USC closed the sale of a new presidential residence for Carol Folt right before the coronavirus became pandemic, following a decision to purchase the new $8.6-million home in Santa Monica made last fall.
The sale ends a 42-year tradition of university presidents living in the 8-acre Mudd estate in San Marino. The luxurious property, which comes with a tennis court and formal gardens, is currently in the process of being listed with a broker, according to the university.
In a statement issued to Annenberg Media, the university said that the USC Board of Trustees determined last fall to purchase the 0.19-acre property in Santa Monica, which is significantly smaller than the Mudd estate and comes equipped with solar panels. Folt previously was renting the new space, about $35,000 per month, and living there since she arrived for her role as president.
“When Dr. Folt arrived in July of last year, the Mudd estate was not in livable condition and significant work needed to be done,” said a university statement provided by a USC spokesperson.
Rick Caruso, chairman of USC Board of Trustees, told the Los Angeles Times that after USC learn that the maintenance work in the Mudd estate-including plumbing, electrical and seismic upgrades-would cost $20 million, the university decided to sell it, size down and buy the Santa Monica house.
The Mudd estate would be sold at a price more than $20 million, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the selling process, Caruso told the Los Angeles Times.
USC announced a series of actions on Friday to stem the economic shock that the pandemic and a previous lawsuit have sent through the university. The actions include a hiring freeze and pause in merit increase for faculty and staff positions. Folt will take a 20% reduction in compensation while the provost, senior vice presidents and dean will reduce 10%.
The coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Wuhan, China in early January. The first confirmed case in the United States reported on January 21. On Jan. 26, California’s first two confirmed cases were reported in Los Angeles and Orange counties. By March 2, there were more than 93 confirmed cases and six deaths in the United States. COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic on March 11.
Annenberg Media asked USC why the administration did not make adjustments in their purchase plan in January, February or March, considering the COVID-19 impacts. No response to this question has been received.
USC established an emergency preparedness group in response to COVID-19 on March 2. The first confirmed case of the COVID-19 within the USC community was announced on March 15, and the number of positive cases tested at the University Student Health Center has swelled since then. The pandemic’s spread upended the entire semester - limiting access to campus and sending thousands of students home for remote classes.
The university said that moving the presidential living space was intended to be a frugal decision, considering the money that went into maintaining the 8-acre Mudd estate with 14,000-square-foot of living space.
“This was a financially prudent move given the new residence is a third of the size of the San Marino property with an overall footprint that is more than 40 times smaller,” the university statement reads. “The President’s new home is sustainable with low-maintenance landscaping, minimal upkeep and little staffing needs.”
In addition to housing, the Mudd estate was used since 1973 for formal gatherings, networking events, and holiday ceremonies. Former President C.L. Max Nikias hosted a yearly Thanksgiving dinner for students at the property. USC touted in the past how frequently Nikias and his wife, Niki, used the space to welcome over 15,000 guests within the first four years of his presidency.