President Carol Folt spoke on plans to resume normal University operation, the incoming freshman class and the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic at her first annual State of the University address Wednesday. The event, typically held at Town & Gown, was conducted via Zoom in light of the closure of public-access buildings on campus due to the spread of the virus.
Folt opened by acknowledging the unprecedented nature of the event and recognized medical staff, faculty and essential campus workers that have maintained University programs’ functions throughout the semester. She also praised USC students and alumni for their community involvement throughout the pandemic, citing examples such as vaccine development research at Keck Medicine of USC, efforts to expand coronavirus testing and the Athletic Department’s blood drive for the American Red Cross.
“For 140 years, USC has been part of the fabric of our region and our city, and from the start of the crisis, Trojans joined hands with community-based organizations to support our most vulnerable neighbors,” Folt said.
Lauding the accomplishments of several USC schools and departments over the year since she took office, Folt said the number of top-10, top-20 and leading rankings the University received during the past year constituted a marked increase from the year prior. She also applauded the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Marshall School of Business for their incoming classes’ gender parity and commended the diversity of the admitted Class of 2024.
“Our students continue to say they are coming to USC because it’s the best place for them to explore and pursue their passions, improve communities and become game changers,” Folt said. “Here, they have the chance to work with some of the greatest minds of our times and to get involved in so much.”
Folt discussed USC’s plans for the coming months, announcing that campus housing facilities would remain open through the summer for students unable to return to their permanent residences.
University administrators are currently considering plans for reopening in the fall. Most classes, even if offered in person, will have virtual options as well, Folt said. She confirmed that students from all academic programs would continue to make normal progress toward their degrees, regardless of the format of classes next semester.
“Our teams are actively exploring options, including delaying the start of on-campus classes by several weeks, retrofitting our facilities for social distancing and pursuing hybrid models that include online and in-person activities in all classes,” Folt said. “We plan to decide about that in the next two months. We appreciate your patience, and we will keep you closely informed.”
According to Folt, the University projects an operational deficit of $300 million to $500 million through June 2021 due to increased expenses and reduced revenue, grants and donations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. USC has responded to the shortfall by reducing pay for top officials, suspending hiring and merit raises and cutting discretionary costs.
Folt emphasized that despite budgetary difficulties, USC would remain committed to affordability and financial aid. She said the University has begun to disburse its $19.3 million CARES Act appropriation and would continue to distribute payments from its newly created emergency funds.
“There is no doubt we will need to do better with less, but I’m convinced we will emerge from this even stronger, with a nimble infrastructure and a culture that takes risks, learns from mistakes and puts people first, all while remaining a leader in research, education and discovery,” Folt said.
Thanking essential workers, trustees and the USC administration for their service, Folt encouraged students to look forward to USC’s future growth, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.
“Above all, we want to make sure that all our students continue to dream big and act boldly,” Folt said. “You are needed more than ever. You have so much to offer, and we’re going to work with you to make your USC experience, rewarding and successful in the face of so much uncertainty.”