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College Admissions Scandal Is Just The Latest For University Of Southern California


The University of Southern California finds itself at the center of the massive college admissions scam revealed earlier this week. Of the 32 parents named by the FBI, over half were accused of trying to bribe their way into USC. This is the latest in a string of scandals causing turmoil at one of California's most prestigious schools. David Weinberg of member station KCRW reports.

DAVID WEINBERG, BYLINE: Let's do a quick rundown of the scandals that have plagued USC recently. High-ranking faculty have been fired or forced to resign for public drunkenness and drug use, inappropriate sexual behavior and improper financial dealings. In response to this latest admissions scandal, USC has fired the head water polo coach and the senior director of the athletic department, both charged with taking bribes. USC's interim president Wanda Austin issued a statement, saying the university is implementing new training to, quote, "prevent anything like this from ever happening again." She also characterized USC as a victim in the scheme.

ARIELA GROSS: I think that was not a wise statement to make.

WEINBERG: Ariela Gross is a professor of law and history at the USC law school. She's been there 23 years and is part of a group of more than 200 professors who are pushing for broad changes at the institution.

GROSS: I don't think we can possibly yet know whether the university was a victim or bears some responsibility.

WEINBERG: In recent decades, USC has undergone a meteoric rise. The school built a strong athletic program around its football team and star players like O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen. Today USC's men's teams hold more NCAA championships than any other university in the country. USC is also one of the largest private employers in Los Angeles and is expected to contribute $80 billion to California's economy over the next 10 years. Gross believes one of the contributing factors to these scandals is that USC's governance structure has not evolved alongside its phenomenal growth.

GROSS: We have a dysfunctional board structure that is a relic of a time when this was a parochial university. We have 60 members. They don't have term limits. Very, very few of them have any connection to higher education.

WEINBERG: The chair of USC's board is billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso. One of the students involved in the admissions scandal, Olivia J. Giannulli, was vacationing on Caruso's yacht in the Bahamas yesterday when her mother, the actress Lori Loughlin, turned herself into federal authorities. None of the board members we reached out to, including Caruso, agreed to comment for this story. But in a statement released after Monday's indictment, Caruso said, quote, "there is no option other than zero tolerance for this type of behavior." Things are quiet on campus this week. It's spring break, but a few students were milling about. Andre Jimenez was sitting on a bench outside the student union. He's been following the recent scandals.

ANDRE JIMENEZ: I mean, I can't relate at all. I worked really hard to be here, you know? It just made me think a lot about, you know, privilege and, like, the effect that that has on institutions. And it kind of just betrays everyone else who really tries hard to get into this place.

WEINBERG: USC says it will conduct a case-by-case review of all students enrolled who are connected to the admissions scandal. For NPR News, I'm David Weinberg.


David Weinberg