Faculty leaders at the University of Southern California called for the school’s president to resign in a formal vote that both underscored and escalated earlier messages delivered by faculty and alumni.
Paul Rosenbloom, president of the USC Academic Senate, said President C.L. Max Nikias has amazing strengths but has not dealt well with a series of scandals. “That has increasingly caused concerns among the faculty and others,” said Rosenbloom, who helped lead a task force working with the administration over the past year to try to change the culture at USC. In the past couple of weeks, “things reached a crisis point, where we couldn’t see a realistic path forward with him as president. . . . We called for his resignation for the good of the university.”
Nikias has been credited with elevating the finances, aspirations and impact of the private research university. But very public failures, and the administration’s response, have eroded confidence in leadership to the point that nearly 4,000 people signed an online petition calling for the president’s resignation this week, and nearly 7,000 alumni signed another petition demanding that USC hold the administration accountable “for supporting sexual predators.”
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that a USC gynecologist had been accused of mistreating patients for years — and that the school let him continue to see students. George Tyndall, who was a doctor at the student health clinic for more than 30 years, could not be reached for comment. Last week, he defended his medical exams to the Times as thorough and appropriate.
On Wednesday night, faculty leaders approved this resolution: “We the Academic Senate, as the elected body of the Faculty of the University of Southern California, believe that new leadership is in the best interest of the University now and going forward. Therefore, we call on President C.L. Max Nikias to resign.”
There were 24 affirmative votes cast, four abstentions and no negative votes.
Rosenbloom said that he did not know the precise number of voting senators but that the 28 at the meeting Wednesday night constituted “more than a quorum.”
“This has been a hard time for all of us,” said Rosenbloom, a professor of computer science. “It’s a terrible time for students who had to deal with this gynecologist. It’s a terrible time for faculty, staff and students who feel betrayed or angry or confused. It’s terrible when you have to ask your president to step down. But we hope we can move forward and be a better university.”
A USC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for a response Thursday from the administration to the faculty vote.
The chairman of USC’s board of trustees praised Nikias’s leadership this week, and Nikias issued a plan to change the university culture and operational structure. The executive committee of the board apologized to the people affected and announced it would hire outside counsel to investigate the misconduct and reporting failures.
Several former students filed lawsuits this week, claiming Tyndall used his position of trust and authority to sexually abuse patients. John Manly, an attorney for four of the former students, said in a news release the case has disturbing similarities to the one against former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar. Hundreds of women and girls accused Nassar of molesting them under the pretense of providing medical care. Manly was the lead attorney in a $500 million settlement reached with Michigan State last week.
That case toppled a presidency — Michigan State’s longtime leader Lou Anna K. Simon resigned amid outrage as women testified against Nassar — and continues to reverberate through the top levels of the school, with continued calls for the board of trustees to resign.
Last summer, the Los Angeles Times reported that the former dean of the Keck School of Medicine, Carmen Puliafito, a well-known eye surgeon and successful fundraiser, had a secret life abusing drugs, sometimes with prostitutes, sometimes even in his USC office. A few months later, the dean hired to replace him resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.
“There has been a significant breakdown in trust,” Rosenbloom said. Even as he helped lead the task force seeking to create more accountability and ensure that bad behavior was not tolerated, Rosenbloom said, he hoped for more answers from the administration.
“It’s pervasive. It’s not everyone, but it’s pervasive, and it makes it impossible for us to move forward the way we are,” he said. “We have been encouraging [Nikias] to be more transparent about things. That could help restore that trust. But that has not happened to the extent it needed to.”