News & Politics

Hundreds Rally for USC Dean Fired by School President, Who Cited Lack of Diversity

(Photo credit: Screenshot from CBS-Los Angeles video of USC rally)

Nearly 150 students and professors rallied last Friday afternoon after a beloved dean at the University of Southern California was fired by the school’s interim president, Wanda Austin.

Dean James “Jim” Ellis has presided over the USC Marshall School of Business since 2007. But last week, as reported by CBS-Los Angeles, President Austin terminated his contract, citing the “lack of diversity” at USC and making ambiguous claims about how Ellis handled bias incidents filed during his tenure.

The rally was organized by the USC Alumni Association, and demanded USC be transparent about why Dean Ellis’ contract was terminated. “Where’s the transparency? We’ve been told it’s a personnel matter,” said one man to the crowd.

“If it’s a personnel matter, then I guess the person you want to be concerned about is Dean Ellis … Dean Ellis has made it very clear he doesn’t have a problem with the ‘report’ on him being released to the public. They can redact names,” said the man.

The man is referring to the “Cooley Report.” Commissioned by Cooley LLP (legal counsel to the university), the report analyzed all official racial and gender bias complaints made to USC since 2009, during Ellis’ tenure as dean.

“Of these complaints, only about 10% — an amount you can count on both hands — were deemed sufficiently worthy of being passed on to the dean for further investigation,” wrote Lloyd Greif, a USC benefactor who also sits on the school’s board. “Jim dealt with all those [diversity] complaints timely and appropriately. None of the complaints alleged any egregious conduct, and none of them involved inappropriate behavior by Jim,” Greif added.

“To this day,” wrote Greif, who sat in on meetings about Dean Ellis’ removal, “Jim has not been allowed to see the Cooley report, despite repeated requests to do so by him, his legal counsel, a trustee, and me.”

“Sounds like [Dean Ellis] got a fair hearing, with complete transparency and due process, correct? WRONG. This shameless disinformation campaign marks a new low for USC, just when we thought the institution couldn’t go any lower.”

Greif isn’t the only one upset about Dean Ellis’s termination. More than 3000 signatures have been added to a Change.org petition in his favor. “Dean Ellis has been terminated without due process by USC Interim President Wanda Austin. We need your support to convince the administration and the Board of Trustees to reverse this decision and correct this tragic mistake,” reads the petition.

Former USC Marshall School of Business Dean James Ellis

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dean Ellis will remain on the faculty of the business school — though it’s unclear if he’ll be permitted to teach — and USC will pay out the remaining three years of his contract.

PJ Media has spoken with six professors at USC, the majority of whom reached out to this reporter to request coverage of the situation.

“Many on the faculty are very unhappy and concerned,” wrote Elissa Grossman, head of the Business School Faculty Council, in an email to faculty.

According to Grossman’s email — copies of which were offered to PJ Media by multiple professors — more than 200 business school faculty responded to a survey on Dean Ellis’ termination within 48 hours.

“Many faculty feel ‘concerned,’ ‘shocked,’ ‘troubled,’ ‘disturbed,’ ‘fearful,’ ‘dismayed,’ ‘upset,’ and ‘outraged. … Many support Jim Ellis as fair, unbiased, and supportive of a positive culture … and faculty assessment of the Dean’s performance ranged between 4.5 and 4.8 out of 5.0,” Grossman told faculty members.

USC President Wanda Austin has been missing in action since she terminated Dean Ellis, and has claimed she is “traveling” — a difficult excuse to believe considering her school is embroiled in a national controversy.

Lloyd Grief ended his missive to the Board of Trustees by urging the school to reinstate the dean.

“Ask yourselves, if Jim really did something sufficiently egregious to warrant termination before the end of his remaining 3 1⁄2-year term, why is he being allowed to remain as dean for seven more months and as tenured faculty forever?”

“As I have oft repeated, if Jim is responsible for a serious sin of omission or commission, he should be terminated immediately. If not, then the administration and the Board of Trustees need to right this wrong, reinstate Jim Ellis as Dean of the Marshall School and, most importantly, turn their attention to addressing all that ails the University of Southern California, starting with a culture that requires major surgery before the patient dies from these ever-deeper self-inflicted wounds.”

Dean Ellis is not responding to any media inquiries, according to Dean Ellis’ son during a lengthy email exchange with PJ Media.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen