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Amid scandals, USC continues reputation reboot with new provost appointment

Charles_Zukoski.jpg
Charles Zukoski will leave the University at Buffalo to become USC provost.
(Mark Mulville)

As it navigates a raft of high-profile scandals, the University of Southern California has selected a new provost and second-in-command: Charles F. Zukoski, an accomplished chemical engineer and the current provost of the University at Buffalo.

President Carol L. Folt announced her choice on Tuesday, marking her most significant appointment since taking over the helm of USC this summer and pledging to rapidly address the university’s challenges.

For the record:
5:06 PM, Aug. 28, 2019 A previous version of this story stated that the provost oversees the university’s healthcare enterprise. The healthcare enterprise is run by a separate CEO.

Zukoski, who begins Oct. 1, will oversee the operations of USC’s sprawling academic enterprise, including 23 schools, scientific research, student affairs and admissions. It’s a post that will put him directly over several ongoing quagmires, including the investigation and response to the college admissions scandal exposed by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts; a fiscal crisis at the school of social work; and lingering turmoil following the ouster of the popular business school dean over sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

In addition, USC faces fallout from sex abuse allegations against a longtime campus gynecologist, George Tyndall, who has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.

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“Yes, there are issues at USC…” Zukoski, 64, said late Tuesday in an interview with The Times. “And I’ll be honest, it was one of the reasons why I was intrigued.”

“The decision to come to USC is based on opportunity: I see this as a critical time in USC’s history and I’m interested in working with [Folt] and the community to understand the origins of the issues that exist and build on the extraordinary quality, and move forward.”

He replaces Michael Quick, who stepped down as provost in June before Folt’s arrival.

Zukoski said that among his priorities will be to establish trust with the faculty, staff and students; understand how USC can enhance its role in the community; and continue pursuing academic excellence across the institution. He said he sees himself as a collaborator with Folt and that during the search process, numerous “in-depth conversations” with her left him impressed.

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“I found her message to be very compelling and, if nothing else, exhilarating,” he said.

Announcing his appointment, Folt praised Zukoski’s experience as provost at the University at Buffalo and before that, as vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“He is committed to excellence and knows how to bring diverse groups together to build interdisciplinary teams,” Folt said in a statement.

USC considered more than 300 candidates during the search process, and a committee of faculty and trustees helped vet candidates. Rebecca Lonergan, a USC law professor and president of the faculty senate who served on the committee, said the group was unanimous in its support for Zukoski.

“I don’t have a single negative thing to say about him,” said Lonergan, who spent 16 years prosecuting public corruption and national security cases in the U.S. attorney’s office in L.A. before becoming a professor. “USC is huge and complex, with so many moving parts. There are not that many people out there with that level of leadership and management experience to step in and hit the ground running.

“And on top of that, he seemed like a really nice guy,” she added. “Everyone knows USC has had its struggles, and it’s incredibly important to put someone in the position that faculty and staff can trust.”

Zukoski, known as “Chip,” earned his doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University and his bachelor’s degree in physics from Reed College. He began working at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1985 and has published nearly 150 peer-reviewed papers during his career. He and his wife, Barbara Morgan, have two adult sons. The couple will move to Los Angeles in late September.


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