Students, faculty express transparency concerns at first presidential search forum

Students, faculty, parents, and trustees attend first of three planned forums to discuss next president. student media not allowed.

As the new academic year begins, the question of who will replace interim President Wanda Austin and how the next candidate will be picked remains unknown.

Students, faculty and alumni raised their concerns to Rick Caruso, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and 13 members of the presidential search advisory committee at Town and Gown auditorium on Thursday afternoon.

In an email, Austin said she believes that the forums, also called listening sessions, "give us a very strong sense of the diverse set of viewpoints that we need to consider as the search for a permanent president moves ahead."

The six-month search for USC's new president is being led by the committee in addition to the staffing and recruiting firm Isaacson, Miller, as well as the global management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles.

During the first of three forums, many faculty and students said they want more transparency regarding the search.

Along with other media outlets, Annenberg Media was not allowed to enter the auditorium. When asked why students journalists were excluded, a USC spokesperson said: "Those contributors need to feel comfortable sharing their perspectives freely, which is much easier to do in a session that is not being recorded or reported on."

USC Media Relations told Annenberg Media on Saturday that student press will be welcome to the remaining presidential listening sessions. "We're hopeful that we can work better together in the future, so no press pass is required," the spokesman said.

Erin Graff Zivin, a professor of Spanish, Portuguese and comparative literature, said she is "cautiously optimistic" while acknowledging others at the forum who expressed concern about "many people very high up in the administration involved in recent scandals who are still making important decisions that affect all of us. People are quite worried about that."

Second-year student Isabel Torres went in hopes that the future president will focus on improving the mental health of the over 19,000 undergraduates on campus.

"USC being a large corporation and trying to be a place that fosters community, I think it's not making everything about money. Focus on students and faculty and not worry so much about the money aspect," Torres said.

Student services adviser Gayle Friedmann said she has been very upset with USC for the last few years, but heard similar perspectives from other faculty members who wanted to move forward too.

"I want someone who will listen to the people. Be a problem solver who has integrity and do the right thing and not (what) looks best for the university," she said.

Last spring, Friedmann said, her daughter was a victim of Dr. George Tyndall, the former USC gynecologist accused of sexually abusing and harassing his patients.

"Having it gone on for 30 years or what not is inexcusable and I don't want to see that happen any further," Friedmann said.

Second-year public policy student Serena Allen also called for improvements in the university's handling of sexual assault cases.

"I'm advocating on campus (for students) to get a rape treatment (center) on the University Park campus after the scandal with the gynecologist. We should do more for mental health, more faculty and possibly a recreational center where students can go outside," Allen said.

Related article: International students voice concerns before presidential search forum

USC Trustee David Bohnett says the search committee is looking for "somebody who understands transparency and accountability."

"I think people are looking for someone who has a sense of equity, diversity and inclusion. What that means. How to instill that within our culture," Bohnett said. "We're looking for somebody who understands transparency and accountability. Has a high sense of accountability and ethics. Really understands we are here to serve the students and what that means."

As stated in the Executive Summary by Graduate Student Government & Undergraduate Student Government, "Only when the USC Board of Trustees truly incorporates student voices in university structures and processes can we really begin this joint effort to 'rebuild our culture.'"

The two remaining forums will be held on Monday, Sept. 17, from noon to 2 p.m. at Aresty Auditorium on the Health Sciences campus and Tuesday, Sept. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m at Town and Gown.

The story is updated at 6:26 p.m. on September 16th with the statement from USC media relation. The statement is about allowing media to report on the remaining two sessions.
The story is updated at 6:57 p.m. on September 16th with embedding a tweet of Gayle Friedmann's interview.

The story is updated at 7:46 p.m. on September 16th with quotes from USC Trustee David Bohnett.