How might USC’s scandals affect its reputation and people’s decisions to study or work there?

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Caleigh Wells

USC seems to be a magnet for scandals. KCRW goes over the ever-lengthening list. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

At USC, the dean of the medical school smoked meth and went to parties that included drug use and sex workers. The gynecologist was accused of sexual assault by hundreds of women. Some athletic coaches accepted bribes from parents to admit their kids to the university. 

“Was USC appointing people with a good moral compass? In the case of the medical school and the social work school, allegedly, and the gynecologist, I don't think so,” says Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik

In the case of Carmen Puliafito, former dean of USC’s Keck School of Medicine, he was a prodigious fundraiser. But that doesn’t justify his actions, and USC can find better people who can raise money, says Jaschik. “I think in many, many universities, there is an issue that people who raise a lot of money are presumed to be able to do whatever they want. But that is not true.”

What is it about USC that draws all these scandals — as opposed to similar universities? Jaschik says because USC has advanced so quickly, it’s liable to problems like these. 

However, he notes that not all Trojans misbehave, and the vast majority of USC faculty and students are good people doing good work.

But because USC keeps making news for corruption, how does that affect its reputation in general? 

“Yes, it can't help but affect the reputation as people hear about another scandal. And they still remember the admission scandal was just in the news with a trial of the two fathers, and before that with the various guilty pleas by the actresses and various other parents. So yes, people are aware of it,” Jaschik says. 

However, prospective students’ decisions on whether they’ll attend USC won’t be affected, he suggests. “USC has been very aggressive in admissions in legal ways, going after talented students, recruiting a lot more students from outside the West Coast, outside of California. Will they lose a few? Perhaps. But this shouldn't affect the overall decisions to go. I think USC may pay more of a price in faculty than in students.”

As for people who might consider a new job at USC, Jaschik says, “If you’re coming into the biology department, and there's not been a scandal in biology, and so, you could decide it really doesn't matter. But the most talented people are being recruited by multiple institutions, maybe multiple institutions in California. And so they've got choices. And now wouldn't be a great time to be extending an offer from USC.”