Marshall’s Advisory Board Urges Ouster Of USC Board Chair Caruso

Students at USC Marshall School of Business

All 116 members of the Board of Leaders for the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business are demanding the immediate resignation of Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso and the placing on leave of three senior USC officials, including Interim President Wanda Austin and Provost Michael Quick.

The dramatic call for the removal of Board Chair Caruso and the disciplinary action on three of the university’s most senior officials comes as the controversy over the removal of Marshall School Dean Jim Ellis has reached a new boiling point. Caruso has come under heavy criticism from several trustees for his handling of a board meeting at which trustees lent their support to the decision by President Austin to cut short Ellis’ deanship by three years (see USC Trustees Slam Board Chair Caruso Over B-School Dean’s Dismissal).

In a letter to the trustees dated Jan. 21, Gregory R. Hillgren, chairperson of the business school’s Board of Leaders, maintains that Caruso, Austin, Quick and Carol Mauch Amir, senior vice president for legal affairs and professionalism, have lost their “leadership legitimacy” at the university. He urges the board to launch an independent review of Marshall’s culture and Dean Ellis’ role and performance as well as an investigation of Caruso and the three USC officials.


Gregory Hillgren, chairperson of Marshall’s Board of Leaders

“Immediately remove Chairman Caruso and place the three senior administrators on leave pending the outcome of that examination,” wrote Hillgren, who earned his undergraduate business degree and MBA from Marshall and is president of CALVEST Realty Advisors, Inc. and Hillgren Holdings, LLC. “During the pendency of this important investigation, they should no longer be in positions of authority at this university. Rick Caruso should be immediately replaced by one or more of your members—he has proven himself to be grossly unfit to serve the best interests of USC–while both an Office of the President and an Office of the Provost can be established on a temporary basis until the investigation is concluded and successors are identified and secured. That office would temporarily consist of their second and third in commands.”

Hillgren took special aim at Provost Quick for USC’s earlier scandals, including the administration’s handling of a campus gynecologist, George Tyndall, who had been accused of sexually abusing patients for years, that led to the resignation of President Max Nikias last August. It did not go unnoticed when earlier last summer, a former vice dean of USC’s medical school testified that he had told Quick of his concern about the well-being of then med school dean, Carmen A. Puliafito, who was accused of taking drugs on campus and partying in hotels with people of “questionable reputation.”

When Puliafito finally resigned, he was replaced by Dr. Rohit Varma, who had been accused of sexual harassment by a female researcher at USC which reached a financial settlement with the alleged victim. Varma was pushed out. Then, last August, it was revealed that Marilyn Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for inappropriate financial transactions.


Rick Caruso, chair of the USC board of trustees, has come under attack by several trustees

“The Puliafito, Varma, Tyndall, and Flynn scandals were sufficient grounds to mandate the resignation of President Max Nikias but not Provost Quick, even though it is the Provost’s job to oversee the internal operations of USC as the university’s Chief Operating Officer?,” wrote Hillgren. “And now he has created the Ellis scandal where one didn’t exist? It is unfathomable that Michael Quick is still Provost, a power-position where he can and will continue to harm USC. That trust is not recoverable, so they must be immediately replaced for the good of the university. Accordingly, commission a similar independent examination of these officials, their actions and behaviors in this matter and other recent crises that have sequentially impacted the university.”

Marshall’s Board of Leaders is comprised of 116 business executives, founders and leaders, many of them alumni of the Marshall School. The board serves the business school and the university in informal and formal roles. Among its members are Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of, Peter M. Comisar, vice chairman of Guggenheim Securities LLC, Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, John Paloian, the retired chief operating officer of R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures, Michelle Kerrick, managing partner of Deloitte & Touche LLP, Paul Kinscherff, Fred Harman, managing partner of Oak Investment Partners, and Alex Yemenidjian, chairman and CEO of Tropicana Las Vegas.

“Over the years,” wrote Hillgren, “several members have served as university trustees. The Board of Leaders has existed for almost two decades to provide practical, external, timely and wide-ranging input, feedback and, if necessary – criticism – to the Office of the Dean concerning any programs, practices, curriculum, initiatives, or other matters of importance to USC Marshall. We are a group of women and men of varying ethnicities and races who care deeply about the University and have actively given our time and resources to support and engage the university we love. We are a group that prizes inclusion, diversity, and fairness and we execute it every day across our commercial enterprises and our personal lives… We get it.”

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