Opinion: USC administration needs to face the music in the Mike Bohn situation

When President Carol Folt and other USC representatives aren’t transparent about misconduct, they harm something far more significant than the university’s reputation.

Mike Bohn is speaking at the press conference. He is wearing a suit and tie.

Content warning: This opinion story references sexual abuse and misconduct that may be disturbing to some readers.

Early Friday afternoon, I saw former USC athletic director Mike Bohn’s resignation statement on Twitter.

It was such shocking news, only for my heart to sink even further as I read that he was leaving in order to be closer with his family as he addresses “ongoing health challenges.”

It was unfortunate to hear that Bohn, who ushered USC Athletics through the COVID-19 pandemic and later navigated the school’s move to the Big Ten Conference, would no longer be a part of the department’s efforts.

I felt terrible for him. But as the news media and internet were running wild with the breaking news, USC President Carol Folt’s statement on the matter stopped me in my tracks minutes later.

“...effective today.”

“...thorough review of the athletics department, including its operations, culture and strategy.”

“...time for a new direction.”

From that point on it was clear something was missing from the story. This didn’t sound like Mike Bohn stepped down — this sounded like he was told out.

As if right on queue, the Los Angeles Times released their initial report that same afternoon, mentioning “internal criticism of [Bohn’s] management of the athletic department.”

I must have read three or four different versions of the same LA Times story, it was being updated so often. Periodically, there would be a new quote or on-background account of some type of misconduct allegedly performed by Bohn.

All of the sources pertaining to Bohn’s behavior at USC were anonymous sources, fearing retaliation for their speaking out.

They detailed inappropriate comments made by Bohn about female colleagues and their dress, hair or weight. Three sources at USC said Bohn was confronted several times about his comments, but they continued, according to The Times.

I continued reading how USC had hired an attorney to review the athletic department earlier this year, and how she specialized in institutional response to sexual and gender-based harassment, violence and other forms of discrimination.

The accounts from Bohn’s previous stint at Cincinnati were far more jarring. Former Cincinnati head athletic trainer Robb Williams went on the record with accusations that Bohn made unwanted physical contact with women on several occasions, touching their shoulders and backs in ways that made them uncomfortable.

One woman told The Times that she went to a Title IX officer to discuss what she believed to be inequitable treatment from Bohn. She was one of five women at Cincinnati who told The Times that he created a toxic work environment for women.

If these former co-workers of Bohn were so willing to speak to The Times about his misconduct, what excuse does USC have for not identifying and addressing this behavior during Bohn’s hiring process?

Surely there had to be some sort of background check or screening that USC made before hiring Bohn in 2019, but even now when the word is out, it’s crickets from the administration.

The writing was on the wall months ago, and yet no officials at USC are willing to read it — even after The Times put it in print for all to see.

It is the passivity by USC leadership that bothers me the most.

Bohn, who was just recognized in 2022 as the athletic director of the year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, “resigns” on a Friday afternoon while spring sports are still in action, and we are just supposed to believe it was a mutual parting? Only for The LA Times to publish minutes later over a dozen accounts of alleged misconduct by Bohn?

What an embarrassing turn of events. Not to mention, a huge slap in the face to women at USC — especially to those who might have had an uncomfortable experience with Bohn in the workplace.

It’s shameful that USC administrators feel no obligation to immediately address the allegations, or share in detail the findings from the investigation that apparently were enough to part ways with Bohn.

Instead, they let the LA Times expose the darker side of the story yet again. I would think after paying $1.1 billion in sexual abuse settlements two years ago that USC would act more definitively with issues of that nature, but I stand corrected.

But of course, it was USC’s tendency toward secrecy that allowed George Tyndall to knowingly prey on women for nearly 30 years at the school’s student health clinic.

It is that same tendency that allows Bohn to depart from USC with no shame for his actions.

It’s clear to me that USC prioritizes whatever sort of reputation it thinks it’s preserving by staying quiet over the health, safety and security of the women within the institution.

There is a systemic quirk at USC that influences leadership to remain unassertive on matters of sexual harassment and abuse that allows those very issues to persist.

If university heads are not willing to address the misconduct of staff in a direct and transparent manner, then the institution cannot even begin to break down its pattern of abuse and harassment.