On Tuesday, following startling reports that multi-millionaire Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed and assaulted women for years, USC announced that it would decline a gift of $5 million from Weinstein. Weinstein had pledged $5 million to female filmmakers at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in a public statement apologizing for his actions.
“In light of the admitted behavior by Mr. Weinstein and the subsequent reports there is no way the school would move forward,” SCA spokeswoman Kristin Borella told NBC4.
USC’s decision to reject Weinstein’s donation comes as the University treads through the fallout from its own sexual harassment scandals. On Wednesday, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that Vice President for Advancement and Health Sciences Development David Carrera was being investigated for sexual harassment. According to the Times, USC received five complaints about Carrera’s behavior over the course of his three-year tenure, during which Carrera raised millions for the University.
Last week, another Times report revealed the University had promoted and given a pay raise to former Keck School of Medicine Dean Rohit Varma after disciplining him following allegations of sexual harassment from a female researcher in 2003. The allegation against Varma was particularly alarming because, like allegations against Weinstein, it spanned back years, but was seemingly buried by people in positions of power until being made public by the media.
By rejecting Weinstein’s donation, USC has demonstrated its interest in moving past sexual harassment scandals and toward greater transparency. The University has its work cut out for it, namely in taking a more proactive approach in addressing misconduct among faculty rather than waiting for large-scale reports come out before taking effective action. But in rejecting Weinstein’s funding, USC is stating its understanding of the gravity of sexual harassment, and its intention to do better moving forward.
USC’s decision regarding Weinstein must be a first step, and mark the beginning of a new chapter for the University — one in which it will not foster relationships with those who disrespect women and seek to abuse their power, no matter how much funding the University may get in exchange. USC’s dismissiveness of sexual abuse, detailed in the Times’ reports over the last week, is helping foster a culture in which USC’s female faculty and student body are devalued and made to feel unsafe and disrespected. This is a culture that the University must do everything in its power to shift, or it could lose out on future female talent.
Declining Weinstein’s money sends a strong message, but the Trojan Family needs more than words right now — we need actions from the University to once and for all dispel a reputation and culture of sexual misconduct and disrespect toward women. Currently, male tenured faculty outnumber female tenured faculty at the University by a ratio of 74 to 26 percent, establishing a male-dominated campus culture that has helped to breed the abuse of women and and led to actions that many people would view as an attempt to cover up abuse. Even more startling is that, of USC’s 11 senior administrators, only two are women. Wider representation of women in positions of power is the first step in dismantling a broader culture at USC in which continued harassment can exist.
Provost Michael Quick came out strongly in support of the USC Title IX Office’s policies on Sept. 8, and stood in defense of female students who have been victims of sexual abuse — a move we applaud. But it is simply not enough, especially in the face of the recent allegations, for senior administrators to pledge to support female students who have been sexually abused, while allowing a culture of sexual harassment involving their own colleagues in the Bovard Administration Building to continue. Only in the face of an onslaught of Times reporting did Varma and Carrera vacate their senior leadership roles. In fact, Varma is still listed as a tenured faculty member on the Keck website.
In both Carrera’s and Weinstein’s cases, the problem is not that victims are not coming forward — the Times reported that Carrera had as many as five complaints against him and Varma had one. It is that USC knew of the reports and did not address the deeper, institutional problems behind them. The problems were documented; the University just did not choose to take them seriously. It should not take a Times investigation for USC to take action.
There should be no tolerance for sexual harassment at USC — by either students or staff. Men in positions of power — whether it be at USC, Hollywood or Washington, D.C. — need to be held accountable for the way they treat female colleagues. It should be USC, not the Los Angeles Times, that holds them accountable. Furthermore, refusing Weinstein’s $5 million pledge means nothing if the University is simultaneously benefiting from the $6 billion fundraising effort that Carrera helped lead while being accused of harassment, or the lucrative fundraising Varma brought to the University.
Either USC stands in opposition to all forms of sexual harassment and those who commit it, or it enables a pervasive culture in which women’s rights to be treated as an equal in the workplace are subjugated by a push to fundraise. USC’s endowment can wait, but women at USC cannot.
Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the details of the recent sexual harassment allegations that have been made public and the events following them.