Dear USC community,
The recent matter involving a former physician at our student health center has been profoundly troubling for our community, and has disturbed us all very deeply. This matter has generated a fresh wave of discussions on our campuses, building on those related to one of our former deans. These discussions are imperative in recognizing deficits in our culture. Unacceptable behavior by anyone in our community is a profound breach of trust, and we must change the culture at the university, and instill a higher level of professionalism and ethics. We owe it to our students, to each other, and, indeed, to our entire community to do better. I am truly sorry these events happened within our community, and deeply regret how much distress they have caused. From the sorrow comes determination to lead change in our culture.
At USC, we have a particular responsibility to uphold and model the nobler values of our humanity. We are a world-class university, whose very mission is driven by the search for truth, and whose core values remain stitched in every piece of scholarly and creative work we produce. Our nation—and indeed, the world—turn to institutions of higher learning to model the highest ideals of our society, and USC’s scholars, researchers, and artists take this responsibility most seriously.
Our discussion of these two matters has echoed those we have heard throughout higher education, as well as those in other professional and personal settings, including the political, financial, and entertainment spheres. The voices from these discussions—coming from a range of communities, and reverberating across race, class, and gender—have been profoundly instructive, as they illuminate the complexity surrounding these issues, and heighten our empathy in responding. Indeed, over the past year, many of us at USC have become more sensitive to these issues’ pervasiveness, lingering consequences, and complexities.
Moving forward, all of us, and especially anyone who holds a leadership position at USC, will be held to a higher standard, one that lives up to our core values, our Code of Ethics, and an enhanced culture change on our campuses. Whenever our university has had to deal with a major incident, our philosophy as a community has not wavered: learn from the experience and the mistakes made, and make sure we do better in the future.
Our path forward is clear. Our core values must be a means of creating and sustaining an environment of trust and fairness. To this end, I formally announce the establishment of the President’s Campus Culture Commission, co-chaired by Paula Cannon, a former president of the faculty and a distinguished professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at our Keck School of Medicine, and John Gaspari, a staff member in our human resources division who serves as the executive director of the USC Center for Work and Family Life. This commission will report directly to me, and I will work closely with its co-chairs and members. Varun Soni, our dean of religious life and the head of our Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, will be a special advisor to this commission. I am in the process of recruiting members, consisting of faculty and staff from both campuses, and the full composition will be announced before the beginning of the academic year.
The commission’s charge is to provide advice to the university’s senior leadership, and to assess the execution of the action plan we share with you today. Its work will be ongoing, and will begin at the start of the academic year with a half-day retreat, which will be attended by the university’s entire senior leadership, all deans, academic department chairs, directors of institutes, as well as other members of our community, drawn from both campuses. It will also include the executive boards of both the Academic Senate and the Staff Assembly.
Beyond the President’s Campus Culture Commission, we must move quickly and decisively to establish an improved culture, one that is based on equity, professionalism, and ethics. This will be a culture of Care, Concern, Consultation, and Compliance—four cornerstones that we will describe in greater detail in subsequent sections. With this in mind, we must develop coherent and centralized systems for receiving and handling—in a timely manner—complaints of any nature. And we must ensure protection when possible for anyone who steps forward with a complaint. This protection extends to any persons who are witnesses and are willing to share information regarding a complaint, as well. We must be committed to bringing issues that affect our environment to light, and hold each other accountable for living up to our core values. Retaliation against those who come forward will not be tolerated; indeed, discretion, transparency, and accountability must define our response. At USC, our ultimate goal is to maintain the highest standard among all universities.
At the same time, we must never forget our university’s mission—that will never change. Our mission guides our work: to educate our students; to create new knowledge through research and creative work; and to take good care of our patients.
Today, we take a significant step forward. At the request of the board of trustees, my senior leadership team and I prepared a wide-ranging action plan to revisit our core values, revise our existing employment policies, and improve our campus culture, as well as to implement a major restructuring of a number of the university’s operations. Our action plan reflects the recommendations and feedback from four distinct areas. (1) First, it directly and comprehensively answers the external review prepared by the law firm, Gibson Dunn. (2) Second, it incorporates considerable input from the university’s internal Task Force on Workplace Standards and Employee Wellness. (3) Third, it addresses new lessons learned from the recent matter involving our student health center. (4) And finally, it places all of these recommendations within the context of larger, national discussions currently taking place. In this way, the action plan we present today reflects a truly collaborative and broadly informed effort, one that draws on the rigorous observations of an external law firm, but also benefits from the far-reaching insights of those who best know our community: the faculty, staff, and students who spend each day at USC.
In this collaborative spirit—and as you absorb the changes and initiatives of the action plan—I will add: each one of us has a role moving forward. Recently, we have received direct feedback from the executive boards of both the Academic Senate and the Staff Assembly, and this has been tremendously helpful. Additionally, we will refine this action plan based on input we receive from you, members of the USC community. Our environment is only as strong as our character, and we all have a shared commitment to upholding—and even championing—our core values. We ask that you read the following action plan very carefully, and that we collectively rededicate ourselves to an ethos rooted in respect, compassion, and inclusion.
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