Provost addresses Topping Fund questions


Provost Michael Quick released a memo on Monday detailing issues in the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund that the University plans to solve with its new expansion efforts.

Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Scholars held a rally at Tommy Trojan Jan. 18 to protest the University’s decision to remove the Topping director position and call for the resignation of the vice provost. Kyle Kawaguchi | Daily Trojan

The administration’s most recent action regarding the Topping Fund was the removal of Christina Yokoyama’s position as Topping director, which was effective on Thursday.

Quick’s memo noted that diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the University’s values.

“I am pleased with the direction we’re headed, but I am well aware that there’s more to accomplish,” Quick said in the memo. “We must continue to do what universities do best: discuss, debate and determine the best path forward to reach our goals.

Quick then shifted his focus to the program. Even though Quick values it as “the genesis of our diversity mission,” he addresses four points that he plans to touch on through restructuring.

Quick found fault in the program’s allocation of funds. According to Quick, an average of more than a third of the program’s account were not used at all, and the cost to run the program is “many times greater per student than other important programs and services.”

Additionally, while there are 7,200 undergraduate and 9,600 graduate students who are eligible for the program, only 115 are current Topping scholars, Quick said.

“That does not seem right, at a time when there is so much financial need,” Quick said in the memo. “With all the available funds, that does not seem equitable.”

Quick said that by expanding the Topping Fund, the University plans to include more than five graduate students in the program, since “the original intent of the Topping Fund calls for between a third and a half of the scholars to be comprised of graduate students.”

In response to the memo, Topping Governing Board scholarship representative Yaneiry Barrios said that these changes can potentially lessen the quality of the program by being less exclusive.

“They make it seem like it’s so easy to get Topping, [but] it’s not just about being first-generation, being low-income, it’s also about going after a community … providing assistance, being aware of surroundings, not just like an application,” Barrios said.

Topping Governing Board Chair Sierra Williams said that the memo falsely assumed the scholars were against the idea of expansion of the Topping Fund and believes that the University is at fault for the way it is handling the program’s restructuring.

“I just think that they’re so stuck in their decision that they don’t want to change anything, but … no one’s against increasing [the Fund],” Williams said. “We’re against … how [they] want to go about the way of doing this.”

According to Williams, the Topping Fund’s charter specifically states that only five graduate students could be involved in the program at a time to ensure that they will act as mentors to undergraduate scholars.

“The fellowship is marketed as an undergraduate program … so that was its original focus and the graduate students are more so there to be like mentors for the students,” Williams said. “I don’t know where the numbers came from. It was three, but I think two to three years ago, they increased to five.”

In the memo, Quick referred to the Topping scholars’ “Call to Action” meeting at the Radisson Ballroom on Jan. 9. At the meeting, scholars, Yokoyama and faculty members further discussed Yokoyama’s elimination. Quick stated his disapproval of the scholars using money from the program to rent the room.

“While I respect the right of our scholars to disagree with decisions, I do not believe this is a legitimate use of Topping money,” Quick said in the memo. “I will look further into this allegation, and if substantiated, I will reimburse the Fund using other resources.”

Williams said that due to the urgency in addressing the Provost’s changes, the location of the meeting was planned last-minute, and the scholars quickly paid its rental fee.

“Because it was a Topping event, and at the time, we needed the permission of the director … so it’s not like going against anything,” Williams said. “It was just … we needed a place to do it, and the Radisson was the only room available on a Tuesday night. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to pay so much for this room because we want to,’ but it was the only one available for the day.”

Williams and Topping scholar Sabrina Enriquez, who is working to potentially have the Topping Fund established in the Division of Student Affairs, will be meeting with Quick on Thursday to further discuss future changes to the program.