USC since its’ inception – the greek frats and sororities grads….I do like the idea of an outsider but not from stanford.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Barakska launched more missiles than any other president….never underestimate a so-called ‘leader’ trying desperately to be seen as a ‘man’…barakska the pu%$ cheap hustler and adroit at some down and low.


  5. Alv —-I guess Carly would be a ‘decoration’ piece in the same sense that Maleficent would be…..


    1. Yeah I’m sensing a lot of posters have real concern about the skill set of Swann being picked as the ‘AD’ then again save for the Enfield hire Haden was and is a disaster but he did make a good move with Enfield. Swann knows if Helton drops three games the ice is breaking under him and it matters now when that 3rd loss comes esp. with AL scheduled in 2020 i.e. save for the Rose Bowl 2017 Helton hasn’t a clue on how to prepare for a top tier team and whoever was running defense that night didn’t either.

      Mike good to hear from you

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true, Alv. Life can turn on you real fast. Swann was going to sleep at the wheel as long as Nikias was around. Now it’s an all new ballgame.


      2. Good move with Enfield?
        Isn’t he the guy that was pre-season top ten and coached his team (including that African dude that liked to kick players in the crotch) to nowhere?
        That was Haden’s crowning achievement?


  6. I wonder if Mad Max was receiving copies of the pictures taken by the school gynecologist. It’s sad that he didn’t act sooner. But it is an indictment of Mac’s leadership skills that he didn’t fix things his first day on the job.


    1. That’s pretty crude re. any inference of Nikias and that perverts camera. Nikias has only himself to blame – it was his refusal to accept that FedEx pkg. from the Times that set him up for his own fall. That and stating those two ad. assistants receipt of complaints about Tyndall were never received by him. Then there’s the ‘land mine’ of USC’s unwillingness to report any of these physicians to a state board with the claim they (USC) was exempt.

      Nikias had a great run as a president but he, according to Scott Wolf, was blind to any responsibility to anything in these two major scandals. That is what he is paid for – to be responsible. The parallels to the collapse of the Romanov dynasty are telling – complete disbelief by Nikias until the trustees told him – you’re out. Whoever replaces him had better do some serious housecleaning especially the top individuals who have been part of Nikias’ ‘junta’ since he was elevated in 2010.

      Wonder how many of these other 10 ‘power players’ are going to be tossed – someone on this page ran interference and did so repeatedly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Correction, he was paid to raise money.
        Money is the one and only thing that means anything to most at SoCal.


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