Carol Folt, USC's newly elected president, shared her hopes and plans for her presidency with student publications Annenberg Media and the Daily Trojan just an hour after she was announced as the university's new leader on Wednesday. Instead of a traditional sit-down interview, Folt insisted on standing to make for a more engaging, lively conversation.
Here are three topics she emphasized during the 15-minute interview in Bovard.
Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso wrote that Folt embodies many qualities the board wanted in a presidential candidate, including an "intense dedication to transparent and transformative leadership," in a university-wide email on Wednesday. Folt, who will take office July 1, told Annenberg Media that she will dedicate herself to transparency. She cited her experience as a professor as evidence that she has practice in answering questions directly.
"I think if you've been in the classroom and working you're with people and used to the questions that are going to come from that, you cannot be anything but transparent," she said.
Folt is taking the helm amid a time of tumult for the university, when many are criticizing the administration's lack of transparency in response to recent scandals.
Former university President C.L. Max Nikias resigned in August after a Los Angeles Times article alleged that former campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall had been sexually abusing his patients for almost three decades. After his resignation, students expressed transparency concerns in the presidential search process when student publications including Annenberg Media were not allowed to enter or cover the "open" forums dedicated to finding a new president.
Folt, whose first interview as USC's president was with student reporters, says she values the relationship with the media.
"I think the relationship with the media is really important, and I do believe we need to find a way to give people information and candor," she said.
Interim President Wanda Austin was criticized just last week for not directly addressing the university's involvement in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions bribery scandal in her first appearance after the news broke. Instead, she focused more on record-low university admissions rate for the incoming class of 2023.
"We have a few things we need to fix, but we are certainly not broken," Austin said at the USC Women's Conference in D.C.
However, Folt praised the work Austin has done and says her own job is easier because USC's campus seems ripe and ready for change.
"Lots of things I've seen the president do already that are right: honesty, candor, accountability," she said. "If the community wants that, we are already so far ahead. That gives me the chance to come in and take action that gets us there."
Folt, the former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced her resignation from the university in January in tandem with her decision to remove a Confederate monument from the campus, a decision that UNC's Board of Governors had previously rejected. In her initial announcement, she said she planned to stay on until the end of the 2019 school year, but the school's board voted to move her resignation up to Jan. 31.
The timing of the statue removal and Folt's accelerated resignation has led many to question if USC's new president was pushed out of her prior job. She assured Annenberg Media that she was not.
"I absolutely made the decision to step down," Folt said. "I was at complete peace with my decision [to remove the statue]. It's exactly what I think needed to be done."
She said in her resignation statement that she left because she has always "been driven by the "new and the next," and it felt like the right time to move on.
"I chose to step down because I wanted to give them a chance to move forward and do all the great things that that university could do," she told Annenberg Media.
Folt, USC's 12th president, is the university's first female president to be elected by the board of trustees. Austin was the first female appointed in the interim president role. Folt praised her predecessor for her work at USC.
"I look at what Wanda has done, and I am the beneficiary of that," she said.
Folt is no stranger to breaking gender barriers: She was also the first female chancellor of UNC at Chapel Hill.
"The time for women in leadership in higher education is clearly here," she said at the time.
She expressed to Annenberg Media her excitement about her second opportunity to be a first.
"I am about doors opening, and it's just an amazing privilege," Folt said.