Two hundred professors at one of California’s top universities on Tuesday demanded the resignation of the school’s president over a widening sexual abuse scandal involving a campus gynaecologist who allegedly preyed upon Chinese students and others.
The faculty members of the University of Southern California (USC) said they wanted to “express their outrage and disappointment over the mounting evidence of president (C.L. Max) Nikias’s failure to protect our students, our staff and our colleagues from repeated and pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct.”
In their letter to the board of trustees, the professors said Nikias had lost the “moral authority” to lead the private university or to oversee an investigation into decades of alleged sexual abuse by George Tyndall, a gynaecologist formerly employed at the school.
“USC kept a physician in a position of power and trust who abused that power and trust to sexually assault and degrade women students, targeting for abuse the most vulnerable international and minority students,” the letter says.
“The university’s conduct is as much at issue in this case as the physician’s.”
The board of trustees, which includes top business executives and Hollywood power players, said it fully supported Nikias and his ability to implement changes needed to help the university overcome the scandal.
“The executive committee of the board has full confidence in president Nikias’s leadership, ethics and values, and is certain that he will successfully guide our community forward,” a letter states.
Last week, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy investigation detailing years of alleged sexual abuse of students by Tyndall while he worked at the school.
He allegedly often targeted minority students – including many from the university’s large Chinese student population – who were not fluent in English or unfamiliar with gynaecological exams.
On Monday, five women filed lawsuits against the university and Tyndall, with more expected to follow.
One of the women alleges that Tyndall forced his entire hand and wrist into her vagina while examining her during an appointment in 2003 and made vulgar comments about her genitalia.
Another woman details how Tyndall, now 71, groped her breasts and leered at her on what was her first appointment with a gynaecologist in 2008.
Student Chelsea Wu told the Times that during a 2016 appointment, Tyndall asked prying questions about her sex life, showed prolonged interest in her Chinese heritage and made comments about the tone of her pelvic muscle as he thrust his fingers inside her.
USC stands accused of failing to act against Tyndall despite complaints about his behaviour going back to at least the year 2000.
The lawsuits claim that the school only launched a probe in 2016 after a supervising nurse upset at USC’s inaction reported him to the campus rape crisis centre. He was then allowed to “quietly” resign in June of last year.
On Tuesday, Nikias published a 20-page action plan in response to the scandal, saying he was “truly sorry” and vowing to redress the situation.
“Whenever our university has had to deal with a major incident, our philosophy as a community has not wavered: learn from the experience and the mistakes made, and make sure we do better in the future,” he said.
The scandal comes on the heels of another similar case involving Michigan State University, which saw former university doctor Larry Nassar sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for abusing girls and women he treated.
Last week, MSU announced a US$500 million settlement with victims of Nassar, who also was the doctor for the USA Gymnastics national team.
Lawyers familiar with the USC case said it could ultimately prove much bigger than Nassar’s given the number of patients Tyndall came in contact with over almost three decades.
Tyndall could not immediately be reached for comment, but in previous interviews with the Times he denied any wrongdoing and said he had “never had any sexual urges” toward patients.