Revisiting Operational Structure I

Part II:  Revisiting the university’s operational structure

I.  Office of Professionalism and Ethics

We will establish an Office of Professionalism and Ethics (OPE), which will be led by the new vice president of professionalism and ethics, who will report to the senior vice president and general counsel.  OPE will serve as a centralized, single center for all university complaint monitoring and investigation.

As a “one-stop shop” at the university, OPE will receive complaints at all levels across both campuses.  In establishing its structure, we adhered to a number of points:

  • Faculty and staff will be able to report complaints directly to OPE;
  • All leaders (including faculty) who receive a report, or who have something to report, must tell their supervisors and submit a report to OPE, or face sanctioning;
  • OPE will interface with existing offices throughout the university that collect and compile complaints in specific areas; and
  • OPE will maintain an anonymous and confidential hotline for additional complaint reporting.

Given its centralized nature, OPE will be positioned to maintain a single database for tracking all complaints across the university, to draw connections between any complaints, and to respond more swiftly when necessary.  Its positioning will also allow it to streamline the entire process and ensure greater accountability.  It will also use the information it gathers to evaluate trends and high-risk situations for the university.

On a monthly basis, OPE will report on any open high-risk investigations to the president’s cabinet.  And on a semi-annual basis, it will report on any trends that are emerging among the complaints to the president’s cabinet.  With these regularly scheduled updates, OPE will ensure that high-risk investigations reach the highest levels of the university’s senior leadership in a timely manner.  The new vice president will also have direct access to the chair of the audit and compliance committee of the board of trustees in order to ensure independence and transparency.

A.  OPE and its centralized structure

In the area of complaint monitoring, Figure 1 illustrates the centralized flow of OPE’s structure, while the following descriptions clarify the portfolios of each office and unit under OPE’s umbrella:

