In roughly seven months since USC announced her appointment and about 100 days since she took office, President Carol Folt has packed in a range of changes — from key staff appointments to launching new sustainability push at the university.
“We have embarked on one of the most consequential presidential transitions in our 139-year history and the beginning of an inspiring new era for the University of Southern California,” USC Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso wrote in the summer when Folt took office.
Caruso announced on March 20 that Folt is USC’s 12th president and the first woman to hold the title on a permanent basis. Before arriving at USC, she served as chancellor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and as dean of the faculty, provost and interim president at Dartmouth College.
Folt entered USC amid several controversies and scandals, joining the university just a week after the college admissions scheme was revealed. She also faced the aftermath of issues such as the former medical school dean using methamphetamine during his tenure and former health center gynecologist accused of sexually assaulting students over the course of almost three decades. In Caruso’s own words, it was the most turbulent period in the university’s history.
In her first email to Trojan Family, Folt wrote, “Of course, I also see that our community is deeply troubled by a number of immediate challenges. I assure you that we will meet these challenges together directly, decisively, and with honesty and candor.”
Within two weeks of Folt being announced as president, USC then-Interim President Wanda Austin announced the retirement of Michael Quick, then-provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Carol Mauch Amir, then-senior vice president for legal affairs and professionalism, from their position. Quick returned to the faculty as a professor of biological sciences in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Shortly after, Folt and then-Interim Austin announced Elizabeth Gaddy as the interim provost.
In a joint announcement from Folt and Austin on April 29, David Wright was appointed as USC’s senior vice president for administration, overseeing departments of public safety, real estate planning and development, student dining and housing, and parking and transportation. He previously served this role on an interim basis.
In the first week of May, Folt and Austin announced via email the appointments of Glenn Osaki as senior vice president/chief communication officer and Felicia Washington as senior vice president for human resources. Both titles are new positions in the USC senior administration and report directly to Folt. Washington previously served as vice chancellor for workplace strategy, equity and engagement under Folt at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Less than three weeks before Folt took office, the announcement that Geoffrey Garrett, the dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead USC Marshall School of Business in 2020 seemed to put the tension between some trustees and the university administration over the removal of Dean Jim Ellis on pause.
Taking office on July 1, Folt sent her first email, dated July 16, as president to the USC community and reassured her commitment to solving the university’s issues.
“We all are concerned about the difficulties our university has faced recently. To be successful, we must meet those challenges with candor, transparency, and inclusion. My team and I will be working with you without delay, to design and implement needed changes,” she wrote. She also made news in the summer to become the first president to meet with USC Facilities Management staff.
Meanwhile, Rene Park replaced Dennis Cornell, who retired after nearly 30 years at USC, as chief of staff. There was no university-wide email about her appointment. Sonn, Folt announced Winston Crisp as the vice president for student affairs. Crisp worked alongside Folt at UNC-Chapel Hill as the vice chancellor of student affairs. Former USC VP for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry is taking a similar role at The University of British Columbia.
After the fall semester began, Folt formally announced Charles Zukoski as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
In early September, Folt announced the resignation of then-USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann and appointed Dave Robert, her special advisor, to serve as interim director of athletics until a permanent replacement is named. “[Swann] felt that this was the professional thing to do, to resign and allow me to build my team,” Folt told the Los Angeles Times. “That really is the gist of it.” Swann’s resignation came after the football team’s first losing season in 19 years and the athletic department’s involvement in the college admissions scandal.
Folt was officially inaugurated as the 12th president of USC on Sept. 20. Thousands of students, alumni, faculty, staff and guests attended the inauguration. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block attended the event.
During her inaugural speech, Folt specified four initiatives for USC over this next decade:
- Expanding affordability and reducing the burden of student loan debt
- Further sustainability
- Finding new ways to partner with USC’s neighbors
- Emphasizing creative work and medical research at USC
During the inauguration, a small group of USC students held a banner that read “#SilenceSam” and chanted “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” The poster referenced the Confederate statue “Silent Sam” that was removed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus under Folt’s orders before she resigned as chancellor. Folt has been criticized for removing the statue too late. Folt also promised to
“I do want to say that universities are open to students protesting,” Folt said on stage. “I always am too, and I think we have to always remember that.”
In an interview with Annenberg Media after the ceremony, she stated how protests are an integral part of campus culture and democracy.
“I have been around protests in my entire life, from the time I was a student myself to when I was at Dartmouth and UNC and here,” she said. “I really believe that if you are in a university that students do not protest sometimes, I don’t know what that university is."
In the same interview, she also promised to tackle the naming controversy of the Von KleinSmid Center, which was vandalized the morning prior to her ceremony. VonKleinsmid, USC’s fifth president, has sparked controversy on campus as he is known for being a eugenicist.
“That’s new on my plate. We already do though have a committee in place that looks into nomenclature, so I am pretty sure that we will get to that pretty quickly," she said."
Folt has been a supporter of sustainability both online and on campus. She revitalized the Public Transit Subsidy Program to provide employees with incentives to use public transit. She gave green lights to both the climate strike and climate forum that took place on the same day of her inauguration. After hosting a post-inauguration zero-waste lunch, she made an appearance at the climate strike, standing next to student organizers.
As for Folt’s other three initiatives — affordability, community partnerships and creativity and research — few visible strides have been made.
There has been no formal announcement from the President’s Office or USC Financial Aid indicating increased affordability or a reduction in the number of loans featured in financial aid packages.
Additionally, USC is continuing to work with the surrounding community through initiatives such as the Friends and Neighbors Campaign and Troycamp. However, Folt has yet to announce further plans for community outreach and partnership.
Lastly, Folt has not yet made a formal announcement on how to prioritize creativity and research at USC.
Folt also broke the USC tradition as she is not living in the USC presidential mansion in San Marino due to earthquake concerns. The university is paying $35,000 per month for her Santa Monica house’s rent.
Folt is no stranger to scandals and controversies, and during her tenure at Chapel Hill, she faced two major ones that made national headlines.
The first was that the Chapel Hill’s African American studies department created dozens of fake courses that were taken by thousands of student athletes over the years so that they could earn high enough grades to remain eligible to play on their teams. This threatened Chapel Hill’s accreditation, potentially forcing the school to shut down until Folt created a new system for courses to be approved, fired or disciplined nine employees and avoid NCAA sanctions.
Years later, Folt faced another controversy regarding a Confederate statue at the main entrance of UNC-Chapel Hill known as “Silent Sam.” While some UNC alumni and state lawmakers wanted the statue to remain, many students protested for years for it to be taken down and eventually toppled the statue in August 2018. The statue was removed to a secure location by university authorities.
In her resignation letter dated 2019 January, Folt ordered the removal of the pedestal base and inscription plaques.
Folt still has at least two more hires to make, athletic director and senior vice president for legal affairs and professionalism.
Recently, Folt launched the USC Values Poll, an initiative that allows students to describe their experiences at USC in order for the University to promote more meaningful discussions around USC culture.
This poll serves as part of a grander commitment to change and will aid in the “USC Culture Journey.”
The USC Culture Journey is a five-step project to align the culture of the university with student values through hosting town halls and discussions on how to link values to behavior in order to improve campus climate.
Folt’s previous experience of handling controversies may help her in the next couple of months or even years as she holds a pivotal role in such a significant period that will affect all aspects of USC campus culture, ultimately deciding students’ life quality and the university’s reputation.