President’s Page

Reflecting on a Year of Healing and Change at USC

“I was determined to leave things better than I found them,” says Wanda Austin, who transfers leadership to Carol L. Folt in July.

May 31, 2019

Commencement was pure joy for me. Standing on stage that morning and seeing the faces of our graduating students and their families was a privilege of a lifetime. I saw optimism and ambition, curiosity and pride. I saw happy tears, warm hugs and touching exchanges. I also saw the next generation: young women and men who are eager to assume their place in the world, and to contribute to their communities in positive ways. A degree from USC lays the foundation for that, and this day celebrated their achievements in the most special way.

This year’s graduating class will always have a special place in my heart. It was truly an honor to lead this great university during its critical period of transition. Our community has faced significant challenges, but we are moving in the right direction. During my tenure as interim president, one of my primary responsibilities was to help improve our campus culture. I knew change wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I was determined to set the course and leave things better than I found them. Along the way, I have found so much support. I listened carefully to what our university community had to say, and when I asked the tough follow-up question — “Who wants to help?” — I was gratified to see how many individuals eagerly stepped forward.

Wanda Austin and Wade Austin
Wanda Austin and her husband, Wade (Photo/Steve Cohn)

With this deep well of support, we made great strides. The university established the Office of Professionalism and Ethics, which serves as a central hub for complaint reporting and allows us to systematically track identified concerns across both campuses. We opened ombuds offices on both campuses, and their staffs began mediating discussions and improving communication.

We also created the President’s Culture Commission. This group takes its responsibility most seriously, and its members have advised me directly on how best to ensure that our core values guide our work, and that our mission remains at the heart of all that we do. This group will continue to work diligently to identify key areas for improvement.

These are meaningful structural changes, but this is an ongoing process and there will be additional challenges along the way. We had a stark reminder earlier this year with the revelations regarding the admissions investigation. This touched a number of peer universities around the nation, but it was particularly disturbing to our community. We have always taken great pride in USC’s admissions outreach, particularly with underrepresented groups, and these cases drew attention away from the wonderful success of the overwhelming majority of our students who earned the right to be a Trojan. We will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice’s investigation, and meanwhile have taken important steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process and to ensure we conduct ourselves in a manner that is consistent with our values. As with other challenges, we must learn quickly from the mistakes and move on with those lessons firmly in mind.

In addition to these very real initiatives, we have a number of new senior leaders, who arrive with fresh energy and a fresh perspective. That begins with our incoming president, Dr. Carol L. Folt, who formally assumes her role on July 1. She is the right person for this job. Having most recently served as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has led a large, complex research institution, but she also draws on her valuable experience as a faculty member, scientist, researcher, former transfer student and mom. She is warm and she listens. She and I have been communicating almost every day, and she has spent time on our campuses, engaging with a broad range of individuals during each visit. I am confident that the transition will be smooth and the university will be in excellent hands with Dr. Folt.

I know that we care for one another and that our alumni are simply the best in the world. That still didn’t prepare me for the tremendous warmth with which you embraced Wade and me. We could not have achieved what we did without your love, kindness and dedication.

Wanda Austin

This spring, she and I jointly announced a number of new leaders for the university, including senior vice presidents in three different areas: administration, communications and human resources. Our search for a new provost is underway, and Dr. Folt hopes to identify a strong slate of candidates by the fall semester.

I wish to close on a note of personal gratitude. As an alumna of this university, and having served as a trustee for nine years, I was already familiar with the passion and dedication of the Trojan Family. I know that we care for one another and that our alumni are simply the best in the world. That still didn’t prepare me for the tremendous warmth with which you embraced Wade and me. We could not have achieved what we did without your love, kindness and dedication. We will forever have fond memories of this unique chapter in our Trojan experience. It is your commitment to excellence that will take our university to even greater heights, and why I am so confident about the future of the University of Southern California.

To all Trojans, everywhere: Fight On!