It hasn’t always been an easy “A” for Elizabeth Daley. As dean of the U. of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the pressure to not only maintain a top- tier school, but advance it in new and innovative ways would be a challenge for anyone. Just ask her.
And while some critics say she inherited an already privileged institution backed by alumni with deep pockets, Daley insists she started on the ground level.
“We’re much better off than we were,” she tells Variety. “Still I never want to see USC rest on its laurels.”
Now in its 80th year, Daley, who was appointed dean in 1991, has taken great strides in making this landmark anniversary one for the books.
During the past year, she spearheaded a massive fund-raising effort, culminating with a $175 million donation from George Lucas. His generous gift has helped pay for the overhaul and expansion of facilities on campus. Two of the six buildings — some 137,000 square feet — have already opened. An animation and digital arts building, along with sound stages and a production equipment center, are set to open next year.
“In many ways I saw this year, not only as the culmination of 80 years, but as the beginning of 80 more,” Daley says.
In addition to bolstering the school’s physical attributes, Daley was just as resolute about altering its DNA. Female enrollment of the most recent grads reached 47%; while, 42% of all tenured faculty are women.
Daley does not deny that being a woman has influenced her desire for gender equality, but credits her upbringing as a major proponent.
“Growing up, I watched my own mother face various gender barriers,” says Daley, whose father died when she was 13. “I think I became personally very sensitized to the issue early on.”
But it’s the big picture and a commitment to film education that Daley strives for year after year.
“I really wanted our 80th anniversary to say, ‘Hey guys, guess what, we count,'” she says. “This is America’s art form, and it should be available to everyone.”
IN A NUTSHELL
Job title: Steven J. Ross/Time Warner Dean, School of Cinematic Arts, U. of Southern California
Role model: “I suppose my mother more than anyone, and she probably didn’t even intend to be.”
Career mantra: “Always surround yourself with terrific people.”
Leisure pursuits: “Going to the movies.”
Philanthropic passion: Operation Smile