The University of Southern California’s popularity is at an all-time high with college aspirants. In fall of 2018, 64,256 students—more than ever before—applied for undergraduate admission, all of them apparently undaunted by what the L.A. Times recently referred to as the school’s “broken culture.”
It came to light last year that USC’s longtime campus gynecologist, George Tyndall, had been permitted to quietly resign (with a handsome payout) after nearly 30 years of misconduct allegations; in February, the school settled a $215 million class action lawsuit filed by dozens of women who say Tyndall sexually abused them.
Prior to that, video surfaced indicating that Carmen A. Puliafito, then-dean of the Keck School of Medicine, had done meth and other drugs with young acquaintances, including prostitutes, one of whom overdosed. The man chosen to replace him, Rohit Varma, had to step down when sexual harassment allegations surfaced.
Earlier today, the school was named as one of several—including UCLA and Stanford—that employed coaches and administrators who are alleged to have participated in a massive college admissions cheating scandal; wealthy parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were also indicted.
Four USC staffers are implicated in Operation Varsity Blues, which is being called the largest-ever admissions bribery case: senior associate athletic director Dr. Donna Heinel; ex-women’s head soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin and ex-assistant soccer coach Laura Janke; and current men’s water polo head coach Jovan Vavic. According to charging documents, the USC sports staffers named would, in exchange for large financial gifts, designate students as recruited athletes, even if they didn’t play sports, so the academic standards for admission would be lower.
The alleged man behind the bribery William Rick Singer, who operated a “college counseling and preparation” business called the Edge College & Career Network. Documents allege that Khosroshahin and Janke designated four of Singers’ clients soccer recruits (even though none of the students played soccer), in exchange for a $350,000 donation to a soccer club Khosroshahin and Janke operated. Singer and his co-conspirators also made payments totaling $250,000 to the USC polo team; Vavic subsequently designated two students water polo recruits.
Heinel is said to have received large sums of money between 2014 and 2018, and at one point was receiving payments of $20,000 a month from Singer; in exchange, Heinel reportedly arranged for more than two dozen students to be recruited as athletes.
President Wanda M. Austin, who took the position when previous president C.L. Max Nikias was forced to resign amid the Tyndall scandal, released a statement to clarify that the institution is considered a victim in the scandal. “The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university,” she writes. “We have planned significant remedial efforts. We will take all appropriate employment actions. We will review admissions decisions. And we will be implementing significant process and training enhancements to prevent anything like this from every happening again.”
Last year the Times wrote of a “nagging sense that USC’s climb in renown and wealth had come at the expense of ethical leadership and sound management.” Those words might ring even truer today.
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