Continuing a sweeping self-examination process spurred by a series of scandals, the USC Board of Trustees announced changes Tuesday in the university’s governance, including a dramatic reduction in the board’s size and a commitment to bolstering diversity among its members.
“As you well know, USC has grown dramatically over the past few decades,” according to a letter sent to the university community by Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso and Carmen Nava, chair of a special committee created to consider changes in the board’s operations. “That growth includes a larger student body, more faculty, a fast-growing staff and operating one of the region’s largest medical enterprises in Keck Medicine of USC.
“However, the Board of Trustees recognized that it has been organized in much the same way as it was 30 years ago. Just as USC has changed, so too must our board. And, that is what we have done,” they wrote.
Among the changes announced by the board were:
— a reduction of the board to 35 members, down from 60;
— a commitment to a board “that reflects the diversity of the USC community”;
— term and age limits for board members;
— reduction in the number of board committees from 11 to eight; and
— public release of all committee memberships.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Board of Trustees also agreed to create a separate board to oversee the university’s medical system.
The changes are the result of a yearlong effort by the board’s Special Committee on Governance Reform, which examined governance systems at universities and other institutions around the world to explore potential management changes.
“All of these efforts were to develop recommendations that best position USC for maximum success in the coming decades,” according to Caruso and Nava. “At the end of this extensive process, the committee submitted a series of significant changes to modernize the board’s structure and operations.”
“… The board embraces these meaningful changes. However, we also recognize that this is just the beginning and our work is never complete. We will constantly and consistently evaluate our structure, processes and membership to ensure that the board is fully engaged in best serving our students, patients, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community. We are committed to USC being a leader in university governance especially as higher education continues to evolve.”
The changes come in the wake of a series of scandals that have rocked the USC community in recent years, including, most recently, a nationwide college-admissions cheating criminal probe that has ensnared parents of USC students, an associate USC athletic director and the university’s water polo coach.
The university is still coping with legal battles stemming from allegations of university mishandling of complaints about longtime campus gynecologist George Tyndall, who is accused of sexual misconduct during exams at the student health center. The university reached a $215 million settlement in a class-action suit earlier this year, but dozens of other suits are still pending.
Former medical school dean and longtime USC fundraiser Dr. Carmen Puliafito was fired by the school in August 2017 the wake of a Los Angeles Times report that he abused heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, including on days he worked as an eye doctor in university facilities. The Times also reported that a 21-year-old prostitute overdosed while taking drugs with Puliafito at a Pasadena hotel and accused the university of turning a blind eye to complaints about the dean.
Puliafito’s replacement, Dr. Rohit Varma, resigned in October 2017 as the newspaper was preparing to publish a story disclosing that he had been formally disciplined by USC in 2003 following allegations that he sexually harassed a young researcher while he was a junior professor supervising her work.
The series of scandals led to the departure of university President C.L. Max Nikias, and the subsequent hiring of Carol Folt, former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Folt is the university’s 12th president and the first female leader of the Trojan campus.