Changes afoot at grad school


USC’s graduate school is in the midst of a reorganization that involves changes within the central administration to increase efficiency and the amount of academic programming offered to Ph.D. students.

In a memo to members of the graduate school community last week, Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sarah Pratt announced several administrative changes, the result of an analysis of the school’s operations led by Provost Elizabeth Garrett.

The analysis was conducted to “ensure that the university’s financial resources are spent as efficiently and strategically as possible,” Pratt said in the memo.

The reorganization has resulted in some layoffs, but Garrett said in a statement that anyone whose job was cut is being offered a severance package and is being encouraged to apply for other positions at the university.

“Reorganizations are never easy,” Garrett said in an email statement. “However, I strongly believe that a large private research university must re-examine itself periodically to ensure that its financial and human resources are allocated to best meet current academic priorities and to do so as efficiently as possible. This is our obligation as stewards of the university and its resources.”

Robert Cooper, vice provost for planning and budget, emphasized the university is not facing any financial hardships — it is simply trying to monitor how it spends its money.

“The university is in a strong financial position,” Cooper said. “The review is part of an ongoing effort to make sure that services are aligned with academic priorities. As stewards of the university’s resources, part of our responsibility is to make sure resources are used in the most effective manner.”

Any money saved as a result of the layoffs will be used for academic purposes, Cooper said.

The reorganization includes combining certain academic services and improving students’ experiences with financial aid and the registrar’s office. The main goal, however, is to create a better academic atmosphere for graduate students.

“Our primary goal is to enhance the excellent training provided by USC faculty with a vibrant, diverse and rigorous university-wide academic culture that will help our students step into the job market with academic and professional skills at the highest possible level,” Pratt said in the memo.

Specifically, the reorganization aims to enhance diversity outreach, help international students better assimilate to the academic culture and address students’ requests for more graduate academic programs.

Though there was some student input on the reorganization, some graduate students still feel uninformed.

“The only things I know about the changes are from the memo,” said Jenny Novak, president of the Graduate & Professional Student Senate. “I think it would have been better if more students had been in the loop.”

Pratt’s memo, which was sent to academic deans, chairs, graduate advisers and graduate student leaders, emphasized that decisions about the reorganization were made as the result of a strategic review by administrators and faculty and of discussions with students on the University Park Campus and the Health Sciences Campus.

Some graduate students welcome the administration’s increased focus on academic programming.

“You have to turn your degree into something,” said Kelley Mowatt, a second-year graduate student studying cell and neurobiology. “You want to be able to have options. So I fully support the focus on professional training.”

The reorganization is expected to be complete by the start of the new fiscal year in July.

“I want to underscore that no changes will be made that would impact our ability to provide students and faculty excellent service,” Garrett said. “This process will improve the undergraduate and graduate student experience at USC.”

  • mamartinez

    I feel rather awful about those who have lost their jobs. I hope the University does more than simply “encourage” staffers to apply for other positions. My understanding is that very loyal, long-standing employees were rather suddenly told about this, given “effective-immediately” notices, and the like. Shameful, I say. So much for the “Trojan Family.”

    Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that USC has ever treated its staffers well–from union busting to outsourcing to refusing to join the international factory monitoring group, the Workers Rights Consortium–but usually they do a smidge better than this.

  • Tommy Trojan

    I look forward to the university beefing up the graduate faculty to compete with the Berkeley’s out there. The time is now to hire faculty from the crumbling publics of California.