USC’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Problem

Recent scandals at the university have cast renewed scrutiny on an old deal with the former governor

Judy Muller, professor emerita at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and former star correspondent for ABC News, recalls the day in 2012 when the university announced it was giving Arnold Schwarzenegger not just a full professorship but his very own institute at the Price School of Public Policy. “The news was greeted with general mortification,” she says.

Less than a decade earlier, in October 2003, then-gubernatorial candidate Schwarzenegger was accused of sexual harassment by several women with whom he’d worked on movie sets. “I mean, that’s where we got the word ‘Gropenator,’she says of the former governor and Terminator star.And it was not a secret, it was a front-page scandal. In the #MeToo era [it] would have immediately disqualified [him] from any role at the USC.”

Schwarzenegger’s hiring came on the heels of yet another scandal, the revelation that he’d fathered a son with the family maid, Mildred Baena. “The faculty was like what?!” Muller recalls. “‘Schwarzenegger?! You’re kidding. We have an institute named after this guy?’”

The controversial appointment was transacted during C.L. Max Nikias’s tenure as USC president, which set all-time varsity records for campus pay-to-play. In return for an academic perch to whitewash his raunchy reputation, Arnold pledged to deliver a check for $20 million, which USC says was paid in full in 2016.

“He just walked in the door, pledges $20 million, and walks out with a named institute and a full professorship,” says political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a former professor at USC’s Price School. “They passed over all those truly qualified people—faculty—who had toiled away for years. It was astonishing to me.”

The fury over the Schwarzenegger-USC deal wasn’t enough to kill it. But with renewed scrutiny on the school—and an array of investigators combing thorough Nikias’s various deals—some at USC are speculating about the tenure of Schwarzenegger and his institute.

Initially, journalist and retired Annenberg professor Marc Cooper recalls, faculty complaints about the deal were met with “a collective shrug.” “What was really galling was that by the end of his gubernatorial term, Arnold had left the state flat broke. He really gutted the UC system. And then he decides to pawn $20 million to USC to buy himself some respectability…. But it was just par for the course at USC which is awash in shady deals.” Cooper says he quit his job at USC “out of disgust,” despite that he was making “almost $200,000 a year.”

A former USC trustee notes that “no other California governor—legends such as Pat Brown, Earl Warren, Jerry Brown, much less Ronald Reagan—were given this red carpet treatment.” Albeit, none offered to empty their wallets. “Getting an institute named after you usually costs like $2 to 3 million,” says a legal scholar at the university. “But they got $20 million—way above the market rate—in consideration for the baggage that Arnold brought with him.”

In 2001, Schwarzennegger was roasted in Premiere magazine as a serial sexual harasser who had an unbridled appetite for steroids in his bodybuilding days. Two years later, the Los Angeles Times reported on 16 women who charged that Schwarzenegger had sexually accosted or groped them. The expose promptly triggered another wave of women charging Schwarzenegger with all manner of sexual misconduct, leading to more articles excoriating the action star.

But it was The National Enquirer in 2003 who upped the ante with a jaw-dropping series of “Arnold Exclusives,” detailing Schwarzenegger’s “Shocking 7-Year Affair” with former child actress Gigi Goyette beginning when she was 16, along with suggestive photos of Goyette in a thong bikini with Schwarzenegger.

David Pecker, CEO of the tabloid’s parent company American Media, followed up his coup with an unabashed headline threat (or as Jeff Bezos would call it, blackmail): “Arnold’s Dirty Secrets—Why He Can’t Run for Governor!” in which he bragged that of kiboshing Arnold’s dream of a political career—forever.

In Los Angeles magazine, Pecker explained how in July 2003 he flew to L.A. and met with Arnold at his Santa Monica offices. By then, it was clear that Pecker held all the cards— including a new scoop claiming the film star had fathered “a love child”—political kryptonite.

In the end, Schwarzenegger’s mentor and business partner Joe Weider, agreed to sell Pecker their lucrative bodybuilding magazine empire, but the deal specified that Schwarzenegger would remain on as an editor and columnist and would continue to promote them. Pecker beamed with pride as he told me that Arnold was now “my partner.”

Forgotten by many today, even at the Annenberg School says Muller, is that Pecker and his new partner Schwarzenegger created the template for “catch and kills” for aspiring politicians—not likely a course taught at the Price School. Two days after Arnold’s announcement that he’d run for governor, AMI signed a two-page “catch and kill” with Goyette, giving the tabloid company all rights to any Goyette account of her “interactions” with Schwarzenegger, in perpetuity, as reported by the L.A. Times, for $20,000. With Pecker signing for his “partner,” the newly minted politician was afforded plausible deniability, however implausible.

In a quirk of journalistic history, the Schwarzenegger-Goyette catch-and-kill would turn out to be the same template Pecker would use with Donald Trump when Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels had to be silenced.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represented several Schwarzenegger’s accusers including Goyette, said action at USC is long overdue. “Anyone who has been accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct, as he has been,” said Allred, “should not have an institute named after him—or have a professorship. Period.”

In 2018, former CBS chief Les Moonves met a swift demise when accounts of his sexual ramblings made headlines. Never mind that Moonves was charged with just a fraction of the allegations faced by The Terminator. “They took Moonves’s name off the Annenberg Media Center,” says Muller, “and I mean they did it overnight.” (Moonves and wife Julie Chen requested that the school “temporarily suspend” use his name, according to The Wrap).

Requests for comment to the Price School and Arnold’s attorney, Martin Singer, were not returned. A USC spokesman declined to comment on whether Schwarzenegger’s history is now part of one of the internal investigations being conducted by the university. A spokesman adds that, “the budget for the faculty and staff involved in the [Schwarzenegger] Institute is funded by his contributions. Additionally, Schwarzenegger’s professorship is not a paid position, rather “it is an honorific title and is neither a tenured nor endowed position.”

Still, Muller muses, “You have to wonder if one day the long arm of #MeToo is going to come back and get Arnold.” Schwarzenegger may be wondering the same.

RELATED: How USC Became the Most Scandal-Plagued Campus in America

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