Marshall dean to step down in June 2019

Daily Trojan file photo

James Ellis will leave his role as dean of the Marshall School of Business at the end of the fiscal year, according to a letter from Interim President Wanda Austin. The decision to terminate Ellis was brought up in a meeting held by Austin and General Counsel Carol Mauch Amir on Friday.

In an email to Marshall faculty, Ellis said that the decision was reached from a cumulative record of complaints registered since 2009 at the USC Office of Equity and Diversity cases made against the Marshall staff, rather than any actions he had done. He noted that a majority of the cases were never brought to his attention.

“Nevertheless, this apparently has led University leadership to believe that we do not have a positive culture here,” Ellis wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Daily Trojan. “Therefore, they feel a change of leadership is in order.”

According to the email, the Marshall Faculty Council asked for a meeting with Austin in response to the decision, and external stakeholders brought up concerns about “process, transparency and reputational damage.”

Lloyd Greif, benefactor of the USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said the “rash” decision to terminate Ellis will cut his appointment short by three years. He said the decision is detrimental to the school’s reputation.

“[Ellis] is a decent and honorable man who doesn’t have a racist or sexist bone in his body,” Greif wrote in a letter to the Marshall Board of Leaders and USC Leventhal School of Accounting Board of Advisors. “This dean bears no resemblance whatsoever to the deans who have fallen before him — Puliafito (substance abuse), Varma (sexual harassment), and Flynn (questionable ethics and potential criminality).”  

Citing Ellis’ accomplishments as dean since 2007, Greif said Ellis was notified of 10 percent of the complaints registered with OED that were in need of further review — all of which he investigated and resolved. The Daily Trojan could not independently confirm this statement.

“Jim Ellis is part of the solution to what ails USC, not part of the problem,” he wrote. “This is not my opinion — this is fact.”

Greif said that he disagrees with Austin’s decision to remove Ellis from the deanship, a move that has been opposed by a some Board of Trustees members. But according to the letter, Chairman Rick Caruso said, “Wanda, as the University’s President, is empowered to make employment decisions, not the Board.”

“Since when is an Interim President given the same unfettered power to make personnel decisions as a permanent President who is selected by a Search Committee after a nationwide search and given a five-year mandate to steer the University?” Greif wrote. “Wanda is, in effect, a lame duck president.”

Dean James Ellis did not respond in time for publication. The story will be updated with his comments.