John Mork served as chairman of the 59-member Board of Trustees of the University of Southern California until the latest scandal led to the resignation of President C.L. Max Nikias.
The tumult at USC has been a long time in the making as various scandals piled up. The school’s response seemed to be little more than waiting for torrents of bad news to slow down to the sort of drips that erode rather than wash matters clean.
Nikias’ role in the difficulties have been – and will no doubt continue to be – examined.
Less so for Mork, a successful energy entrepreneur, and purportedly a close personal friend of Nikias.
Mork also is a USC graduate with a degree in petroleum engineering. That was an early step on a career path that’s taken the son of an oil field wildcatter to founder and chief executive of Denver-based Energy Corp. of America, a privately held company with interests ranging from the Appalachians to New Zealand.
None of this is to suggest that Mork is anything other than well-intentioned and smart.
He’s obviously appreciative of the education he received at USC, too. He gave the school $110 million for scholarships for low-income students, among other donations.
This is to note, however, that an individual running a big company more than 1,000 miles away – with interests flung even further – might not have been in a suitable position to lead a board with oversight of a school in Los Angeles run by a personal friend.
One of the great benefits of higher education is its tendency to look beyond the local landscape and onto the entire world of ideas.
That outlook might even take on more importance now for USC. One could argue that an outsider – in terms of both the school and its hometown – is needed to get beyond the recent stumbles.
That shouldn’t be a presumption, though. Looking beyond the local landscape shouldn’t necessarily shut local knowledge out of the institutional equation.
That brings us to Rick Caruso, a native Angeleno, USC grad, developer of retail centers – and the individual appointed to replace Mork at the helm of USC’s board of trustees.
Caruso is more than poster-child local – he brings sufficiently unique local knowledge, we believe, to justify his elevation even as we point out that he was part of USC’s leadership during the recent rugged run for the school.
Time will tell if our view of Caruso proves correct.
It’s worthy of consideration and close tracking for a reason beside his new post, though: Attention will soon turn to the search for a new president at USC, a position that will no doubt be viewed as a great plumb of academia.
Will the process preclude any locals as too close to the recent messes?
That would be a safe play – but might local knowledge be precisely what’s needed in the president’s post now?
Caruso and the board of trustees will ultimately answer that question – and courage and a clear explanation will be required either way.