Student Life

Efforts to Change the Culture at USC Mount

The university adds an ombuds office, boosts compliance and makes background checks more stringent.

June 24, 2019 Eric Lindberg

Where do you find the soul of a university? It’s not in its ivy-covered buildings, nor in its awards, honors and prizes. It lies in its students, educators, patients, alumni, staff and community. But USC has faced some recent high-profile challenges that called that focus into question. Issues including allegations about the actions of a student health gynecologist and a fraudulent national admissions scheme have prompted the university to look for answers. As USC readies for a new era under President-elect Carol L. Folt, the university already has rolled out a variety of initiatives that center on a singular goal: culture change. Here are some facts and figures about efforts now underway.

USC Culture Change

Students, faculty members and employees are defining and strengthening USC’s underlying values as part of the President’s Culture Commission. Group members will listen to the community, outline a set of shared principles and ensure that those principles inform all of the university’s programs and policies.

Ombuds Katherine Greenwood and Thomas Kosakowski.
Ombuds Katherine Greenwood and Thomas Kosakowski (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Emphasizing Ethics

Several new programs encourage ethical decision-making. The Office of the Ombuds is open to anyone at USC worried about ethical issues. Its dispute resolution experts provide free, confidential advice. At the same time, the Office of Ethics and Compliance aims to grow a culture of values. And the Office of Professionalism and Ethics centralizes investigations and strives to probe complaints swiftly.


Nurturing Success

Executive hires and employees up for promotion to leadership positions now must pass tough background checks. Personnel files are being centralized. And a new leadership academy will ensure that leaders embody USC’s values. Overseeing these initiatives is the senior vice president of human resources, a newly created position.

Space to Grow

Engemann Student Health Center.
Engemann Student Health Center (Photo/Chris Shinn)

Builders are creating a 10,000-square-foot office dedicated to counseling support on the fifth floor of the USC Engemann Student Health Center. To be staffed by six psychologists and 12 therapists, it reflects the growing emphasis on promoting mental health at USC.

Making Voices Heard

Students are now members of universitywide councils on topics like well-being. USC leaders have also brought together faculty members, students and others from the community for town hall meetings to share their thoughts on well-being and culture change. In 2017, Keck Medicine of USC assumed responsibility for overseeing health care at the university’s student health centers. Now all doctors in USC Student Health are faculty members who complete a rigorous credentialing process and ongoing peer review to ensure they provide high-quality care.