Annenberg school hosts town hall to discuss cultural values poll

Dean Willow Bay gave opening remarks on the University-wide culture values poll and introduced the Annenberg administration involved in assessing the results including culture facilitator JaBari Brown. (Michelle Wang | Daily Trojan)

Faculty, staff and students discussed accountability, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s competitive nature and the decreasing relevance of the Trojan Family at the Annenberg Culture Journey Town Hall Tuesday.

More than 50 people attended the town hall to learn about the Annenberg school experience. The town hall is the fourth of eight school town halls that USC has organized to discuss areas the community has identified to improve the University’s culture.

More than 800 individuals responded in the Annenberg values poll in Fall 2019 — a 31% participation rate among students, faculty and staff. According to these results, the top 10 values participants associated with Annenberg included reputation, communication, ambition, professionalism, hard work and collaboration. The results only showed one undesirable factor, known as a potentially limiting factor, which was competitiveness. 

The 800 participants were among the more than 19,000 members of the USC community who took the University-wide poll. Eighty-six percent of participants were either faculty or staff members and less than 20% included undergraduate and graduate students. 

The poll gauged individuals’ personal values, current culture and desired culture by identifying which 10 values they associated with each culture value category. Values were categorized based on whether or not they were potentially limiting factors. 

In Annenberg, there were overlaps between top values that faculty, staff and student cohorts indicated of the current University culture including diversity, ambition, Trojan Family, reputation and competitiveness. 

Although Trojan Family was included as a top value among all cohorts in current values, it was not used in the desired culture category. 

Those in attendance said the phrase was no longer relevant and that there was a need to redefine the abstract concept. 

Associate Dean of Operations James Vasquez also addressed the lack of student attendance at the ongoing culture session discussions and town halls, which was attended largely by faculty and staff. 

“All of our town halls and workshops are open to students, faculty and staff,” Vasquez said.  “What we are seeing is that students are not showing up. That’s part of the conversation we’re having about how we can encourage that to take place.” 

Some, like Annenberg adjunct lecturer Gary Wexler, said if the administration were concerned with the decreasing value of the concept of Trojan Family, they should bring alumni and students in these conversations.

“Are we a faculty-, administration-centered institution, or are we a student-centered institution?” Wexler said. “I think that’s the big question as far as students are concerned.”

Responses were analyzed using the Barrett Values Centre Model, which uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory and categorizes organizational culture into seven levels: survival, relationship, self-esteem, transformation, internal cohesion, making a difference and service. An institution’s financial stability, for example, would fall under the survival level, and an institution’s competitive environment would fall under self-esteem. 

According to Senior Associate Dean for Administration Deb Lawler, the first three levels can have either a positive or negative connotation. Once an organization reaches the transformation level, it becomes accountable in addressing issues such as transparency and diversity. 

Deb Lawler, the senior associate dean for administration, discussed the Barrett Values Centre Model, a strategy that uses seven levels to assess an organization’s culture, including survival, self-esteem, transformation and service. (Michelle Wang | Daily Trojan)

“When there’s an obsessive focus on a particular level, you start to see things that become potentially limiting,” Lawler said. “If you have an excessive focus at level one, that’s where you’re going to see things like job insecurity, greed … [or] level three: bureaucracy, complacency and competitiveness.”

The poll results were also used to categorize the entropy levels, a metric that represents the dysfunction of an organization, culture facilitator JaBari Brown said. Entropy levels ranged from 10-50%. An organization ranging under 10% would be considered healthy functioning and anything greater than 50% means the institution is undergoing a cultural crisis. 

According to poll results, the University holds a 28% entropy level with Annenberg at 21%. Between 11-20% entropy level involves minor issues, although not stated in the poll results, that require careful monitoring. The results were organized into three groups: an individual’s role as either a staff, faculty or student, race/ethnicity and gender identity. The specific issues that these groups faced were not listed but that each group, including Latinx people, Black people and the LGBTQ community faced “varying degrees of challenges” at USC. 

Lawler said that when audience members were asked to select which value the University should focus on during culture value poll discussions, the majority chose accountability — however, accountability to whom was not explicitly stated. 

During the Q&A session, Wexler said he was unsure as to who the accountability question is aimed at, whether it is for administration, faculty or students. He also said that as a professor, he does not understand his accountability role besides turning in required syllabi to administration each semester but has otherwise not had administrators regulate his lecture content. 

“Nobody’s ever … sat in my classroom to [assess] what I [lecture on],” he said. “The only time I ever hear from anybody is … when there was a problem in a student evaluation … I feel like I’m running my own entrepreneurial class.”

Vasquez said the culture values initiative is still in phase two of the alignment phases — aligning values pinpointed by faculty, staff and students to be applied to University-wide processes — where they are representing results to the University community and administration through town halls and discussion sessions. 

“This is not going to be a one-year or two-year engagement,” Vasquez said. “It’s a multiple-year engagement that’s really important because this is the start of conversations for us to figure out as a community where we want to go.”