Reeling From Scandals, USC Moves Forward With a New President

The hiring comes on the heels of a college-admissions cheating scandal and sexual misconduct allegations against former campus physicians

The USC Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved the hiring of Carol L. Folt, former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as the university's 12th president. 

The hiring comes as the university reels from a college-admissions cheating scandal and continues dealing with the ramifications of sexual misconduct allegations against former campus physicians that led to last year's departure of President C.L. Max Nikias.

Folt will take office in July.

Wanda Austin, former CEO of The Aerospace Corp., has been serving as USC's interim president since Nikias' departure in August.

"Dr. Folt is a seasoned leader who has an excellent track record of listening to others," Austin said in a statement. "She clearly understands the value of reaching out across campus, and for standing strong for the character and principles of a university's community. Her experience gives me great confidence that she will uphold a culture of integrity at USC."

In a statement released by the university, Folt called USC "a world-class global research university" and said she was "deeply grateful" for the post.

"The lifeblood of every great university is its students, faculty, staff and students, and I am so looking forward to meeting with you and learning more about you," she said. "The opportunities and potential I see ahead for USC are extraordinary.

"Of course, I also am aware that our community is deeply troubled by a number of immediate challenges," she said. "I assure you that we will meet these challenges together, directly, decisively and with honesty and candor. This is a moment of responsibility and opportunity, and we will seize them both."

Folt will take over as the university copes with its implication in a nationwide admissions-cheating scandal, in which more than 30 parents, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman; 11 athletic officials; coaches at USC, UCLA and other universities; and the scheme's admitted ringleader, William "Rick" Singer, were charged.

USC last week fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who were among those charged in the case. The university is also reviewing the admissions-status of students believed to be linked to the scandal.

The university also continues to cope with sexual-misconduct allegations involving former campus doctors.

Nikias stepped down last year following revelations that longtime campus gynecologist George Tyndall had been the subject of years of complaints about sexual misconduct during exams conducted at the student health center.

In the ensuing weeks, hundreds of former students filed lawsuits against the university. The university reached a $215 million settlement in a class-action suit earlier this year, although dozens of other suits are still pending.

The scandal involving Tyndall and his removal -- which the university acknowledged publicly in response to a months-long investigation by the Los Angeles Times -- was the third involving physicians tied to USC that came to light over the course of a year.

Former medical school dean and longtime USC fundraiser Dr. Carmen Puliafito was fired by the school in August 2017 the wake of the newspaper's 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.

Folt is no stranger to campus upheaval. She resigned from her post at UNC in January following weeks of protest over a Confederate monument on campus. As one of her final acts, she ordered the removal of the monument from campus.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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