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President’s Blog: The Path Forward

Other articles in the September 2018 newsletter:


Dear Faculty,

Although recent events have been painful for many at USC, with the pain comes tremendous opportunity for positive change.  There is enthusiasm about Interim President Wanda Austin, and I am personally optimistic that the Presidential Search Committee will identify the right person to lead USC into the future.  But challenges remain; deficiencies of trust seem to make even the day-to-day struggles of a university more difficult. As we navigate the many issues affecting USC right now, I have tried to anchor my thinking around what really matters to me at a University and what I think is the best way forward for USC.  And the main thing I always turn to is Engagement. With every issue we face, I am trying to see the way forward by what will enhance engagement by the USC community. With engagement comes a feeling of ownership, and with that, the inevitable desire by many to both make this place great and to take care of all of our members, including the students, the staff and the faculty.  

One area of recent conversation is around the changes in the teaching evaluation that are being discussed.  In addition to working towards teaching excellence, there has been significant concern about the bias in the student evaluation process, especially against women and people of color. Moving towards reducing the emphasis on the use of student evaluation of teaching and towards peer review has therefore been encouraged. As with any major shift, especially in an area such as teaching which many care strongly about, change does not come easily: how much change? How fast? Will the new be better than the old? But instead of focusing on the difference of opinions regarding this issue and the best single way forward, I see this issue as a tremendous opportunity to engage faculty to participate in and discuss an area that is clearly important at a university.  The first monthly senate meeting (on September 26) will be a great avenue to address this, and we will use that open meeting as a forum for discussing the merits of the various aspects of improving the teaching evaluation process.  Thereafter, we hope to engage closely in this process through its implementation.

Issues related to white supremacists and the limitations of free speech have also recently been discussed at USC.  There is much to say around this topic, especially around hate speech which is so abhorrent and damaging to others.  But it also gives us an opportunity to discuss one of the most important issues of the day – particularly in a divided US political climate: the role of free speech both at institutions of higher education and in general.  We are working towards facilitating conversations on these issues, and we hope to announce the details around educational and discussion sessions on this topic in the very near future.

So despite the challenges, to me, the way forward is clear: enhancing the engagement of the USC community.  And one of the best ways to do that is through shared governance. Conversations about shared governance are happening everywhere, and nearly everyone with whom I have spoken in almost every constituency agrees that we have an opportunity now to greatly enhance our governance models.  It is an exciting time to be at USC – we are on the path forward.

To discuss, please go to our Facebook post.

Yaniv Bar-Cohen
Academic Senate President
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Medicine, Keck School of Medicine