U.S.C. President Censured by Academic Senate After Weeks of Turmoil

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The University of Southern California’s academic senate voted on Wednesday to censure Carol Folt, the school’s president, after several tumultuous weeks in which the administration canceled the valedictory address of a Muslim student, cleared a protest encampment within hours and called in police last month to arrest dozens of protesters.

The academic senate, which consists primarily of faculty members, also endorsed calls for an investigation into the administration’s actions. Its resolution, which passed by a wide margin after a several hourslong meeting on Wednesday afternoon, cited “widespread dissatisfaction and concern among the faculty” about the decision making of Dr. Folt and Andrew T. Guzman, the provost, who was also censured.

The vote represented only a fraction of the university’s 4,700 faculty members, and the senate stopped short of taking a vote of no-confidence in the administrators, which would have been a harsher rebuke. Despite criticism, Dr. Folt has maintained considerable support from the university’s trustees, and some faculty members have quietly sympathized with her.

Still, the vote was “significant” with “far-reaching implications,” said William G. Tierney, a professor emeritus of higher education at U.S.C., who has written about the response to campus protests across the nation.

“The petition from the faculty was thoughtful and the discussion was serious,” said Dr. Tierney, a past president of the senate who has criticized Dr. Folt’s handling of the protest and who confirmed the vote. “No faculty wants to rebuke their president and provost. But this was warranted.”

Christina Dunbar-Hester, the acting president of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, who watched the meeting, said that faculty members have been particularly frustrated by a lack of communication from administrators and the speed with which the Los Angeles Police Department was called on protesters who were not violent.

“The administrators keep leaning on ‘safety’ without consulting or sharing their thinking with the Senate or wider faculty,” she said. “We do not necessarily doubt that there were safety concerns, but some question whether this series of decisions harmed and endangered members of the campus community while also sending a message to anyone threatening the campus that those threats work.”

The recent disruptions have once again put the university, in South Los Angeles, under an unflattering spotlight.

Dr. Folt’s hiring in 2019 was hailed as a kind of fresh start following a series of highly publicized missteps, which included playing a central part in the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal. The past several years have largely been a period of calm for U.S.C.

Several top university officials said last week that many members of the faculty and board had understood the difficulty Dr. Folt faced in handling the protests. And many in the broader community noted that U.S.C.’s experience was relatively mild compared to the violence that rocked the University of California, Los Angeles, campus as pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters clashed recently.

But many parents and students were distressed at the cancellation of the school’s main commencement ceremony, and angry at the high security accompanying what remained this week of the celebration.

On Wednesday evening, Dr. Folt said in a statement that she would work with faculty members going forward, and that she and Dr. Guzman welcomed engagement with a task force being created to investigate the decisions made by administrators.

“I understand there are many different viewpoints among members of the Trojan Community regarding our recent decisions,” she said. “I’m committed to working with the academic senate, and the wider faculty who weren’t present at today’s session.”

Then, alluding to graduation ceremonies that have been cut back, with tight security and the loss of celebrity speakers, Dr. Folt said, “For now, our focus is on celebrating the 19,000 graduates of USC’s Class of 2024.”

Jonathan Wolfe contributed reporting from Los Angeles.



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