Faculty group drafts letter to Austin, Folt regarding recent University changes and LA Times investigation

Amid the college admissions bribery scheme, new administrative personnel changes, problems within the School of Medicine and the School of Social Work, Concerned Faculty of USC is calling for more faculty-led governance.

On Wednesday, the Concerned Faculty of USC, a group of nearly 350 faculty and staff members, sent a letter to Interim President Wanda Austin and President-elect Carol Folt outlining the changes they believe the administration must make to increase faculty involvement in University decisions.

Ariela Gross, a Gould School of Law faculty member and chair of the group, said the University’s decision to amend admissions processes and begin the search for new administrators has prompted faculty concern. Gross believes the administrations should involve faculty voice in decision-making moving forward.

Gross added that the group disagrees with the University’s reaction to the recent admissions scandal, the formation of the Provost Search Committee and the loss of accreditation of a cardiovascular disease fellowship.

“These responses are not adequate and we are concerned,” Gross said.

The University did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The letter comes a day after a Los Angeles Times investigation uncovered growing problems at the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. According to the investigation, the School might be forced to lay off nearly half of its staff and eliminate part-time teaching positions due to financial issues.

“[The school’s] January report determined that the school’s $150-million budget had an operating deficit that would grow to nearly $40 million by 2020 if admissions standards were tightened and no budget cuts implemented, according to people briefed on the findings,” the Times wrote. “USC said more recent data suggested the 2020 figure was under $10 million.”

In the letter, Concerned Faculty said increased faculty governance could have helped avoid problems at the school.

“It is not credible that the central administration didn’t know about the school’s financial problems,” Gross said. “They pushed the school into increasing reliance on online programs, online master’s degrees. And in general, these master’s degree programs, which are generally lucrative for the University, may not meet academic standards.”

The Times investigation comes on the heels of the resignation of School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn last year. John Clapp, who has since served as the school’s interim dean, is expected to step down soon, according to the Times, and an interim dean will be named shortly.

Provost Michael Quick said in a statement to the Times that the cuts were necessary and “will ensure the school is on solid footing as it seeks its next dean.”

Gross believes the problems facing the School of Social Work represent greater problems at the University.

“I don’t know if we have the answers for what needs to happen at the School of Social Work, but I think we can see a microcosm of the larger problems of central administration that we’ve had for the last several years — cover-ups and putting money over academic missions,” Gross said.

In addition to problems within the School of Social Work, Gross said the faculty group is concerned with the way USC is reacting to the college admissions bribery scheme.

In April, Austin announced that the University had begun making changes to the athletic admissions process for the upcoming academic year following the college admissions bribery scheme involving coaches and an athletic official at USC.

The University changes focus on increasing oversight in the student-athlete admissions process, including a three-tiered process where a head coach, senior sports administrator and the Office of Athletics Compliance review each application before it is sent to the admissions staff.

The Concerned Faculty letter, obtained by the Daily Trojan, described that a wide-ranging discussion involving the Athletics Department and University faculty is necessary to avoid future discrepancies between athletics and academics. Concerned faculty believes the lack of a  faculty-led oversight committee is worrisome.

“The faculty are in charge of the educational mission of the University and we think it is important that in our admission policy, [we ensure] admitted students can do the work and will flourish here,” Gross said. “Not having faculty involved in oversight [is a problem].”

The letter goes on to explain that no faculty aside from the incoming and outgoing Faculty Senate presidents were consulted when choosing faculty members for the provost search committee.

“The Presidential Search really marked what felt like a new beginning at USC,” Gross said. “The Faculty Senate asked for nominations from across the University … From there, they choose members of the faculty who weren’t’ the usual suspects, who weren’t the same faces that were typically chosen … but this Provost Search Committee did not follow that process.”

As USC searches for Provost Michael Quick’s replacement, Executive Vice Provost Elizabeth Graddy will serve as interim provost beginning July 1.

The faculty group also suggested implementing listening sessions for the USC community, similar to those held while the University searched for a new president.

“Even more than the president of a university, the provost is the leader of the faculty and should be chosen through an inclusive process in which a wide range of faculty voices are heard,” the letter read.

The letter also claims that despite demands from Keck School of Medicine faculty and staff, the University continues to employ leaders who overlooked sexual assault reports at the LAC+USC Medical Center. The center recently lost accreditation for its Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship, which will effectively shut down its program in June 2020.

In 2018, physician Meena Zareh, a second-year student in the fellowship, filed suit against LAC+USC alleging physician Guillermo Court sexually assaulted her when she was a medical resident in 2015. In a statement to the Daily Trojan, Keck Dean Laura Mosqueda said the loss of accreditation was related to concerns with resident safety and wellness processes.

Concerned Faculty has met with President-elect Folt and is scheduling another meeting to discuss faculty concerns and involvement in University-wide decisions. Folt will take office July 1.

“We are certainly hopeful for continued dialogue with her and she has expressed interest in maintaining an open dialogue with us,” Gross said. “It’s challenging before she gets here … but some of these announcements have still been disappointing.”