1.  Title IX
  • USC’s Title IX office is responsible for investigating and responding to all reports of protected class misconduct in which the alleged offender is a student. This office also investigates retaliation related to reporting this type of misconduct.
  • This includes complaints concerning sexual harassment—such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking—and discrimination, as well as retaliation for reporting these complaints.
  • This office also handles harassment and discrimination by students or student organizations based on any legally protected class—such as race, ethnicity, religion, and disability.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • A student alleges that his or her teaching assistant has made unwanted sexual advances;
    • A male student complained that a certain scholarship is only for women;
    • A complaint that a student leader was denied access to resources based on his or her gender identification;
    • A person alleges that he/she is the victim of domestic violence committed by a USC student;
    • A person alleges that he/she was incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs, and therefore unable to consent to sexual activity with a USC student;
    • A person alleges that he/she was sexually harassed or assaulted by a USC student;
    • A person alleges that a USC student is stalking him/her, and persists in sending unwanted social media messages, texts, and emails; and
    • A person alleges that a USC student filmed him/her during sexual activity without consent.
2.  Office of Equity and Diversity
  • The Office of Equity and Diversity (OED) is responsible for overseeing the university’s compliance with state and federal laws relating to—as well as investigating and responding to—complaints by faculty, staff, students, and applicants who believe themselves to be harmed by staff or faculty by harassment or discrimination related to certain protected characteristics. OED handles reports in which the alleged offender is staff or faculty.
  • These protected characteristics include race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, medical condition, marital status, pregnancy, veteran status, genetic information, and any other characteristic that may be specified in laws or regulations.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • A faculty member claims that she was denied tenure based on her ancestry;
    • An employee applicant claims that she was denied a job based on her pregnancy;
    • A student alleges that a professor has failed to accommodate his disability during a final exam;
    • An employee claims her supervisor or a co-worker sexually harassed her;
    • An employee complains that she was retaliated against by her supervisor after participating in an OED investigation alleging race discrimination against the supervisor;
    • A student complains that a faculty member sexually harassed her;
    • An employee who returned from serving in the military complains that he was unfairly denied job placement at the university upon his return;
    • An employee claims that he was passed up for promotion due to his age;
    • An employee claims his department failed to accommodate his request for religious or disability accommodation;
    • A former student complains that she was sexually harassed by a current faculty member; and
    • A former student complains that an adjunct faculty member sexually assaulted her by exceeding the bounds of her consent to sexual contact.
3.  Office of Conduct, Accountability and Professionalism
  • The Office of Conduct, Accountability and Professionalism (CAP) was announced last October, and has been tasked with investigating concerns about workplace conduct, including violence in the workplace, that fall outside the strict purview of existing investigative units.
  • In practice, CAP will investigate complaints that do not relate to Title IX or a protected characteristic, such as conduct that violates our policies against bullying and intimidation.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • Students complain that their professor comes to class inebriated;
    • An administrative assistant complains that his direct supervisor is demeaning and throws things when angry;
    • A faculty member complains that his dean chooses favorites based on area of research; and
    • A faculty member is concerned that her colleague may be abusing illegal substances on campus; and
    • An employee complains that his supervisor retaliated against him for making a non-protected class wage and hour or whistleblower complaint.
4.  Athletic Compliance
  • The Office of Athletic Compliance is dedicated to assisting all coaches, student-athletes, athletic department staff members, USC faculty and staff, former and future Trojans, and all supporters of Trojan Athletics as they strive to comply with rules applicable to intercollegiate athletics.
  • In addition to educating these groups about applicable rules, Athletic Compliance is responsible for monitoring, addressing, and investigating all potential violations of NCAA and Pac-12 rules.
  • When necessary, Athletic Compliance reports infractions and oversees the imposition of any remedial action.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • An anonymous complaint that a student-athlete has received money from someone connected to the USC community in violation of NCAA rules;
    • A complaint that an assistant coach is providing a prospective future Trojan’s family with inappropriate benefits to recruit him to USC;
    • A reporter says he is working on a story that a high-profile student-athlete’s family has been accepting gifts and/or money from an agent;
    • An anonymous complaint that an assistant coach is accepting money from an agent in exchange for steering a student-athlete to that agent;
    • A complaint that student-athletes are being asked to practice or work out in excess of the time allowed by NCAA rules; and
    • An allegation that a USC coach has had contact with a potential recruit outside of the times allowed by NCAA rules.
5.  Compliance
  • The Office of Compliance is responsible for overseeing the university’s compliance program, which includes investigating possible regulatory and university policy violations such as:
    • conflicts of interest;
    • misconduct related to research grants;
    • violations of healthcare billing guidelines;
    • data privacy breaches in, for example, medical, student, or financial records; and
    • violations of U.S. export control regulations, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or economic and trade sanctions regulations.
  • In addition to performing investigations and ensuring appropriate enforcement and corrective action, the Office of Compliance is responsible for:
    • conducting periodic risk assessments;
    • implementing policies and programs in response to new laws, regulations, and industry trends that present significant legal, financial, and/or reputational risk for the university;
    • providing training and education to the university community; and
    • conducting internal monitoring and auditing.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • A claim that faculty physicians are committing insurance fraud;
    • A complaint about a dean hiring his son’s company to plan and host a school event;
    • A compliant involving radiation safety and associated regulatory components;
    • A claim involving regulations implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, such as export control;
    • A complaint that an employee improperly accessed the medical record of a high-profile patient in violation of HIPAA;
    • A complaint that a faculty member inappropriately charged government grants for travel expenses for his spouse;
    • A complaint that a faculty member claimed 100 percent effort at USC while also claiming 100 percent effort at a foreign institute;
    • A complaint of inaccurate billing by a USC clinical operation; and
    • A complaint that a faculty member claimed authorship for a student’s work or improperly denied authorship credit to a student.
  • While the Office of Compliance will continue to investigate these matters, it will coordinate and report investigation results to the Office of Professionalism and Ethics (OPE) for oversight and monitoring.
    • The Office of Compliance is also tasked with leading the redrafting of the university’s Code of Ethics, and defining and instilling a culture of values and ethics throughout the university.
  • While the Office of Compliance will continue to investigate these matters, it will coordinate and report investigation results to the Office of Professionalism and Ethics (OPE) for oversight and monitoring.
6.  Audit Services
  • The Office of Audit Services is responsible for assisting university management with risk mitigation strategies with the objective of improving business processes and internal controls, as well as facilitating strong stewardship and management accountability at all levels.
  • In addition to carrying out the university’s annual internal audit plan together with the university’s outside audit service provider (EY), the Office of Audit Services investigates complaints concerning accounting misappropriation and internal controls issues.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • A complaint that a faculty member has submitted false expense reimbursement requests;
    • A complaint that an administrative assistant set up a fake company and paid herself speaking fees from the school funds;
    • A complaint that a staff member was improperly reimbursed for personal travel;
    • A complaint that a faculty member used his own company as a USC vendor;
    • A complaint that an employee was taking items from the USC Bookstore without paying for them;
    • A complaint that facilities employees were stealing medical equipment from a USC-owned warehouse and reselling the equipment for their personal gain; and
    • A complaint that an employee falsified materials for a conference that did not exist and then sought reimbursement for conference expenses.
  • Audit Services will continue to investigate these matters, but will report investigation results to the Office of Professionalism and Ethics (OPE) for oversight and monitoring.
7.  Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards
  • The Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (SJACS) is responsible for investigating and responding to complaints from the university community related to violations of the university’s Student Conduct Code.
  • Following the investigation of a complaint, SJACS will enter into a Voluntary Administrative Review with the student, dismiss the case against the student, or if the student denies the allegations, conduct a Summary Administrative Review.
  • SJACS is also responsible for assessing any sanctions deemed warranted against a student, which may include, without limitation, educational classes, warning, disciplinary probation, service, restitution, removal from university housing, grade sanctions and/or removal from a department, revocation of degree or revocation of admission, suspension, and/or expulsion.
  • Some examples of these complaints might be:
    • A student is accused of coercive disruption due to his protesting with signs that threaten the safety of other persons on campus;
    • A student is accused of stalking another student;
    • A student is accused of cheating on an exam or of plagiarism;
    • Two students are accused of physically fighting on campus;
    • A student is accused of underage alcohol consumption;
    • A fraternity is accused of hazing;
    • A student group fails to secure appropriate approval prior to hosting an event that serves alcohol; and
    • A student complains that a classroom on campus has been vandalized.
  • SJACS will continue to investigate these matters, but will ask the Office of Professionalism and Ethics (OPE) for additional resources and, as needed, help in high-risk matters, such as hazing.
  • SJACS will report all investigation results to OPE for oversight and monitoring.

