Months of tension and turmoil on USC’s Board of Trustees prompted an emergency meeting at the campus this week, with the university’s leadership a top item for discussion.
The meeting Wednesday was called by board Chairman Rick Caruso, the billionaire mall developer who has been the target of growing criticism by a small but influential contingent of longtime trustees, the Los Angeles Times reported. Those critics, who include fellow billionaires Ed Roski and Ming Hsieh, have suggested Caruso is not fit to lead the board because of his handling of a board dispute over the ouster of a popular dean, according to the newspaper.
A university administrator who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Times the gathering was a way to quickly bring the clashing trustees together and “find a path forward.”
After four hours of meetings, which a spokeswoman described as “productive discussions,” the trustees emerged without making public statements or announcing changes to university leadership. The spokeswoman said trustees were focused on the future of the university.
The meeting comes as USC is attempting to move past a series of scandals and hire a new president. Longtime President C.L. Max Nikias was forced from his post last year following revelations about nearly three decades of alleged sexual abuse by a campus gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.
Some of the trustees now opposing Caruso were strong supporters of Nikias and thought that out of respect for his accomplishments, he should have been permitted to remain president while trustees searched for a new leader.
The divisions between them and Caruso, who had pushed Nikias to resign, were reignited this fall during a board disagreement about the treatment of Marshall School of Business Dean James Ellis, The Times reported.
Interim President Wanda Austin cut short Ellis’ term in office, citing his response to harassment and discrimination complaints in the business school. USC has not made public the specific allegations. Sources have told The Times there were dozens of misconduct complaints against business school leadership, faculty and staff for racial and gender-based discrimination.
Ellis’ termination as dean created an uproar among wealthy donors, faculty and alumni, who wrote letters and staged protests demanding that trustees overturn Austin’s decision. But at a trustees meeting in December, board members overwhelmingly reaffirmed the dean’s removal.
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