Topping scholars respond to Provost memo on Fund restructuring

On Tuesday, students and alumni from the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund penned a response to Provost Michael Quick’s Monday memo regarding the fund.

After Provost Michael Quick sent a memorandum to Topping scholars to explain recent changes to the Fund’s program structure, Topping students and alumni responded in a letter. Daniel Zhu | Daily Trojan

Quick’s memorandum posed questions about the fund, backing his efforts to expand the program. The scholars’ letter to the Provost responded to Quick’s four main issues with the Topping Fund.

The Topping letter said that the questions Quick mentioned in his memo were never discussed directly with Topping Fund administrators before Christina Yokoyama’s removal as Topping director on Feb. 1.

“This is the first mention of a review [of the Topping Fund] and definitely the first time these questions have been posed outside of Senior Administration,” the letter stated. “The tainted USC medical school deans were treated with more respect despite their embarrassing drug and sex scandals, both of them.”

The Provost’s office declined to comment after the scholars’ response was released.

Quick’s main concern in the memo was that “over the last few years, an average of more than a third of available dollars for the Fund were not used at all.”

In response to Quick, the scholars referred to the Governing Board guidelines that required any remaining funds to be reinvested into the endowment at the end of each year. Emergency funds for the past two years have been set aside for students who may not receive the necessary support from the University.

Quick also stated that it did “not seem equitable” that only 115 students out of 7,200 undergraduate and 9,600 graduate students are selected as scholars.

In response, the scholars explained that the Topping Fund is more than just a scholarship.

“The NTSAF is a retention program, supporting and guiding scholars in their successful navigation,” the response stated. It also explained that after Yokoyama’s first year as Topping director, the number of scholars increased from 88 to 108.

The letter also mentioned a “hiring freeze” on the Topping Fund, which was led by the University. In Spring 2010, an office manager position was created and filled to provide the necessary support for expansion, but when the position became vacant in August 2014, it was never refilled.

“The NTSAF still awaits approval to fill a position that it is fully able to fund,” the letter stated. “Again, the NTSAF has been understaffed since 2014 although fully able to fund the position.”

Since 2011, Yokoyama had submitted several proposals that expressed the desire to expand the program and increase the number of scholars, according to the letter.

The letter included an excerpt of one of Yokoyama’s proposals from December 2014, which described immediate goals to support an expansion. The goals included an increase from three to four full-time staffers and bringing the number of scholars from 108 to 135.

Such memos asked for an increase in staffing to administer an expanded program; however, the letter stated that the proposals would “go unanswered or given the usual ‘hiring freeze’ response.”

The scholars closed their letter with a list of program goals, which included maintaining the original spirit of the Topping Fund, as well as keeping the integrity of the Governing Board as primarily student-run.

“Let us remind you that it is WE who have been asking YOU to allow more scholars,” the letter to Quick stated. “We have requested an expansion for many years. YOU should have done better long ago by not pretending to listen when we spoke directly to you in 2013 and ignoring us in our requests to your vice provosts over the years … We deserved to be part of the conversation well before this shocking decision [of Yokoyama’s removal] ever took place.”