As the University of Southern California’s egregious infidelities piled up the past two years, I felt betrayed and doubted I could ever trust the institution again. I’ve savaged it as the University of Scandals and Coverups, refused to chant “Fight On,” and longed to divorce the Trojan Family. Yet I owe USC too much to split without giving it a shot at redemption this new academic year.
I’m hanging in for the sake of my two kids who currently attend USC and my late father who obtained his Associate Degree from USC in 1958. In return, I expect USC’s new President Carol Folt, Board Chair Rick Caruso and his fellow trustees to honor and cherish USC’s mission statement. The most salient part of USC’s avowed mission reads (italics mine), “We strive constantly for excellence in teaching knowledge and skills to our students, while at the same time helping them to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.” I consider these promises fundamental to any healthy relationship – educational or otherwise. USC scorned the entire Trojan Family by breaking them.
Why am I bothering to give USC another chance? Because USC gave my dad, the son of two persecuted Eastern European Jewish immigrants who struggled to make it in Los Angeles, a full academic scholarship. This enabled him to further his education and attend dental school.
My father’s successful career has helped finance the education of his two Trojan granddaughters – the eldest a graduate student in the school of social work and the youngest an undergrad in the school of communications. They both appreciate USC’s high-quality education and are making tremendous intellectual strides. I choke up imagining how proud my father would be of their success at his alma mater.
I also imagine how appalled and ashamed Dad would be by USC’s gargantuan moral failures. When he wasn’t filling teeth, my mensch of a father enjoyed studying philosophy and ethics. He held me and my siblings to the highest moral standards frequently posing the question, “Does the end justify the means?” In his blessed memory, I ask USC’s powers that be the following question.
Did the end of raising billions of dollars to grow USC’s endowment; boost its size, status and national rankings; and build the fancy University Village dining/shopping/dorm complex justify:
1) Covering for a meth-abusing medical school dean who allowed a young woman to sustain a near-fatal overdose in a Pasadena hotel room, permit him to continue treating patients and then give him a million-dollar severance?
2) Turning a blind eye to a campus gynecologist and men’s health physician both of whom treated students for decades despite repeated complaints of sexual misconduct?
3) Growing the school of social work at a pace reckless enough to compromise its educational standards and financial stability, resulting in severe staff cuts?
4) Failing to monitor athletic admissions, thus enabling affluent parents to create fake athletic profiles for their kids and pay huge bribes to ensure their admission?
“NO WAY would any end justify those means,” I hear my father bellowing from the Great Trojan Beyond.
I beg USC’s ruling class to keep the end/means equation close to heart at all times. USC must begin correcting the errors of ways by devoting substantial means to tackling high-priority, student-centric ends. For example, bailing out the social work school so do-gooder students like my daughter receive the personalized education you promised (and our family is paying for). Next up, extreme vetting of ALL campus employees (especially physicians) to keep bad apples out of the Trojan barrel and protect students’ mental, physical and academic health.
President Folt, I received the love letter you wrote the Trojan community in July promising to be faithful. You said, “The trust and confidence of the Trojan Family, and of the wider community, are treasures. It will be up to us, every day, to earn and sustain them.” If you want to win people like me back, please always put the students’ best interests first. I expect you to match actions to words and keep the community informed every step of the way. If you do right by our kids, shine a light into USC’s darkest corners and faithfully love, honor and cherish, I promise to embrace the Trojan Family.