B.  OPE and the investigation of complaints

As mentioned above, in directing OPE, the vice president of professionalism and ethics will report directly to the senior vice president and general counsel.  This is a critical point, as we must remain vigilant in protecting the privacy rights and confidentiality of our employees, while also ensuring the rights of the accused and enforcing and upholding the core values of our community.  OPE will be responsible for ensuring balanced and fair responses to both complainants and respondents, and providing prompt and efficient investigation of complaints.

In investigating complaints, OPE will have direct oversight of our current investigatory offices: Title IX; the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED); and Athletic Compliance.  OPE will also oversee the Office of Conduct, Accountability, and Professionalism (CAP), which was announced last October, and which investigates concerns about workplace conduct that fall outside the strict purview of our existing investigative units.

In addition, beyond its direct reports, and as shown in Figure 1, OPE will coordinate and track conduct-related investigations for certain offices, namely Compliance, Internal Audit, and the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (SJACS).  These three offices—whose portfolios expand well beyond conduct-related investigations—will maintain their traditional reporting lines for all their other responsibilities.  However, the vice president of professionalism and ethics will assign complaints to the appropriate office for review and investigation, as needed, and will oversee their management of incoming and assigned complaints.  OPE will not oversee complaint investigations for the hospital medical staff; however, it will at times provide investigatory resources for this group, and include its findings among its reports.

Figure 2 illustrates the broad range of departments and units at USC with which OPE will directly partner in order to ensure all complaints made at the university are properly tracked and managed.  These partnerships will expand as the university’s structure evolves.  At its outset, OPE will work closely with Human Resources; the Department of Public Safety (DPS); the Threat Assessment Committee; a newly-created Office of Ombuds Services under the purview the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention (CWCI); Faculty Judicial Affairs; Risk Management; Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (SJACS); and the Hospital Medical staff.

