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USC's Carol Folt Says She'll Face Scandals 'With Urgency' As Faculty Waits For A Call Back On Proposals

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University of Southern California President Carol Folt on campus Friday, September 20, 2019. (Kyle Grillot for LAist/Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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The USC community and L.A. civic leaders gathered on campus last week in the shadow of the Tommy Trojan statue to inaugurate Carol Folt as the university's 12th president. USC's many scandals, she told the thousands of people gathered, are a top priority for her.

"We will continue to tackle these problems until they are corrected. We're going to do it with urgency," she said.

But a leader of a prominent USC faculty group says that as of Thursday, Folt hasn't replied to a series of reform proposals sent to her in August.

"We're still waiting for her to respond to some of proposals on governance that she asked us to send her over the summer, and we did," said USC law professor Ariela Gross, a member of Concerned Faculty of USC.

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"We're hopeful now that the excitement of the inauguration is over that we may hear back from her," she said.

Gross said she wants USC to make public two reports prepared by law firms that looked into USC's responses to the reported drug abuse by then-medical school dean Carmen Puliafito and knowledge of allegations of assault against then campus gynecologist George Tyndall. The allegations were among a long list of scandals that have rocked the university in recent years.

OUR INTERVIEW WITH FOLT

In a sit-down interview with LAist after the inauguration, Folt said she's been briefed on those reports, but that it's up to the university's board of trustees whether to release them.

"I understand why people want transparency," Folt said "And I really am sympathetic and want to do that whenever it is appropriate. But there are some things that you don't tell -- we don't share student records, ever. That matters so much to me... we don't share information when there's court cases going on and investigations. We have to be a little bit more honest about, or more,not honest, more clear about why the decisions to share or not share are being made."

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Folt said she's assigned newly hired provost Charles Zukoski to create a group to examine USC's role in the national college admissions bribery scandal, which led to the indictments of four USC athletics department officials.

Folt has experience with athletics scandals -- she was president of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, when its accreditation was threatened after it was revealed that fraudulent classes were set up for student athletes. A committee similar to the one to be led by Zukoski came up with dozens of reforms. Folt says she hopes the USC effort does the same.

USC athletic director Lynn Swann recently resigned as Folt began planning reforms.

CONCERNED FACULTY REMAINS CONCERNED

Concerned Faculty's Gross hopes professors are consulted as those reforms go forward.

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"It won't just be that some people turn in their resignations, but that we get some accounting of what went wrong, how these terrible things could have happened, and what's being done to make sure they won't happen again," Gross said.

Some students on campus said this week that they feel disconnected from Folt's reform efforts so far.

"I haven't heard about anything she's been doing directly," said Jenna Richter, a third-year communications major. "It was definitely a little discouraging, especially just getting here, and holding the school in such high esteem and then seeing some of that being taken away but I also think it's good that these things are coming to light."

USC administrators said at Folt's inauguration that the university's luster has been tarnished and that it's time to atone and get back the shine.

"You can't demand trust, you really have to earn it," Folt said. "We earn it when we work with people, you know, when you decide to do something and you say you're going to talk to people, you have to really talk to them."