Two hundred faculty members, joined by upset staff and students, have demanded University of Southern President C.L. Max Nikias resign, protesting he did not remove a school gynecologist accused of molesting patients 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, the Los Angeles Times and other media reported, adding that the trustees were standing by him.
The statement came after four former USC students sued the school and Dr. George Tyndall who they claimed frequently made crude comments, took inappropriate photographs and forced them to strip before groping them under the guise of medical treatment for his “sexual gratification,” the civil lawsuit said.
Reports indicated that the behavior had been going on for years, including since Nikias became President in 2010 and while he condemned what Tyndall had allegedly done that wasn’t enough to satisfy critics who said there should have been sterner action before the doctor left and was given a severance package.
“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 outlining the school’s action plan, Nikias called the matter “profoundly troubling” but didn’t take any responsibility for trying to ferret out the doctor’s behavior nor explained why he wasn’t removed from the position.
He said the plan would overhaul the school’s ethics program and a new presidential commission on improving campus culture. In a statement, Nikias, a Cypriot who was graduated from the National Technical University in Athens and is known for his fundraising abilities, said he understood “the faculty’s anger and disappointment,” adding that: “I am committed to working with them as we implement this wide-reaching plan and to rebuilding their trust,” over the issue.
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 if he has an attorney.
“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, the paper said.
Noted feminist anti-discrimination attorney Gloria Allred, representing two former students, read a letter at a news conference from one 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.
“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 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.
“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 Los Angeles Times reported 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.
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.”
An electrical engineer who received his Master’s and PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo, Nikias has shot up the academic hierarchy ladder and keeps his interest in Athenian drama and democracy.
In 1991, he Nikias left Northeastern University in Boston as a professor to move to USC.Before that, Nikias was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He became a U.S. citizen in 1989. He was named USC’s President in 2010.
He is founding director of two national research centers at USC: the NSF-funded Integrated Media Systems Center and the Department of Defense (DoD)-funded Center for Research on Applied Signal Processing. The DoD has adopted a number of his innovations and patents in sonar, radar, and communication systems.
In recognition of his efforts to renew USC’s athletic heritage, The New York Times selected Nikias as one of a small number of national figures “who make sports’ little corner of the world a better place.”
Nikias was awarded the Aristeia medal, the Republic of Cyprus’ highest honor in the letters, arts, and sciences, the USC Black Alumni Association’s Thomas Kilgore Service Award, the Los Angeles Police Museum’s Jack Webb Award, and earned a commendation for cutting-edge research from the governor of California.