USC selects first female board chair to replace Rick Caruso

USC trustees elected Suzanne Nora Johnson on Thursday to be its next board chair, putting a former Goldman Sachs executive with deep experience running corporate and philanthropic boards to succeed the developer Rick Caruso.

Johnson is the first woman to serve in the private university’s supervisory role, and she takes on the role at a time when USC is emerging from years of scandal and internal reforms, recovering from the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 and, like other universities and businesses, facing rising inflation and potential recession.

Caruso announced in February that he planned to step down to become the next mayor of Los Angeles, and he faces Rep. Karen Bass in the November election. He had served as president since the spring of 2018, when he was asked to pull USC out of a crisis sparked by revelations of serial sexual abuse by a former campus gynecologist and a wave of public dissatisfaction. from faculty, staff and students regarding the ethics and direction of the University.

Under Caruso, the council expelled a once-beloved president; hired a new president, Carol Folt; resolved civil litigation involving the gynecologist’s former patients for $1.1 billion; replaced dozens of key administrators; and navigated a series of scandals related to fraudulent admissions, athletics and sexual misconduct.

“We walked through the fire. We came out of a better university, with better management and a financially strong position,” Caruso said in an interview. “I am delighted to hand over to Suzanne.

Johnson joined the USC board of trustees in 1998, and for most of his time on the board, the trustees gave the president and the university administration a large hand in internal affairs.

That changed in 2018, and Johnson was among a handful of directors who advocated for reforms in how the USC board viewed their role, ranging from serving primarily as a financial steward to that of providing more active oversight and accountability in education and health enterprises.

Johnson and another director led a study of board governance that led to the rewriting of USC’s bylaws, the imposition of term limits on directors, and a phased halving of the size of the board. advice. Under the new policies, Johnson can remain a voting director through 2028. In an interview this week, Johnson said the board would continue to assess its successes and failures.

“We learned a lot about the vigilance you have to deal with in a large, complex institution, and the systems, processes and people you need to prevent that,” she said. “Real good reform is dynamic, and as different issues arise, you test the muscle you’ve built in good governance.”

Compared to when she joined the board, directors were now more collaborative, engaged and willing to disagree. “It doesn’t depend on one or two personalities,” she said.

Folt, who was named president in 2019, said Caruso was a “wonderful partner” in running the university and played a key role in her transition to Southern California, introducing her to business leaders. and policies.

“He was always there at all times with input,” Folt said. “He also understood that once you get started, you have to have self-reliance.”

“I anticipate with Suzanne: more or less the same with a very different person,” Folt added, noting that she had worked closely with Johnson, who chaired the search to hire the new sporting director and chief communications officer. USC investments.

In the coming years, Folt said, USC plans to focus on affordability, adjust faculty and staff compensation so the university can pay a competitive salary, and retain “people focused on values”. She also said that USC is embarking on a 10-year initiative on computing and artificial intelligence, and that more resources and fundraising will be dedicated to the health sciences campus in Boyle Heights, where the ‘USC plans to build a new dedicated research tower.

Johnson graduated from USC in 1979 and received her law degree from Harvard Law School. She joined the Goldman Sachs group and for two decades served as vice president and member of the company’s management committee. She was the highest-ranked woman in the company when she announced her retirement in 2007 – a move that led the Wall Street Journal to name her a “Goldman Sachs star”.

In addition to leading USC’s board of trustees, Johnson is co-chairman of the Brookings Institution, chairman of the board of Intuit, and a member of the board of Pfizer. Johnson said she recently completed her tenure as a director at Visa and a trustee at the Carnegie Institution of Washington to allow more time to serve at USC.

Johnson said she plans to work on Folt’s Access, Affordability and Sustainability program. She also said she wants USC’s clinical and theoretical research program to be “pushed harder.”

Trustees, she said, were also concerned about the long-term well-being of the university, which is Los Angeles’ largest private employer.

“You need to have a healthy institution so that you can survive and thrive for years to come,” she said. “By healthy, I mean culturally sound, economically sustainable, appropriately environmentally responsible, and inclusive of a wide variety of communities who consider themselves part of the Trojan family.”

Los Angeles Times

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