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Top USC officials stepping down as university tries to set new course

Top USC officials stepping down as university tries to set new course
USC announced Tuesday that Provost Michael Quick, the university's top academic officer, will leave his post this summer and return to teaching. Quick had been a close advisor to former President C.L. Max Nikias. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

In yet another sign of upheaval at USC, two top administrators announced Tuesday that they were leaving their posts.

Provost Michael Quick and General Counsel Carol Mauch Amir are to depart before the arrival of incoming President Carol L. Folt, who has been tasked with cleaning up USC’s culture and reputation.

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Interim President Wanda Austin told the faculty in a letter Tuesday that both Quick and Amir would step down in June and described their exits as retirements.

Quick and Amir were top deputies to former President C.L. Max Nikias and were closely involved in USC’s most high-profile crises in recent years.

As the university’s top academic officer, Quick handled many of the complaints against former medical school Dean Carmen Puliafito, who The Times revealed used drugs and partied with criminals during his tenure. Quick reprimanded the dean and ultimately forced him to step down in 2016.

As USC’s top lawyer, Amir and her staff helped oversee the response to a number of scandals, including the current federal investigation into college admissions and the misconduct allegations against Dr. George Tyndall. The former campus gynecologist has been accused of sexual misconduct toward more than 600 students and is the subject of criminal investigations by the L.A. Police Department and the district attorney’s office. Tyndall has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Ariela Gross, a law professor who leads a group of 350 professors dedicated to reforming USC, said she saw the announcement of the provost and general counsel’s departure as a “healthy sign” that Folt, the university’s new president, had a clear path to carrying out changes.

“Being able to turn that page and make a clean start is just incredibly important,” Gross said. “People will feel a greater sense of trust if they feel that is happening.”

Quick will remain at USC as a member of the faculty. In a statement to The Times, he wrote that Folt, the former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “will be a great leader and should have the opportunity to work with a provost of her choosing.”

“We have had recent challenges but we will rise to the occasion and emerge stronger for having faced them,” he wrote.

In her letter, Austin praised Quick and Amir and highlighted their contributions to USC without mentioning the various scandals and controversies.

“They have shown tremendous dedication to our university and its community and have led with integrity and compassion,” Austin wrote.

Quick, she wrote, championed efforts to diversify the student body and faculty ranks, drawing on his experience as a first-generation college graduate. His office also devoted $50 million to fund inclusion programs. She said Quick, a professor of biological sciences, would go back to full-time teaching and research.

“In returning to the faculty, Michael will continue to share his wisdom and wit with colleagues and students,” Austin said in her letter.

Amir, who joined USC as a staff attorney in 1999 and rose to become its top legal officer, was integral to the university’s acquisition of two hospitals from Tenet Healthcare in 2009, Austin wrote. More recently, Amir helped establish a number of new offices in the wake of the Tyndall scandal and hired a new compliance director.

“Carol’s leadership in building the division of the Office of Legal Affairs and Professionalism has been important to the future of USC, and exemplifies the lasting ways that we can effect culture change,” Austin added.

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In an email to The Times, Amir noted her two decades of service to the university and said she was “looking forward to some time off to reflect on the next chapter in my life.” She added, “I feel confident I am leaving the university in good stead as we prepare for the transition to the next presidency.”

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