Board holds first listening session

The Board (above) held a “student leaders” listening session on Wednesday. Thursday was the first of three public listening sessions where faculty, staff and students are asked to voice their concerns regarding the search process for USC’s next president. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

The first public Presidential Search Advisory Committee listening session was held in the Town & Gown ballroom on Thursday. It featured an open platform for faculty, staff and students to voice their concerns regarding the search for USC’s next president.

The session began with an introduction from Rick Caruso, chairman of the USC Board of Trustees. Caruso expanded on the five phases of the presidential search process, which includes the listening sessions, background checks and confidential interviews with the committee. Caruso explained that they will “take the time [they] need to get it right,” estimating that the search for a new leader will take from three to six months.

During the open session, Gail Freedman, a Student Services advisor with enrollment services, delivered a powerful message that received loud applause from the crowd.

“I just feel that in the past eight years, we were so busy building our empire that we forgot to put the most important people first,” Freedman said. “We have a beautiful campus full of beautiful exteriors, but we’ve lost our integrity, our honor, and our soul … I want an ethical problem-solver: someone who meets the challenges head on, and does not try to sweep unpleasantries under the carpet.”

Another speaker, who did not introduce themself, noted that while the superficial image of the University is important, the value of its substance should be a priority.

“We have been willing to sacrifice our substance to protect that image rather than allowing our commitment to our substance to drive that image,” the speaker said. “We did not create an outreach program for the victims of George Tyndall until a year after we fired him, because the L.A. Times was about to run an article on it. How does that makes us look?”

Others voiced concerns on job security and the lack of transparency from the Board.

Caroline Donat, a junior majoring in law, history and culture, expressed her embarrassment to be a student at the University and argued for the institution to focus less on money and its national reputation. Donat commented on the “ill-planned” forum for scheduling the session at the same time the Career Fair was held on campus, which resulted in fewer student voices.

Donat also said that while emails about the available support systems are sent to students, the service is extremely limited in terms of location and number of therapy sessions.

“I would hope that [USC] becomes a place of diversity, that we actually support our community members, especially our staff and students so that people have their mental health taken care of,” Donat said. “There is a lot that needs to be done.”

Following Donat, Professor Richard Roberts, chair of the  Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, asked for more communication and transparency between the faculty and the Board, as well as for the new president to come in with “an attitude of servant leadership.” He also criticized former president C. L. Max Nikias for only communicating with the Board of Trustees.

“He asked you for things that he wanted to do, he did not ask us,” Roberts said. “I’m not sure if the Board of Trustees is even aware, but most of us, who are in the administration are communicated that we are not actually allowed to talk to you directly. That’s a problem. Can you see that that’s a problem?”

Faculty members were not the only ones who felt there was a lack of communication. Jesenia Rosales, a second-year graduate student at the Rossier School of Education, described emotionally how the construction of USC Village had removed a part of her family’s history without asking for input.

“That’s something I want the president to have: more connections with the community directly, not just, ‘Oh, we’re going to construct this and that, and kick out people,’” Rosales said. “It should be more of a consensus between both, because it’s everyone’s community in a way.”

Victor Webb, a retired faculty member from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has been at USC for 30 years. Webb urged the Board to find a president who has “a heart and a soul to solve issues that are here.”

“There’s a tremendous air of elitism and arrogance that conveys this University,” Webb said. “There’s no way to deny it. I would suggest that you look at a person who has heart. We have here a distance between the folks who work here and the folks who supposedly rule the place.”

USC Media Relations did not permit notetaking, and the Daily Trojan reporter was told that they could not take down notes or quotes despite the session being a public forum.