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USC’s faculty senate censures president and provost over commencement

USA TODAY
                                Carol Folt
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USA TODAY

Carol Folt

LOS ANGELES >> The body that represents the University of Southern California’s faculty voted today to censure the university’s president, Carol Folt, and provost, Andrew Guzman, citing both leaders’ mishandling of events around commencement.

In the USC Academic Senate’s vote, 21 members favored censuring the president and provost, seven opposed, and six abstained.

The vote carries no legal force, but was viewed as a symbolic expression of anger and frustration among USC’s legion of professors during weeks of turmoil over a singularly academic process: the ceremonies for the awarding of diplomas.

It followed a nearly three-hour meeting in which faculty members criticized decisions by Folt and Guzman, including the choice to rescind valedictorian Asna Tabassum‘s speaking slot at commencement; the cancellation of the main-stage commencement ceremony; and the posture of administrators toward pro-Palestinian protesters on campus, including the arrest by Los Angeles police of 93 protesters, most of whom were students.

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

“I understand there are many different viewpoints among members of the Trojan Community regarding our recent decisions,” Folt said in a statement after the vote. “I’m committed to working with the Academic Senate, and the wider faculty who weren’t present at today’s session. Provost Guzman and I welcome ongoing engagement with the newly created task force. For now, our focus is on celebrating the 19,000 graduates of USC’s Class of 2024.”

Folt and Guzman had defended their leadership during the meeting, with Folt calling the current atmosphere at USC a “very humbling moment.”

“I don’t make every decision right, but I try,” she said.

Guzman acknowledged the anger and anguish among faculty.

“We know our decisions will leave people disappointed,” Guzman said. “We are all doing our best to find a way through this moment.”

USC’s faculty members had debated whether to vote on a motion expressing no-confidence in Folt. Those in attendance applauded the move. However, some senators were concerned they had not polled enough of their faculty members to vote on the matter. Others pushed back, stating that there needed to be action to condemn leadership.

Aro Velmet, an associate professor of history, said the vote was “purely symbolic” as the senate had “no powers” over the president or provost.

Velmet, who was arrested April 24 when the Alumni Park encampment was first cleared, watched the meeting during a faculty sit-in in front of the Bovard administrative building.

“A no-confidence vote has no powers either,” said Velmet, who is among nearly two-dozen members of the history department to sign a letter calling on Folt and Guzman to resign. “It is just sending a signal to the Board of Trustees who ultimately make executive decisions.”

Not all were happy with the decision of the academic senate, which represents more than 4,000 faculty members.

“There are many things to criticize the president and provost for. But censure, I don’t agree with it,” said Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry who is not a senator.

Krylov said her criticism of administrators is focused on her belief that they have not done enough to support Jewish students and combat antisemitism. It was wrong, she said, to censure Folt and Guzman “for the things they did right such as removing the camp and calling the police.”

“There is a small, active radical part of the faculty. They do protests, they are vocal,” Krylov said. ‘Then there are people like me who do the work, sit in labs, and do not have time for all this political activism.”

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