Southern California

200 Faculty Members Demand USC President Step Down

In a statement released Tuesday morning, USC President Max Nikias called the scandal involving a former physician on campus "profoundly troubling"

What to Know

  • Four former USC students sued the school and an ex-campus gynecologist who they accuse of molesting patients

Two hundred faculty members have called on University of Southern California President C.L. Max Nikias to step down following accusations of sexual misconduct against a former physician at the school's student health center.

The staff members sent a letter demanding Nikias' resignation to USC's Board of Trustees, stating that he "lost the moral authority to lead" after the gynecologist was kept on staff.

"We, the undersigned faculty, write to express our outrage and disappointment over the mounting evidence of President Nikias' failure to protect our students, our staff, and our colleagues from repeated and pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct," the staff members said in the letter. "In his recent letter to the University community, President Nikias referred to the actions of gynecologist George Tyndall as a 'breach of trust.' With all due respect, President Nikias' own actions and omissions amount to a breach of trust.

"He has lost the moral authority to lead the University, and in addition, to lead the investigation of institutional failures that allowed this misconduct to persist over several decades. President Nikias must step aside to allow new leaders to take the necessary steps to repair the damage."

In a statement released Tuesday outlining the school's action plan, Nikias called the matter "profoundly troubling."

The statement was released a day after four former University of Southern California students sued the school and an ex-campus gynecologist who they accuse of molesting patients over decades as a "serial sexual predator," according to a court filing Monday. Dr. George Tyndall routinely made crude comments, took inappropriate photographs and forced the plaintiffs to strip naked and groped them under the guise of medical treatment for his "sexual gratification," the civil lawsuit said.

Tyndall, who worked at a USC clinic for 30 years, denied wrongdoing in interviews with The Los Angeles Times. He didn't return phone calls, and it wasn't known Monday if he has an attorney. 

Two of the women involved in the lawsuit were at a news conference Tuesday morning with attorney Gloria Allred. 

"Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and on this basis allege, that defendant USC benefited financially from actively concealing myriad complaints of sexual abuse made by its female students against Tyndall by protecting its own reputation and financial coffers," according to the lawsuit.

Allred read a statement from a former USC student who asked that her name be withheld. The former student claims Tyndall photographed her during an exam in the early 1990s. She says she complained at the time to the director of the health clinic and notified the university's advocacy office. 

"Assuming these allegations made by witness Jane Doe are true, USC was told as early as 1991 about Dr. Tyndall's sexual misconduct," Allred said.

"The recent matter involving a former physician at our student health center has been profoundly troubling for our community, and has disturbed us all very deeply," Nikias said in the statement released Tuesday morning. "This matter has generated a fresh wave of discussions on our campuses, building on those related to one of our former deans. These discussions are imperative in recognizing deficits in our culture. Unacceptable behavior by anyone in our community is a profound breach of trust, and we must change the culture at the university, and instill a higher level of professionalism and ethics. We owe it to our students, to each other, and, indeed, to our entire community to do better.

"I am truly sorry these events happened within our community, and deeply regret how much distress they have caused. From the sorrow comes determination to lead change in our culture."

The Board of Trustees responded to the resignation demand with its first public statement since the removal of the campus doctor. The board said it was troubled by the accusations but has "full confidence" in Nikias.

The complaint accuses the university of failing to properly respond to complaints about Tyndall. USC said in a statement that it was aware of the lawsuit.

"We are focused on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students and providing support to those affected," the statement said.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that USC received about 200 complaints from former patients and that the school is planning to forward some of those reports to the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD hadn't opened a criminal investigation into Tyndall as of midday Monday, Officer Drake Madison told The Associated Press.

Tyndall continued to examine young women even though he was the subject of complaints that started years ago, according to the newspaper. The complaints against Tyndall include claims of inappropriate remarks about patients' bodies and inappropriate touching during pelvic exams.

Tyndall was suspended with pay in 2016 and resigned with a confidential financial settlement in 2017, the paper reported.

The lawsuit alleges the school agreed to the settlement to keep quiet the details of an internal investigation that found Tyndall "routinely made sexually and racially inappropriate remarks to patients" and "kept a secret box full of photographs of his patients' genitals." 

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

In a letter last week to the university community, Nikias stated he read reports from Tyndall's patients over "many difficult hours" and that it left him profoundly disturbed.

"He should have been removed and referred to the authorities years ago," he wrote. "Once again, I want to personally apologize to any student who visited our student health center and was made to feel uncomfortable in any way. You deserved better, and we let you down."

The university fired Dr. William Leavitt, the clinic's top doctor, and Tammie Akiyoshi, the clinic's director.

A protest calling for the "resignation or board removal" of Nikias was scheduled for Tuesday evening on the USC campus.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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