Message to USC Ambassadors – June 2019
My tenure as USC’s interim president will come to a close on June 30, so I would like to begin with some words of heartfelt gratitude. The support I have received over the last year has been extraordinary, and I have truly appreciated all the kind words, thoughtful criticism, and passionate feedback I have received from so many individuals around the world. For me, this has been a remarkable journey.
A highlight of that journey was Commencement day. Standing on stage that morning, and seeing the faces of our graduating students and their families reminded me why our university and its work is so important. Our students are optimistic and creative, talented and ambitious. In their eyes, I could see they are eager to assume their places in the world, and to contribute to their communities in positive ways. As they do so, I have no doubt they will carry their USC experiences with them, and build on a commitment they saw right here on our campuses: a commitment to meaningful work and to helping others.
A wonderful example of this is USC’s Kinder 2 College (K2C) program, a literacy program that helps young children develop their reading and writing skills, their math abilities, and their fluency with computers. La Opinión recently published an excellent story that describes some of the 200 Latino and African American children who participate in this free program. Along with the support of parents, this program prepares students to participate in our McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative, which in turn prepares these students for college. Every Trojan everywhere should take great pride in these excellent partnerships with our local communities. For me, this is the USC spirit at its very best.
A productive year
Looking beyond successes such as these, and since this is my final Ambassadors letter, I would like to offer some reflection on the past year. Our community has certainly faced significant challenges, but we continue to move in the right direction, and we do so with purpose. The university established the Office of Professionalism and Ethics, which serves as a centralized hub for complaint reporting. We opened ombuds offices on both of our campuses, and their staff began mediating discussions and improving communications. We have reorganized and greatly strengthened USC Student Health, and are pursuing a university-wide wellness campaign. We also created the President’s Culture Commission, whose members advise the university’s senior leadership 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.
These are important, enduring changes, but new challenges may still arise. We had a reminder earlier this year with the revelations regarding the admissions investigation. These revelations were deeply disturbing to our community, as we have always taken pride in USC’s admissions outreach, particularly with underrepresented groups. These cases drew attention away from the wonderful success of the vast majority of our students, who earned the right to be Trojans. Since these revelations, we have taken concrete steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process. As with other challenges, we must learn quickly from the mistakes, and move on with those lessons firmly in mind.
In moving forward, USC will be in excellent hands with Dr. Carol L. Folt, our incoming president. Having most recently served as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has led a large, complex research institution, but also draws on her experience as a faculty member, scientist, researcher, former transfer student, and mom. She is warm and she listens. She and I have been communicating nearly every day, and she has already spent time on our campuses, engaging with a broad range of individuals during each visit.
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 well underway, and Dr. Folt hopes to identify a strong slate of candidates by the fall semester. These key leadership changes will bring a fresh perspective and fresh energy to all that we do.
Dr. Folt assumes her new role as president on July 1, and will be formally installed as USC’s twelfth president on September 20. I will be in the front row, cheering her on. Wade and I were shown such warmth this past year, and I know you will embrace her with the same enthusiasm.
With your support, she will help lead USC and our Trojan Family to even greater heights.
Wanda M. Austin