Los Angeles Times, Wealthy USC Donors Revolt After Interim President Pushes Out Top Dean Over Handling of Misconduct Cases:
USC vowed to improve accountability and transparency in the wake of a scandal earlier this year in which the longtime campus gynecologist was accused of sexual misconduct against hundreds of students.
A dispute in USC’s Marshall School of Business is shaping up to be a key test of this new approach, and it’s pitting top administrators against some of the university’s major donors.
At issue is the removal of Dean James Ellis, who has led the school since 2007, over his response to sexual harassment and discrimination claims against faculty and staff.
USC’s interim president, Wanda Austin, informed Ellis earlier this fall that she planned to replace him at the close of the academic year next spring, three years before his term expired. Austin, the first woman to serve as president, as well as her supporters cast the decision as evidence that the school is addressing previous missteps.
“We learned our lesson,” Austin told The Times this week.
But influential USC benefactors are fighting the move. Pasadena billionaire Ming Hsieh, a trustee who has donated more than $85 million, hired a Century City litigator to advocate for Ellis before the USC board.
“Jim’s not going quietly and we’re not going quietly,” said Lloyd Greif, chief executive of his own investment banking firm who has donated more than $5 million to the business school. “This decision needs to be reversed.”
When USC’s trustees meet next week, Ellis’ status will be on the agenda. Board chair Rick Caruso has told fellow trustees in letters reviewed by The Times that he planned to lay out the facts behind Austin’s decision and that he was confident she acted “with due consideration and in furtherance of the university’s best interests.”
Little has been released publicly about the sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination cases Ellis has handled in his role as dean. '''
Marshall has long been one of the university’s most prestigious schools, and during his tenure, Ellis, a marketing professor, was credited with making it an even more competitive program. USC’s full-time MBA program was ranked 31st by U.S. News & World Report in 2017 and jumped 11 spots to 20th in the most recent listing. He also raised nearly $500 million for the school, according to his supporters. ...
Austin told him he would be allowed to remain until the end of the spring term and USC would pay out the three years remaining on his dean’s contract, according to correspondence from Caruso to trustees. Ellis’ annual compensation was $636,000, according to USC’s 2017 tax filing. As a tenured professor, Ellis will remain on the business school faculty.
The decision outraged Ellis’ supporters, who felt that Austin had overstepped her temporary role.