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May 23

Los Angeles Times on USC President Max Nikias needing to resign:

In the wake of two appalling scandals that have badly marred the reputation of the University of Southern California, it is time for President C.L. Max Nikias to step aside or be ousted.

Almost a year after the shocking revelation that the dean of the medical school was doing drugs and partying with young criminals and addicts — and a week after the revelation that a gynecologist at the student health clinic had been repeatedly accused over several decades of making sexual comments and touching young patients inappropriately — it has become increasingly clear that Nikias is not the proper person to lead the university out of this mire. He has failed to respond forcefully or appropriately to these crises on his watch.

In the cases of both Carmen Puliafito, the medical school dean, and George Tyndall, the gynecologist, Nikias and top administrators had the opportunity to confront the misconduct head-on in a public and transparent fashion. They could have used these troubling cases to demonstrate their commitment to protecting students and patients. They could have sent a message that misconduct would not be tolerated.

Instead, USC leaders chose to cut secret deals to make the problem employees go away. They failed at first to report the doctors to the Medical Board of California, the agency responsible for protecting the public from bad physicians. They failed to notify past patients or the larger USC community until they were confronted by The Times. They didn’t arrange counseling for victims of the accused gynecologist until the revelations were about to come out. They did not alert law enforcement until they came under pressure. In a move that smacked of tragicomedy, the university actually replaced Puliafito with a new dean who had himself been formally disciplined some years earlier after an allegation that he sexually harassed a researcher. That was an indication of either an extraordinary failure in the vetting process or of mind-boggling tone-deafness.

In all three cases, Nikias and university leaders acknowledged the misconduct publicly only after reporters from The Times uncovered the secret deals, leading to the inevitable conclusion that damage control is USC’s top priority, not the protection of the students and patients.

Of course, any school the size of USC will have problem employees — sometimes even dangerous ones. But the test of a leader is how he or she responds to crisis. It was Nikias’ job to reset the university’s tone and transform its culture — and to build institutional structures — so that students and faculty could feel safe, knowing that their complaints would be heeded and addressed. We see little evidence that such cultural change is underway.

USC is a huge and extraordinarily powerful institution, the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles. Over the years it has climbed in the national rankings of colleges and universities. Much of that has occurred under Nikias. The school has raised oodles of money, built big new buildings and expanded its offerings for its 45,000 students. But many of Nikias’ critics argue that growth has come at a steep price: that the university has sacrificed something fundamental along the way. That is the criticism implied in a letter signed by 200 faculty members this week calling for the president’s ouster and insisting that the school needs to return to its “core mission.”

Nikias had opportunities to do better. When Puliafito, a prolific fundraiser, abruptly resigned as dean in March 2016, there was no public acknowledgement that just three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room — even though an anonymous witness had called Nikias’ office and told two employees about the dean’s presence at the hotel. Somehow, that message didn’t get through.

Subsequently, The Times tried to present Nikias with evidence of the dean’s use of methamphetamine and other drugs. But Nikias and his staff ignored or rebuffed inquiries. Then, after the story ran, Nikias and top university leaders had the gall to say they were shocked and outraged and would fire Puliafito.

USC says Nikias didn’t learn of the Tyndall allegations until after the gynecologist had already left his job (with a financial settlement from the university). But when he did learn, he sat on the results of the investigation for months without going to the medical board or contacting past patients. That’s particularly shocking because USC had just gone through the Puliafito scandal.

Nikias has issued multiple apologies for how the university handled the Tyndall case. On Tuesday he released a 20-page “action plan” that calls for, among other things, the creation of various offices, commissions and hotlines to handle complaints of harassment and ethical violations.

But all the hotlines and commissions in the world won’t help USC fix its image as long as it is run by leaders who refuse to confront their own culpability.

Like leaders of the Catholic Church and many other institutions that have faced reputational scandals, Nikias has responded to crisis by trying to protect his brand first — rather than the at-risk members of his community. Hilary Schor, a professor of English who co-wrote this week’s letter from the faculty, said Tuesday: “The tone for the university counsel’s office, for the Department of Equity and Diversity, for department chairs and provosts is set by the president. The tone here has been cover up, conceal, deny, settle.”

That’s not the kind of leadership USC needs as it moves forward.

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May 21

The San Diego Union-Tribune on others needing to follow San Diego’s lead on later school start times:

It’s a given that the health of America’s children should be promoted and protected by any reasonable means. No, this is not an editorial about guns and school safety, an issue that after Friday’s deadly shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, is again roiling the nation and putting a spotlight on do-nothing politicians. This editorial is about school start times and officials who are actually doing something to help.

It’s now been a quarter-century since research firmly established how early school start times are awful for adolescents and teens. A 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics study found that big majorities of middle and high school students didn’t get the 8.5 to 9.5 hours recommended by health experts and were more likely as a result to be depressed, overweight and struggling in school, and to get into automobile accidents. This is why the world’s leading sleep expert, Stanford’s William C. Dement, says many students are “walking zombies trying to cope with the stresses of school, work and social activities that may literally be putting their lives in peril.”

This backdrop is why the San Diego Unified School District deserves high praise for taking steps to have all its schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by 2020, as reported by NBC 7 San Diego. This will be an imposition for some teachers and other district employees and for many parents. But if employers care about their community, they should show as much flexibility as they can in dealing with those who have to start work later as a result.

Before the Legislature rejected a bill last year requiring middle and high schools statewide to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., one lawmaker mocked the bill’s “one-size-fits-all approach” as “kind of ridiculous.” To San Diego school administrators’ credit, each school will study when they’ll start and how’ll they’ll transition to the new start time over the next two years. If the state won’t lead, let city schools.