OPE will serve as a resource to ensure that all complaints are funneled centrally from these various other offices into OPE, and then assigned to the appropriate investigatory office for review and investigation, as necessary.  OPE will manage the review and investigation, track outcomes centrally, and ensure proper post-investigation management.

OPE will also maintain a centralized database of all complaints and the outcomes of such complaints.  This will enable the university to track complaints of different types against the same individual over time, and will also allow for trend analysis and other data analytics which can be used to inform training, increase safety and security at the university, and allow for better human resource management.

C.  OPE and complaint processing (post-investigation)

While the Office of Professionalism and Ethics will oversee the intake, monitoring, and investigation of all complaints, it will not be involved in the disciplinary process.  This will hold true for faculty, staff, and students.  Each constituent will follow the university’s policies for disciplinary processes, which may vary depending on the nature of the complaint and the group in which the respondent belongs.

Figure 3 outlines the flow for the disciplinary processes for five clearly defined groups at USC, while the description below describes these processes in greater detail.  Specifically, the description clarifies the processes for (1) faculty, (2) hospital medical staff, (3) staff, (4) students, and (5) student cases involving Title IX.

1.  Faculty disciplinary process

For faculty, when disciplinary action is required, OPE will forward the results of its investigations to a newly formed faculty committee.  This committee will supplant the university’s previous process, through which a vice provost determined sanctions after consulting with the president of the Academic Senate and the relevant dean.  The new faculty committee will determine the appropriate discipline, up to and including recommendation of tenure dismissal.  In all disciplinary decisions except a recommendation of tenure dismissal, appeals will go directly the provost.  In cases involving a recommendation of tenure dismissal, a final decision will only be made after the formal proceedings set forth in the Faculty Handbook in section 8-D(2).  As part of this process, the provost will first determine if formal dismissal proceedings should commence and, if they should, assemble a hearing board, comprised of three members of the Senate Committee on Faculty Tenure and Privileges Appeals.  The president of the university will make the final decision regarding tenure dismissal.

2.  Hospital medical staff disciplinary process

For complaints involving faculty or staff at a USC-owned hospital, in appropriate cases, OPE will provide the results of its investigations to the Hospital Medical Staff, which is a body within the hospital that is responsible by law for oversight of clinical care, including complaints against physicians.  The Hospital Medical Staff—if it deems necessary—will investigate complaints further, and then provide the results to the Medical Executive Committee for disciplinary action.  The Hospital Governing Board resolves all appeals from the Medical Executive Committee.

3.  Staff disciplinary process

For staff, when disciplinary action is required, OPE will send its investigation results to the new vice president of human resources for a disciplinary decision after consultation with an advisory committee comprised of staff members.  This position—and the scope of its responsibilities—are described in greater detail in the subsequent section.  All appeals will be resolved by the senior vice president for administration.

4.  Student disciplinary process

For students, in cases where OPE conducts an investigation, OPE will send its investigation results to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (SJACS).  This office is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the university’s student conduct system, and guarantees a battery of procedural protections for students.  These include written notice of a complaint; a fair, impartial, and timely review of the incident; the right to inspect any documents and relevant information on file; the opportunity to be present at the review and to present witnesses and evidence; the right to an advisor; and a formal written decision following the complaint.  All appeals will continue to be handled by situation-specific appeals panels, which issue decisions that are automatically reviewed (and approved or modified) by the vice president for student affairs.  The vice president’s decisions are final and binding on all parties.

5.  Student disciplinary process: cases involving Title IX

If the complaint involves Title IX, OPE will send its investigation results to the Misconduct Sanctioning Panel, which is comprised of two staff or two faculty, designated by the provost, as well as one undergraduate or graduate student, depending on the status of the student respondent.  The OPE’s results will include a Summary Administrative Review, as defined by the university’s policy on Student Misconduct – Sexual, Interpersonal and Protected Class Misconduct.  All appeals will continue to be handled by a three-person Appellate Panel, which includes at least one faculty member, appointed by the vice president for student affairs.  The Appellate Panel’s decisions are automatically referred to the vice president for student affairs for final determination.

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