About 200 faculty members called for the University of Southern California’s president to resign Tuesday amid growing outrage over the school’s handling of complaints about a former gynecologist who worked in the student health clinic for more than 30 years.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that USC had been flooded with calls from former patients about the doctor’s conduct.
On Wednesday, the executive committee of the board of trustees announced it was appointing a special committee that would hire outside counsel to investigate the misconduct and reporting failures at USC. “The behavior exhibited by the former physician was reprehensible,” the trustees wrote, “and we will hold people accountable if we find they failed to report or take action to ensure the well-being and safety of patients and students. To those affected, we are deeply sorry.”
The chairman of the board expressed strong support for the school’s president Tuesday. The trustees’ executive committee has full confidence in the “leadership, ethics and values” of USC President C.L. Max Nikias, the board’s chairman John Mork said in a statement, “and is certain that he will successfully guide our community forward.”
Nikias released an action plan Tuesday to change the campus culture.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that six women filed civil lawsuits complaining of sexual misconduct by George Tyndall and said that the private university had failed for years to address concerns raised by clinic staff. One lawsuit claimed that despite complaints about Tyndall’s behavior, the university “actively and deliberately concealed Tyndall’s sexual abuse for years” to protect its reputation and finances.
John Manly, an attorney for four of the former students, said in a news release the case “has disturbing similarities to the case against disgraced Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who was accused of molesting more than 300 women and girls under the guise of performing medical treatments.” Manly was the lead attorney in a $500 million settlement reached with Michigan State last week.
Tyndall could not be reached for comment. He defended his medical exams in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week and noted that honest conversations about patients’ sexual activity were part of treatment.
USC has drawn attention for its increasing academic ambition and clout. But the university has also generated headlines for scandals in recent months. Last summer, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported that the former dean of the Keck School of Medicine, Carmen Puliafito — a renowned eye surgeon and prodigious fundraiser for the school — was using illegal drugs.
In October, the medical school dean who replaced Puliafito resigned after allegations of sexual harassment.
By Wednesday afternoon, more than 3,000 people had signed an online petition calling for Nikias to resign.
“President Nikias has repeatedly proven that he does not take seriously the safety of women on USC’s campus,” the petition claims. “Nikias fails to provide transparency to students; his decisions have jeopardized student safety. Under his leadership, coverups have spoiled the USC reputation and have hindered real change on campus to keep students safe.”
In the letter from faculty members published by the Los Angeles Times, they wrote that Nikias had lost the moral authority to lead the university.
Nikias responded with a statement and the action plan on Tuesday. “I understand the faculty’s anger and frustration,” he wrote. “I am committed to working with them as we implement this wide-reaching plan and to rebuilding their trust. We all deeply care about this university and we all need to work together to change the culture.”
The action plan includes revisiting the school’s code of ethics, improving its system for co-workers to report concerns, establishing an office of professionalism and ethics, and creating an office in which employees can confidentially work to resolve workplace issues.
The university established and publicized a dedicated phone line for people wishing to report concerns about Tyndall.
The Los Angeles Police Department has received calls about Tyndall, Officer Rosario Herrera said Wednesday, and anyone who claims to be a victim can make a report, but there is no open investigation of Tyndall.
Tyndall was placed on leave after a complaint was made by a staff member in June 2016, and USC launched an investigation. The school began termination proceedings in 2017 and later agreed upon a settlement to quickly sever ties after Tyndall threatened a lawsuit, according to the university. University officials made a report to the Medical Board of California in March 2018.
University officials said they are reevaluating procedures and believe the university should have, “out of an abundance of caution,” filed a complaint with the medical board when Tyndall was terminated.
Mork wrote to the campus community that the board is “troubled by the distressing reports about USC’s former student health center physician, and we offer our deepest sympathies to those affected. We have zero tolerance for this conduct and will ensure that people are held accountable for actions that threaten the university student body and that do not reflect our culture of respect, care, and ethics.”
He wrote that the executive committee strongly supports “President Nikias’ implementation of a thorough and comprehensive action plan that addresses these issues and enables USC to continue exemplifying our Trojan Family values as we move forward.”
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.