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May 21

The Modesto Bee on California needing to save more, but invest more, too:

Gov. Jerry Brown, frugal to the end, wants to fill the state’s “rainy day” fund. Great idea. But for too many Californians, it’s pouring hardship right now.

Spending some of our state’s surplus — especially in non-repeating expenditures and investments in education, housing and infrastructure – could help alleviate a host of problems and keep others from getting worse. Spending more today might save money in the future.

Most obvious on the fix-it list is housing. Record numbers are living on the streets, which is as true in Modesto as it is in San Francisco or San Diego.

Brown is offering $359 million to help, plus $312 million for mental-health services. The mayors of the state’s 11 biggest cities want more, as do others. Democrats Scott Wiener of San Francisco, Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Jim Beall of San Jose want $5 billion over four years, including $2.1 billion for affordable housing, $1 billion for long-term and $1 billion for short-term homelessness.

But these programs do little for the thousands of families one or two paychecks from eviction. Home ownership for young adults is simply out of reach. Until the cost of housing comes down – preferably through market-based solutions – this dynamic won’t change. Cities and towns should have incentives to create plans to build more homes more quickly.

The state should restore funding to public universities and colleges. The annual tradition of nickel-and-diming the UC and Cal State systems betrays our values and shortchanges California’s future. An analysis this month by the California Budget and Policy Center reported there are thousands of high school students who qualify for CSU and UC admission, but can’t enroll because there is no room. Thousands end up not attending any college.

Brown’s budget proposal would give each institution $92 million, which ignores enrollment growth. That’s simply not enough. Giving CSU another $100 million and UC another $140 million would throw open the doors, allowing thousands more enroll. We like the governor’s online community college concept, but deferred maintenance on many campuses is more pressing.

And what about a medical school at UC Merced? The shortage of medical professionals in the San Joaquin Valley is simply a crisis. It’s time to fast-track the medical school.

Senate Republicans are right to demand more money to clear the backlog of some 13,600 untested rape kits — which could take criminals off the streets.

The plan by Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, to put more money into tracking and seizing guns from felons, the mentally ill and others shouldn’t even require a debate. There’s a backlog of 10,000 people on the prohibited list who might still have guns, says the state Department of Justice. Fund it and do it. Now.

In January, Brown proposed putting part of a projected $6 billion surplus into the “rainy day” fund to reach its maximum $13.8 billion. By the time he rolled out his revised May budget, tax revenues had surged, adding $2.8 billion to the surplus. Now he wants to stash another $3.2 billion for natural disasters and emergencies. Considering the increasing cost of fighting an increasing number of wildfires, that’s an extremely good idea.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says the governor is still underestimating revenues by about $3 billion. So there’s room to do more in California, from better roads to safer forests to a new medical school.

We applaud Gov. Brown’s frugality. But sometimes the best way to save for tomorrow is by spending a little more today.

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May 18

Eureka Times-Standard on a new tax to fund drinking water:

Three hundred miles to the south, our society rewards the makers of tech trinkets with the greatest fortunes ever amassed in history — largely, infamously untaxed.

Meanwhile, a coalition of government officials here and in Sacramento is asking you to pay a little more to ensure that everyone in the state has access to clean drinking water.

It’s true, clean drinking water is an admirable goal for all and a sad memory for some. Just ask the residents of Flint.

But why should our leaders be inventing new taxes to ensure the delivery of the most basic of services when there are plenty of old taxes laying around, endlessly abused or ignored outright by a long line of corporations that are by no means in any danger whatsoever of experiencing a moment of thirst?

Let the gloriously untaxed among us pick up the canteen and walk to a well, for once, for the betterment of the society that shelters them from any of the great responsibility that should by all rights and the wisdom of Stan Lee come with the great power they’ve managed to accumulate.

The proposal currently trickling through the halls of power in Sacramento, if adopted, would take effect in July 2020. It looks to charge most of us 95 cents a month, with heavy business and industry paying $4 to $10 a month. Additional taxes on fertilizers and dairy products would swell the pool of revenue collected each year to around $140 million.

Color us skeptical.

If it seems petty of us to object to a proposed 95 cent a month tax, if that’s so insignificant an amount to ask of mere mortals so that we may all slake our thirst, than what a trifle of a trifle it would be to the lords of the Silicon or the Central or the San Fernando Valley to pick up the whole tab and see to it that all of us peasants are well watered.

Look away for a moment from the vast untapped reservoirs of wealth carefully guarded by legions of corporate accountants. Turn your gaze instead to the relatively modest lake of budget surplus funds built up by the governor: a mere $6.1 billion.

Yet between these two deep lakes of fortune, we, somehow, find some of us parched.

How many of us?

Proponents of the proposed new tax tell us that 1 million Californians each year go without access to safe drinking water, and that nearly 2 million Californians lack service from a public water system.

It’s hard to argue with thirst of that magnitude.

But.

What guarantee would we have, once we give into the idea of this 95 cent tax, that it would not grow larger, and leave us ever more at the mercy of distant and unresponsive powers to the south?

Who’s going to pick up the tab when smaller water districts — the same districts that are too small to successfully match funds awarded by state or federal grants — have to adjust their operations to funnel this tax revenue to Sacramento?

What safeguards would we have to rely upon to see that revenue collected by this new tax reaches its intended recipients?

Finally, what other fundamental necessities of life are we going to tax? Oxygen? Sunlight?

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, they say.

Is this good? The best they can do?

Can’t they do better?

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