Student leaders in the Price School of Public Policy penned a letter on Jan. 24 supporting the changes Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso and Interim President Wanda Austin made in their effort to increase accountability and transparency at USC. The Daily Trojan obtained the letter on Saturday.
The letter was a response to trustees Ming Hsieh and Ed Roski’s public letters criticizing Caruso’s handling of a meeting in December during which board members voted to support Austin’s decision to terminate Marshall School of Business Dean James Ellis.
The Price Student Organization Coalition, which has representatives from organizations including the Associated Students of Planning and Development, Price Latino Student Association, Graduate Policy Administration Community, Queer Policy Caucus, Students of Color and Allies Policy Forum, Price Social Innovation and Asian Pacific Islander Caucus signed the letter, lauding Caruso’s and Austin’s actions.
“The course set by Chair Caruso and Interim President Austin has shown a new level of transparency, integrity and responsiveness to student, staff and faculty desires that not only reflects the on-campus climate but is also working to repair a badly damaged reputation for our school,” the letter read. “The reported actions of trustees Roski and Hsieh actively work against those steps forward.”
The students wrote that they decided to vote for a show of confidence, regardless of the public struggles among Caruso, Austin and some trustees.
“As student leaders, we want to drive home that the appearance of this situation presents publicly as a struggle between pursuing a bold, new agenda and maintaining a morally compromised status quo,” the letter read.
Alex Freedman, a graduate student at Price, said he and other members of the Price Student Organization Coalition wrote the letter to voice their support for Austin’s decision to fire Ellis. He said that ever since Austin began to serve as the University’s interim president, he feels more engaged with and aware of University decisions.
“We wrote this letter because we wanted to send a message that we’re paying attention now more than ever, and we like the direction that things have been going as far as moving to make changes and progress,” Freedman said. “We want to make sure that momentum continues to grow rather than stall or turn around.”
Freedman said Hsieh and Roski’s letters denouncing Caruso show they are in favor of the “status quo” of former President C. L. Max Nikias’ administration. He said Nikias covered up a number of controversies, including former campus gynecologist George Tyndall’s alleged abuse of hundreds of women.
“Anyone who is making statements publicly in favor of that administration over steps toward reconciling with that and facing it head on as messy or as potentially damaging as it could be in the short term is also sending signals that student welfare doesn’t matter,” Freedman said.
Graduate student Edmundo Diaz Jr., a coalition member who signed the letter, said he and other students wanted to show Caruso and Austin they have support as they try to change the University’s culture.
“We’re always critical, we always want USC to be the best and we [always] hold them accountable, just as anyone would do for any organization,” Diaz said. “We wanted to show a vote of confidence for Chairman Caruso and Dr. Austin. It is a very tough time for USC. They’re trying to rebuild their reputation, but we really just believe in what they’re doing.”
However, Hsieh said Caruso and Austin’s actions are harmful to Marshall and disagrees with the changes that have been made.
“Maybe, the interim president or Caruso was more ‘transparent’ to students at the School of Public Policy and did not inform me as a trustee, or [the] Marshall School’s [faculty], students, alumni and donors why Dean Jim Ellis [was] removed,” Hsieh said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
The University and the Price School of Public Policy declined to comment. Ed Roski did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.