Folt discusses previous scandals

On Nov. 19, the Daily Trojan spoke with President Carol Folt about the University’s status, including previous scandals such as former Keck Dean Carmen Puliafito’s “drug-fueled misconduct,” the seven reports of sexual assault and drugging at the Sigma Nu Fraternity house and other locations on and off the Row, the relationship between the administration and faculty and potential changes to the Board of Trustees. This article is part two of a two-part interview with Folt. The first part focused on questions regarding the University’s response to sexual assault reports and fraternities.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Trojan: In the faculty protests about reports of sexual assault and drugging, we’ve heard calls for the administration to release the George Tyndall reports. Following the Los Angeles Times story detailing Tyndall’s sexual abuse, Max Nikias’ administration promised they would conduct an independent investigation and release reports, but they were never released. What do you know about those reports?

Carol Folt: We know that [those reports] are owned by the Board of Trustees, and Rick Caruso has come out several times and said he misspoke. There are no reports — they didn’t take them to final reports. I have not seen reports. They did have a presentation to the Board, and they also gave that same presentation to the Faculty Senate at that time.

I would love it if there was a report and [the Board] would pledge right now to put it out there. I think we have some difficulty with that because there’s no formal investigation that came to a report. So I think that is hard. Tyndall is different — that’s under trial. So, even if there were a report — which I’m not saying there is — they couldn’t release it. It would be in the hands of the prosecutors right now. 

Because, once you start having an investigation, we can put things out there that can then be used to exonerate whoever’s being investigated. So that trial has to be complete.

DT: So we can talk about Dean Carmen Puliafito. I’m wondering if this administration, in the interest of transparency, would ever consider commissioning a report?

CF: No. I couldn’t commission a recreation of the Puliafito report. That happened how many years ago? I think we’re talking five, six, seven years ago — there’s nobody still here … which means they don’t have to speak to us. So I’m much better off trying to work with the [Board of Trustees] on that one. And realize with that one, too, everything was turned over to the police. So there’ve been no charges. No one’s been investigated. 

I did issue a report with the Faculty Senate … We’ve completely revamped how deans are replaced. So we took what looked to be clear mistakes — “Why didn’t Puliafito ever get replaced?” — and not tried to figure out exactly why it did happen but to figure out why it would never happen again.

I wish that those [reports] were out, because I think that would really help people. But I have to work where I have the capacity to make that change. 

DT: Do you think this administration has a role in remedying the harm of past administrations?

CF: Well, I think that’s all we ever do — is remedy the harms. That’s what the job was. I didn’t create it, but I need to fix this. So that’s why we’ve been trying to do all the legal things; put in all the new places; try to do everything we can for the past survivors. So, absolutely, it’s to remedy the harms, but it’s also to make sure that there aren’t future harms. 

DT: Some faculty have spoken up about what they call administrative failures in various newspapers. How do you react to that sort of public criticism? Have you made any efforts to reach out to faculty who have made these comments?

CF: I do feel that we have a responsibility to tell the truth, and I feel like we have a responsibility to correct misinformation. And we’ve tried to correct as much misinformation that’s out there. I would tell anyone to find me someone that’s given more public information about every one of the things that happened here. And so, when people say you’re not giving public information, the best I could do is just say “Well, maybe it’s too long, and you didn’t read.” I’m not sure why people aren’t looking at it, but I continue to direct them and I continue to answer. But I tried very hard not to take it personally, because I don’t think it is. 

I accept honest criticism. I really do. I have to. It would be really awful not to. But I also try to stick where I can to facts or at least give my best perspective, and hopefully that’s heard by them. 

DT: Have you had discussions with faculty who have spoken out, or just faculty in general, about all these issues?

CF: Absolutely. What do you think we do all the time? We go to the Academic Senate, I meet with everybody; we talk to the deans; we reach out to faculty. Absolutely. I don’t do the whole University myself. The [Provost Charles Zukoski] is out there; he did another webinar. We’ve talked, we’ve had webinars from 600 to 800 people that have been coming to them … With the [Working Group on Interfraternity Council Culture, Prevention, and Accountability] that we’re putting together for the IFC, they’ll reach out to everyone that’s written me a letter with demands or suggestions. And I’ve written answers to all of those to try to get those out. And [the taskforce] will bring them in to talk about their issues. So [we’re] trying not to write back to people and say, “What you said is wrong.” We’re trying to write back and say, “Thank you. These are the things as we know” and “How can you help us?”

DT: You’ve mentioned the University hosting several webinars. However, specifically with the previously set Undergraduate Student Government town hall that was cancelled and moved to a Zoom webinar format, USG leaders, some faculty members and students have criticized that format.

CF: I feel strongly about that. So, we didn’t cancel. [USG] came to us and said ‘Would you do a meeting?’ And we said ‘Yes.’ They decided a format — and, by the way, hadn’t spoken to us about that. Then, when they spoke to us and said that they’d opened it up — that they were bringing people from the press that were going to be there — our healthcare people, who are going to be there because these are sensitive topics, said that you cannot do conversations like that in big public forums — it is damaging and dangerous. And [our healthcare people] wouldn’t come. And we called them and we said ‘We can’t do it that way. It harms survivors.’ 

I don’t think you have big events with survivors and others telling their personal story open to the public or necessarily even open … These are complicated things with lots of legal but also personal anguish. So I have to go for the most anguished [people] and protect [them].

DT: There have been calls to add more academic and student voices onto the Board of Trustees. Have there been updates with that?

CF: [The Board] didn’t talk about adding new people, but they did add students and faculty into all the working committees. And they’re thinking about changing that and giving them a more formal role. So I think that’s where you’re likely to see changes.

DT: How do you evaluate the general relationship between the Board of Trustees and faculty? Faculty, interviewed by the Daily Trojan at mentioned protests and outside protests, said they believe the Board’s interests do not align with academic interests?

CF: You’ve talked to very few people. I know how big those protests are, and I know how that does not represent the whole faculty.

The board actually interacts with faculty a lot. The faculty go to a lot of things, the board go to a lot of things, they have different faculty with different relationships. The Board does not do the daily operations in the University. They aren’t supposed to. They’re supposed to be at the 30,000 foot [level], and they’re supposed to make sure that we’re following and complying and, so, that’s why they went through their own governance, because they felt they had failed [at] doing a lot of that compliance and infrastructure. So I think their concentration right now has been “How do we reestablish the fact that we have governance that will really keep the University very secure and running in a very good way?” And, also, “How do we make sure that we don’t do maybe the worst of all things, which is stop thinking about the future?”

Kacie Yamamoto contributed to this report.