USC President To Resign Amid Sex Abuse Scandal

Posted at 8:15 AM, May 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-26 08:15:12-04

LOS ANGELES (NBC News) — The president of the University of Southern California, C.L. Max Nikias, agreed to resign late Friday amid criticism of the school’s handling of a scandal involving the campus gynecologist, who is accused of sexually abusing students over a nearly 30-year stretch.

In a statement, the executive committee of USC’s board of trustees said, "We recognize the need for change and are committed to a stable transition."

The gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, was accused of going far beyond his medical duties during exams at the student health service center. Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, 200 professors signed a letter calling for Nikias’ resignation. The professors accused Nikias of having been tone-deaf and of having failed to grasp the scope of the damage the scandal was doing to the university. The board responded then by defending Nikias’ handling of the scandal, which has already led to at least 11 lawsuits. Around 300 people have called a hotline set up by the university where former patients could report complaints, a university spokesperson said earlier this week.

On Friday, the board signaled that it had changed its mind. "We have heard the message that something is broken and that urgent and profound actions are needed," the executive committee said.

Attorney John Manly, who represents 10 women in lawsuits against USC and who said he has received calls from 70 of Tyndall’s former patients in just four days, welcomed the news.

"It’s certainly overdue and I’m gratified,” he said in a phone interview Friday evening. “Now the hard part comes. It’s not just him [Nikias]. There were others involved. And whether they were enabling Tyndall or involved in this settlement, they have to go. And then USC needs to accept responsibility. If USC is a family, these are our daughters."

Manly is a USC grad who negotiated a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Manly’s law firm said it currently represents more than 80 alleged victims of Tyndall.

The university had been made aware of Tyndall’s transgressions multiple times over the years but took no action. Last year, USC quietly paid him to leave without reporting him to California’s medical board.

"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," the faculty letter from earlier this week reads.

Nikias, reacting to the faculty letter, said in a statement on Tuesday, "I understand the faculty’s anger and frustration. I have always encouraged our faculty to express their views and opinions on issues of critical importance."

On Wednesday the executive committee of USC’s board of trustees announced the hiring of outside counsel to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Tyndall. The same day the school’s academic senate called on Nikias to resign.

The scandal followed revelations last summer that the former dean of USC’s medical school had allegedly used drugs on campus and, later, partied with a young woman who overdosed in a motel. The woman survived.

Dr. Carmen Puliafito was the dean of the Keck School of Medicine when he resigned quietly in 2016. The resignation happened only a few weeks after a 21-year-old woman overdosed in a Pasadena hotel room he was sharing with her, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Issues with both men were known to university administrators, but little action was taken until the Los Angeles Times broke the stories.

Tyndall defended himself in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that was dated May 17 and received Thursday, the newspaper reportedFriday.

Until March of 2016, the letter says, the doctor was made aware of only one complaint — that he used bare hands during a pelvic exam. He wrote that the campus clinic’s former executive director responded by polling its medical assistants, who verified "an exam without a glove never happened."

The letter included what Tyndall wrote was positive feedback from patients he received in recent years, including one that read, "Overall Dr. Tyndall is a great doctor and a very friendly man who shows great care for his patients," according to the newspaper. "Patients sometimes fabricate stories," Tyndall wrote in the letter, according to the Times.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who said she now represents "numerous" women who allege they were victims of Tyndall, said in a statement Friday night that "It appears that U.S.C. had notice for decades that Dr. Tyndall had engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct with female U.S.C. students."

"The resignation of President Nikias is a step in the right direction for U.S.C., but until there is justice for all of the victims, U.S.C. will not be able to move forward," Allred said in the statement.