WASHINGTON — Interim USC President Wanda Austin on Friday avoided addressing the school's involvement in the largest-ever college admissions scandal during a speech in Washington, her first public appearance since the news broke earlier this week.
Students, alumni, faculty, and others attending the USC Women's Conference openly discussed the bribery charges that have snared some of the nation's top universities including USC and Georgetown. Most people here were wondering how the embattled school will address the firings of athletic officials and how students admitted under the scheme will be treated.
But there was little mention of the news from the main stage.
In 25 minutes of speaking about the conference's "Leading through impact" theme and USC's stature, Austin made but a passing reference to the scandal and the many questions USC students will have when they return from Spring Break on Monday.
"We have a few things we need to fix, but we are certainly not broken," Austin said at the morning keynote before 200 attendees.
She did, however, share new statistics about USC's increasing prestige. She stated the current admission cycle will be "the most selective in our history," with just 11 percent of a record nearly 67,000 applicants to be accepted to the incoming freshman class.
At least seven universities were named and 50 people were indicted in federal charging documents, yet it remains unclear how far the scheme reached at USC.
Austin, who had a packed schedule in Washington, including an event on Capitol Hill, twice declined to speak with two Annenberg Media reporters who followed her out of the conference. Austin told the reporters to call her office to set up a formal interview.
The conference began on a somber note with a moment of silence for Victor McElhaney, the Thornton student who was murdered last weekend in Los Angeles.
When kicking off the day's events, Patrick Auerbach, USC's associate senior vice president for Alumni Relations, made the only official mention of the scandal by referencing Austin's Thursday email.
In an exclusive interview with Annenberg Media, Auerbach commented on behalf of the USC Alumni Association.
"There's a lot of angst and a lot of concern from the alumni," Auerbach said, "because this is their beloved institution and they want to know that the university is doing the right thing."
Austin ended her speech with a final piece of advice for the attendees. “Ask questions,” she said. “Listen to what is being said and what is not being said.”