USC condemns Senate President Carol Folt and Commencement President

The body representing USC’s faculty voted Wednesday to censure the university’s president, Carol Folt, and professor Andrew Guzman.

In a vote by the USC Academic Senate, 21 members supported auditing the president and chief executive, seven opposed it and six abstained.

The vote carried no legal force, but was seen as a symbolic expression of anger and frustration among USC’s legion of professors amid weeks of turmoil over graduation and widespread distrust of Jodi’s leadership.

Faculty members criticized Folt and Guzman’s decisions, including canceling a speech by valedictorian Asna Tabasum, a pro-Palestinian Muslim student, who was formally censured following a nearly three-hour meeting. The audit was prompted by consternation over the cancellation of a key commencement ceremony and administrators’ stance toward pro-Palestinian protesters on campus, including the arrest of 93 protesters by Los Angeles police last month, most of them students.

“The administration’s actions are a tragedy of errors, all of them unforced,” said Howard Rodman, professor and former chair of the writing department at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “President Folt and Andrew Guzmán have shown themselves unfit for ethical leadership, defying any notion of shared governance.”

The resolution, voted by faculty members, cited “widespread dissatisfaction and concern among faculty regarding administrative actions and decisions” by Folt and Guzman.

The vote comes as UCLA’s Academic Senate will hold its own assembly Emergency meeting on Friday To consider motions for a vote of no confidence in President Jean Black. The UCLA faculty action is fueled by days of agitation after a mob attack on a pro-Palestinian camp that began on the night of April 30.

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“I understand that there are a variety of viewpoints among members of the Trojan community regarding our recent decisions,” Fould said in a statement after the vote. “I am committed to working with the Education Senate and the wider faculty who will not be in today’s session.”

Fold and Guzman defended their leadership during the meeting, with Fold calling USC’s current situation a “very humbling moment.”

“I don’t get every decision right, but I try,” he said.

Guzmán acknowledged the anger and anguish among teachers.

“We know our results will disappoint people,” Guzman said. “We are all doing our best to find a way out at this time.”

A censure vote emerged This week is in the midst of graduation ceremonies on college campuses. Folt said he and the provost are working with a new faculty task force to examine the launch and response to the protesters, but said “for now, our focus is on celebrating the 19,000 graduates in USC’s Class of 2024.”

Graduates and their families will witness a completely different commencement than in years past, during which celebrities Will Ferrell, Oprah Winfrey and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige reunited with newly minted alumni and their families.

“Crazy Rich Asians” director John M. USC also canceled its interdenominational baccalaureate services, normally held on Thursdays — in addition to canceling the main-level commencement ceremony where Chu, Tabassum and Folt were scheduled to speak.

Instead of a bachelorette ceremony, USC planned to host a drone and fireworks show at the LA Memorial Coliseum, with music and readings from various religious traditions. At the event, Fold announced this week, graduates can receive “exclusive” hats from rapper Travis Scott.

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Novelist Chi Bam Zhang and UCLA professor and author Safia Yu. Other speakers — including Nobel — dropped out of so-called satellite commencement ceremonies — smaller events where USC’s various schools confer degrees. Those satellite ceremonies, with tight security and a limit on the number of attendees — though eight tickets per graduating student — are planned to go forward.

More than 200 faculty members joined the Academic Senate meeting on Wednesday, where members debated whether to vote on a motion of no confidence in Folt. The move was appreciated by the participants. However, some senators expressed concern that their faculty members did not have enough votes to vote on the matter. Others pushed back, calling for action to reprimand the leadership.

Auro Velmet, associate professor of history, acknowledged that the no-confidence vote was “totally symbolic” because the Senate had “no authority” over Folt or Guzmán.

But in 2018, the Academic Senate voted almost unanimously to express no confidence in then-President CL Max Nikias, citing how his administration handled sexual misconduct allegations by a longtime campus gynecologist. A few days later, the trustees announced Nikias’ resignation as alumni, professors and trustees lost confidence in his ability to lead the institution.

“It sends a signal to the board of trustees that ultimately makes the administrative decisions,” Velmet said of auditing Folt. Velmet — one of nearly two dozen members of the history department who signed a letter asking Folt and Guzman to resign — was arrested April 24 when the alumni park encampment was first dismantled.

Devin Griffiths, associate professor of English and comparative literature, who was in attendance and supported the audit, said the meeting was emotionally charged. He hoped the vote would prompt Folt and Guzmán to “invest in shared governance.”

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“The president and provost have a lot of work to do to convince teachers that they are true to what they say about the safety and care of both the hearts and minds of their students,” Griffiths said.

Not everyone was happy with the decision by the Academic Senate, which represents more than 4,000 faculty members.

“There are many things to criticize and encourage the President. But censorship, I don’t agree with that,” said Anna Krylov, a chemistry professor who is not a senator.

Krylov said his criticism of administrators focused on his belief that they were not doing enough to support Jewish students and combat anti-Semitism. He said it was wrong to censure Folt and Guzmán “for the right actions they took to clear the camp and call the police.”

Krylov, who dismissed the censure vote, accused the expression of opposition as coming from “a small, active, serious part of the teachers”.

Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.

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