Dear President-Elect Folt,
USC is a prideful school. We’re proud to be part of an academic institution that consistently makes breakthroughs in medicine and technology. We’re proud of an alumni network that boasts the top athletes of this nation and the best creatives in Hollywood. And we’re proud to be part of a fiercely loyal Trojan community that believes in the best for its institution.
That pride, in the past few years, has been tested time and again. We saw the scandal of former Keck School of Medicine dean Carmen Puliafito, who used illicit drugs while seeing patients. We saw USC mishandle complaints against former gynecologist George Tyndall, who sexually abused his patients for nearly 30 years. And we saw the college admission bribery case unfold, revealing that at least 16 USC students and admits were accepted under the guise of athletic recruitment — not only indicting a weak admission process that allowed these practices to occur but also indicting USC’s students, who were smeared as elitist when, in reality, our population represents a diversity of backgrounds.
Pride, for Trojans, is built on the knowledge that USC will act in the best interests of its students, first. In these cases, the University failed. Instead, it acted in the interest of money, public image and personal interest. The school had lost its way — and instead of holding itself accountable, our local newspaper always had to step in to disclose the truth.
But pride also instills an unwavering sense of hope. And, Dr. Folt, as you take office at USC next week, we will be putting all of our hope in you. We hope that you right USC’s ship and that you will be committed to putting students and their interests first. And we hope that you can restore our trust in an institution we deeply care for.
We’re excited to see that new faces are already joining your administration, such as Senior Vice President for Human Resources Felicia Washington and Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Glenn Osaki. With former President C.L. Max Nikias, retiring Provost Michael Quick, and former Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry all gone, USC is clearing out the group of people who oversaw the scandals mentioned above. We hope that the fresh blood you’re bringing revitalizes and reenergizes our school.
Your history dealing with misconduct is heartening: When you first took on the chancellorship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, you inherited an academic scandal in which students, particularly student-athletes, were able to take “paper classes,” which allowed them to pass while completing little work for the courses. It’s not dissimilar to the college admission bribery case. According to the Daily Tar Heel, you enacted 70 reforms in the wake of these wrongdoings and took disciplinary action against nine employees.
And in January, you took action to remove the pedestal for Silent Sam, a deeply controversial statue of a Confederate soldier that student activists had spent years protesting, despite the wishes of UNC’s Board of Governors. This also came with your resignation. That resolve — standing up for the interests of the student body in the face of a powerful Board and your own interests in keeping your job — will be crucial for your leadership at USC.
But at the same time, we also must be wary — students took matters into their own hands to remove Silent Sam months earlier, and you attributed the toppling to “lawlessness” and “mob action.” Like your UNC students, we aren’t afraid to stand up for ourselves. And we hope that you will take our protests and demonstrations as signs of what we know this University can do better.
Where USC has failed, in the past few years, is simple. The University stopped listening to its students and started putting its financial goals ahead of its community. It is vital to the success of your presidency, Dr. Folt, and to the success of this school, that you recognize who your most important stakeholders are: your students.
This means that student, staff and faculty must be represented in the administration’s decision-making process, namely to give input in search committees as you staff your new administration. The continued strength from groups like the Concerned Faculty of USC, Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government prove that the community is both capable and committed to bringing this University out of the darkness it has fallen into.
This means that when the Daily Trojan or any other student groups approach the administration for information concerning the University’s actions is taking, USC should be forthcoming and willing to provide information important for student well-being.
This means that when you make decisions, Dr. Folt, you should first consider the direct implications they will have on students. Not what they may do to bolster USC’s prestige. Not what they may do for monetary benefit.
In this vein, transparency will be essential to your presidency. When you were first announced to be taking the helm at USC, the Daily Tar Heel wrote in an editorial that the newspaper had major issues with transparency in handling the Silent Sam scandal. They said you only responded to public records requests and released proposals regarding Silent Sam during inconvenient times at UNC. A lack of transparency is what outraged students most about the USC administration’s conduct — when sexual harassment allegations were made against former USC doctor Dennis Kelly in February, USC made only a brief statement and has yet to issue an apology.
“Honesty, accountability, candor,” you said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “If the community wants that, we are already so far ahead.”
Our wariness won’t go away any time soon. You’ll have to earn our trust and prove to students who have been disappointed over and over again by their administration that you’re going to stay true to your word and provide that promised honesty, accountability and candor.
Dr. Folt, USC is a prideful school. It’s also an unwaveringly persistent one. We’re believing in you to lead our way to the success we know USC is worthy of — but if you don’t, we’ll be here to hold you accountable.
But for the time being, welcome to USC, Dr. Folt. We’re so excited to see what you can do for us.
Daily Trojan Summer 2019 Editorial Board