LOS ANGELES–On Wednesday, Dr. Carol Lynn Folt was named the 12th President of the University of Southern California, replacing interim president Dr. Wanda Austin and former president Dr. C.L. Max Nikias.
Folt previously served as the Chancellor at the University of North Carolina from 2013 until her resignation from North Carolina in January. While she has served in a variety of roles before her departure, perhaps what is most notable about Folt's presence at UNC is the massive change in the athletic department under her tenure.
Folt's beginnings at UNC were dealing with a scandal before her appointment. In 2012, former North Carolina governor Jim Martin released a report highlighting suspicious classes within UNC Academics.
The reported classes became known as "paper" classes. These classes were real and part of UNC's course catalog, but they never met and required just one final paper for a grade. The majority of these classes were run by the Department of Afro and African-American Studies.
Martin's report found that more than 3,100 students enrolled in the paper courses. More than half of the enrollees were student-athletes. Students who took these courses often relied on the classes to fulfill a GPA requirement. Both athletes and members of fraternities require a minimum GPA to remain eligible by the university.
At UNC, by their senior year, student-athletes need a 2.0 GPA to graduate. Greek houses at UNC are required to have a 2.7 GPA to remain in good standing. Students who rush must have a 3.0 GPA before becoming a member of Greek life.
Folt inherited the crisis in April 2013 when she was hired to become UNC's first female chancellor. Folt was tasked to deal with the ramifications of the classes, both in academic and athletic regards.
Folt maintained a strict image in her response to the crisis. She said in a Washington Post interview that she closed loopholes within undergraduate programs which had allowed the classes to persist.
UNC continues to maintain a page regarding the crisis. The university led a large-scale reform within admissions, courses, athletics and advisement to prevent future irregularities within the university.
Folt's reforms included commissioning former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth L. Wainstein to "get to the bottom of what had happened." Folt's reforms also included the termination of four employees.
Since the alleged classes were not "solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes," UNC was found to not violate NCAA bylaws. In a speech about the NCAA's decision, Folt said she values openness and transparency in response to times of crisis.
Speaking on the topic of college athletics in an interview with Annenberg, Media Folt said, "I believe that college athletics can be an extremely enriching and rewarding experience and I have thousands of examples of student-athletes. That's where I start, student-athletes."
At USC, Folt will have a similar role in response to the university's involvement in the recent college admissions bribery scheme.
Last Thursday, it was revealed that USC was one of several universities involved in a nationwide bribery scheme involving some of the nation's premier universities. According to Rick Caruso, the chair of the USC Board of Trustees, Folt's selection was finalized on Feb. 28, weeks before the FBI's report on the college admissions scandal.
USC's ties include corruption at the athletic department, where associate athletic director Donna Heinel along with men's and women's water polo coach Jovan Vavic have both been indicted for their roles. Former USC women's soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin and former assistant women's soccer coach Laura Janke were also charged in the case.
Following the announcement, USC fired both Heinel and Vavic.
During her tenure, Heinel was recognized as one of the highest ranking members of the athletic department, working alongside Athletic Director Lynn Swan and COO Steve Lopes. Heinel is alleged to have received more than $1.3 million in bribe money between 2014 and 2018.
Heinel's wrongdoings span both the tenure of Swann who was hired in 2016 to replace Pat Haden who worked from 2010 to 2016.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Swann said he was "blindsided" by the allegations sweeping the athletic department. Swann has come under fire for the lack of oversight as it relates to Heinel, given how much power she had.
Still, Swann remained steadfast in defense saying, "The reason why no one would know that this was happening is because we had one person in charge of submitting the academic records to our admissions department," Swann said. "And that one person was in charge of getting that information back and distributing it to the coaches and letting other people know. So when there's trust that this one person is doing the right thing, which Donna had been doing for years, there's not a problem."
Heinel and Vavic mark the second and third employees arrested by the FBI in less than two years under Swann's tenure. The first was Tony Bland, an assistant men's basketball coach caught in the college basketball corruption scandal. It is important to note that three were hired before Swann assumed his role.
When pressed if he would resign Swann said, "I have not considered resigning. I'm committed to this school and I'm committed to this job."
Folt's hiring does not immediately mean that Swann or other members of the athletic department will be forced to resign. However, what it does show is precedence for dealing with departments in crisis and perhaps a roadmap for what may occur when Folt assumes office on July 1.
“[Athletics] bring amazing economic prosperity not just to the university but as much as the whole region,” Folt said. “There are so many things about that I think are important. Yet, we have the same obligation if we’re going to do we’re going to have to do it right.”