USC is experiencing a defining moment, Interim President Wanda Austin said in her State of the University Address Wednesday afternoon at the Town and Gown ballroom. In her speech, Austin said she chose to talk about the topics she would want to understand if she were one of the faculty members in attendance, including updates on USC’s medical enterprises and the financial health of the University.
“I want you to leave here today with confidence that we’re able to make the necessary investments in the future because USC’s financial health remains very strong and stable,” Austin said.
During her speech, Austin only vaguely referenced the news about two significant controversies that occurred Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, six gay and bisexual former students sued the University and a former campus men’s sexual health doctor for alleged sexual harassment, among other grievances. The Los Angeles Times also reported updates on USC’s $215 million class-action settlement involving the patients of former campus gynecologist George Tyndall on Tuesday.
“Over the past year, we’ve confronted some unexpected issues and costs,” Austin said. “And just yesterday, we found out we have some more unexpected issues that we’re going to have to address. Those issues are difficult, but we are making many important changes that will strengthen the University moving forward.”
Among the changes Austin listed were a number of new committees and offices that were established under her interim administration, such as the Office of the Ombuds, the President’s Culture Commission and the Office of Professionalism and Ethics.
This year, the University is taking a new, cross-campus approach to address student wellness with its Collective Impact plan, led by the Office of Health Promotion Strategy and Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry.
Austin said USC is one of the first universities in the United States to create a wellness program that stretches across the entire institution. USC has already implemented training, retreats and assessments that nearly 4,000 people have participated in, Austin said.
“At USC, we’re committed to making wellness a priority,” Austin said. “In the past, we’ve focused much of our efforts on supporting our students … we’re now expanding our efforts to faculty and staff.”
Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention Varun Soni said he appreciated that Austin mentioned some of his office’s work.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work across the University to think about how we create a culture where students, faculty and staff thrive,” Soni said. “To have [that work] highlighted as one of the University priorities makes me feel really good about the direction of the University.”
Austin also stressed the importance of USC’s various medical endeavors. She said more than 40 percent of the University faculty is employed by the Keck School of Medicine. Many of Keck’s buildings are located on the Health Sciences Campus, where Austin delivered a similar address earlier this week.
“No matter where you work at USC, it’s important for you to understand the growing importance our medical enterprise has on the future of our entire university,” Austin said. “Our medical enterprise now represents 55 percent of the University’s total operating revenue and has been the fastest growing segment of our income since 2011.”
But, Austin said, USC’s medical programs and three hospitals are focused on more than turning a profit.
“We do all the things you’d expect from a private hospital or medical center,” Austin said. “But, we have to be equally prepared to treat patients with a common cold, as well as those with the rarest medical challenges.”
Austin, who will be leaving her position at the end of the University’s presidential search, spoke briefly about what USC’s future holds. She said the success of the University depends on shared governance, in which every USC community member’s voice is heard.
“Our faculty, staff and students all bring an incredible breadth of knowledge and experiences to our community,” Austin said. “If we’re not listening to all of those voices [and] including all of those perspectives, how can we possibly make the best decisions for the future of our university?”