Revisiting Operational Structure II

II.  Vice President of Human Resources

In addition to the vice president of professionalism and ethics, we are creating a second new position at this level: vice president of human resources, who will oversee the centralization of our human resources operations.  This position will streamline and strengthen these operations across both campuses, enabling us to increase the transparency and accountability in our processes.  This position will also develop a university-wide strategy for hiring and maintaining the very best, most talented employees.

The creation of this position reflects our growth as a university.  For many years, USC has relied on a somewhat unwieldy—and largely decentralized—network of school-based human resources offices.  This restructuring will allow us to centralize personnel information across our many schools and units, thereby allowing the new vice president to implement six new strategic measures:

  1. We will significantly strengthen the university’s reference checking process, as we vet candidates for employment positions. As part of this process, for all leadership positions, we will request authorized access to candidates’ former personnel files, and consolidate postings for these positions under the new vice president.
  1. We will implement a much more comprehensive background check process for all new hires and promotions to leadership positions at a chair or director level position or higher at USC. This background check will be done with the written permission of the candidate as a condition of employment.  This new extended background check will include checks on: criminal felony and misdemeanor convictions, federal bankruptcy, credit report, civil litigation, corporate affiliations, credential verification, motor vehicle record report, education degree and certificate confirmation, employment confirmation, global sanctions and enforcement check, newspaper and periodical search, public records search, professional license report, recorded judgment search, national sex offender registry search, social security number trace, and a tax lien search.  This comprehensive background check will help ensure that the university has done its due diligence on its future leaders.
  1. We will centralize and digitize the personnel files for all of the university’s 26,000 faculty and staff. While this is a massive, expensive undertaking, it is an important step in ensuring that the appropriate offices have immediate and consistent access to all relevant information on personnel.  This is crucial in making management and disciplinary decisions.
  1. We will create a Leadership Training Academy at USC. The academy’s training will emphasize our core values and the importance of bringing those values into the workplace, as well as provide the tools to address complex situations that arise every day in the workplace.  In this way, the academy will not only model our core values, it will help us find ways to instill them in our work environment.

    At the heart of its mission will be the notion of a responsible leader.  Responsible leaders do not simply adhere to our core values; they exemplify and promote them, while maintaining a high minimum threshold for their personal standards, values, and integrity.  Such leaders look out for those who work or learn under them—at all levels, regardless of whether they are faculty, students, or staff—by eliciting and attending to concerns they express, fostering an environment of wellbeing and fairness, and promoting growth and career development.

    This academy is an entirely new initiative at USC, and will evolve as we receive feedback from participants.  Its curriculum will focus on real-life examples in a variety of situations, and will address a cross-section of topics, including values and ethics, leadership and management, and complaint processes.  We will strive to make the training as relevant and as useful as possible, and will require that all leadership positions at the university, including the senior officers, deans, and department chairs, go through the Leadership Training Academy at some point.

    Specifically, the Leadership Training Academy at USC will be tasked with:

      • Providing mandatory training for newly appointed leaders, as well as regular access to an executive coach during that leader’s first year.
        • This addresses the fact that many academic leaders have no formal training before their appointment, and that all leaders must develop these skills.
      • Supporting the pipeline of future leaders at USC and ensuring the development of leaders from under-represented communities.
      • Providing training that directly addresses any concerns that come out of the review of a leader’s performance.
      • Developing a program of leadership training opportunities that are directed to a broad audience, encompassing all faculty and staff.
        • As part of this process, the academy might expand the university’s executive coaching opportunities, mentorship opportunities, and training around leadership competencies, and create a centralized repository for leadership resources from across the university.
        • Some examples of resources that currently exist: the Healthcare Leadership Academy, Women in Management, the Emeriti Center, and the Executive Education Program at USC Marshall.
  1. We will instruct the office of the vice president of human resources to coordinate the onboarding of management across both campuses. This will establish a uniform process for welcoming new managers into our community, as well as a clear set of expectations and a recommitment to our core values.  Each new member of management, as well as current employees promoted to management positions, will receive specialized training in standards for workplace management, as well as ongoing check-ins.
  1. We have engaged an external consultant (KPMG) to recommend ways to improve the university’s processes for human resources. This consultant is familiar with the best practices of other human resources functions, and will bring a fresh perspective to our operations.  It is likely that additional recommendations on how to improve and professionalize human resources at USC will come from this review, and will be implemented over the next year.

III.  USC Office of Ombuds Services

We will establish the USC Office of Ombuds Services, which will provide a safe space for our community to address difficult workplace situations, and for our employees to seek impartial guidance on a range of work-related issues.  This office will provide a strictly confidential forum in which to resolve various concerns, including miscommunication between coworkers, perceived unfair treatment, interpersonal conflicts, and academic concerns.  It will also educate members of our community about university policies and procedures, such as the formal processes for filing complaints.

Ombuds Services will have a physical presence on both USC campuses.  Its personnel will be trained to spot high-risk workplace situations, and—when required by law—report select matters to OPE for further review.

Ombuds Services will operate under the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention (CWCI), previously established under Vice Provost Varun Soni.  This office—recommended by the Task Force—promotes individual wellbeing among our community members.

IV.  Senior Vice President for Communications

In addition to the two vice president positions announced above (of professionalism and ethics; and of human resources), we are creating the position of senior vice president for communications.  This person will be part of the President’s Cabinet, attend our weekly meetings, and draw significantly closer ties between our communications office—and the offices of the university’s other senior vice presidents.  As our university grows in stature and complexity—and as the media landscape evolves at an increasingly exponential pace—it is clear that this senior leader must be elevated in rank.

This reporting structure answers a very practical need.  The university has grown significantly—just since I became president in 2010—and media outlets and news platforms that did not even exist then now operate at breakneck speed, producing stories and content around the clock. Further, the issues permeating higher education have increased significantly; sexual harassment as well as diversity, equality, access, and affordability are just some of the complex areas in which we must provide leadership in national discussions.  A cabinet-level position will improve media coordination among the various components of our university, from our medical enterprise to our schools and research centers.

USC is the largest private employer in Los Angeles, and our economic impact exceeds $8 billion per year.  We have a growing presence—not just in our city and region, but in our nation and around the world.  There are so many consequential and compelling stories to be told about our scholarly and creative work, our medical enterprise, our community’s civic engagement, and our student-athletes’ successes.  Sharing these stories effectively—indeed, promoting the good work we do every single day—is one of our university’s most significant priorities, making the new role of senior vice president for communications particularly central to the success of our mission.

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