President Carol Folt highlighted the achievements of USC students, staff and faculty, and discussed next steps for the University, including plans to require vaccines for the Fall 2021 semester, at the virtual State of the University address Monday.
Folt began the event by discussing the University’s shift to a virtual format in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and thanked faculty and staff who led the University’s internal coronavirus response efforts, financial donors and medical personnel.
“We flipped more than 7000 classes in three days, retooled our operations to meet COVID safety standards, shuttered residence halls, retail operations, hundreds of competitions, shows, galas and other events,” Folt said. “We had to make some tough decisions, painful decisions even, but they were the right ones.”
Throughout the course of the pandemic, the University administered approximately 180,000 coronavirus tests and distributed 50,000 vaccines, and opened the largest vaccination site in East Los Angeles. They also distributed 700,000 units of personal protective equipment and six million pounds of food to those in need. The University also covered the full cost of the tests, vaccines, upgraded safety measures and extra financial aid support, which amounted to $97 million.
Folt also said that the University intends to require vaccines for the Fall 2021 semester.
“We have to make sure that people have access to [the vaccines]. We’re doing all that, but it is our intent to make them required,” Folt said. “Of course, we will have exceptions, and we’ll make good explanations for people that have medical or religious reasons that would make it not possible for them.”
Folt also mentioned the University’s efforts towards increased diversity, equity and inclusion. Last August, she posted six calls to action for this year, and according to Folt, the University has “completed or [is] about to complete all of them.” These included the hiring of the University’s first chief inclusion and diversity officer, Christopher Manning, and the establishment of a community advisory board for the University’s Department of Public Safety.
The University also created a Racial, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion taskforce, whose recommendations “touch nearly every corner of the Trojan community.” In the Fall 2021 semester, a renovated physical space for first-generation, transfer and undocumented students is set to open, as well as a planned launch of unconscious bias training for faculty and staff.
The University’s work on sustainability was also discussed. According to Folt, the University’s sustainability goals will be outlined in the “soon to be released” USC 2028 sustainability plan. She mentioned the University’s possible involvement in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan for sustainability, and the country’s “renewed focus on climate change and the disparities in health and wealth that it exacerbates.” Folt also mentioned the effect that students had in pushing for change regarding environmental issues.
“We’ve seen their ideas to reduce waste, divest from fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions and pursue environmental justice, and so much more,” Folt said. “They are amazing and persuasive, and their passion for change propels me every single day.”
At the end of her address, Folt conducted a Q&A open to all attendees.
Some students asked about USC’s plans for paying the $1.1 billion in settlements to end further litigation in the George Tyndall sex abuse lawsuits and in payouts to Tyndalls’s former patients, the largest sex abuse settlement against a university in history.
“I talked about things like selling off non-essential assets,” Folt said. “We can restructure our leases. Loans are at a very low interest right now. We can use money like that to save if we are able to restructure loans. We can also delay capital projects … In any case, though, we know that we can cover it and we also know that we can do it without detracting from our academic mission.”
Folt hinted that on-campus living and activities will open up to a larger number of students in the Fall.
“We’ll go through the normal process of getting placements, depending on what our density requirements are and if students are vaccinated, of course, things get a lot easier,” Folt said. “There’s going to be a lot going on in all the student activities and clubs, probably some of them will be hybrid between in-person activities and activities that are online.”
Folt said that the University’s goal is to “make people feel as welcome and oriented — whether they started last year under the pandemic, or this year, as we come out of it.”
“I’m looking forward to greeting everyone when we’re going to do that,” Folt said. “We will look forward to seeing you in person, very very soon.”