LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two-hundred faculty members of the University of Southern California on Tuesday called for the USC’s top official to resign over the school’s handling of complaints that a campus health clinic gynecologist sexually abused his patients during pelvic exams.
The demand for USC President C.L. Max Nikias to step down came in an open letter from professors to the school’s Board of Trustees as USC faced a mounting tide of litigation accusing Dr. George Tyndall of misconduct and the university of complicity and negligence.
Tyndall resigned from the university last year after an internal inquiry found his pelvic examination practices were beyond accepted medical standards and that he had harassed patients.
More than 2,200 students, alumni and others at USC, one of the most prestigious private U.S. institutions of higher education, signed a separate online petition calling for Nikias’ ouster as the campus reeled from its third major personnel scandal since last year.
The university has acknowledged failing to properly act on at least eight complaints made against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014. Several former patients have filed civil lawsuits in the past two days, and one new accusation lodged in a sworn declaration released on Tuesday dates back to 1991.
A hotline and special website that USC set up recently have received about 200 more reports from concerned patients, the university said.
The Chinese government last week voiced “deep concern” over reports that many of Tyndall’s alleged victims were foreign students from China.
Tyndall, 71, could not be reached by Reuters for comment. However, in interviews with the Los Angeles Times he has denied wrongdoing and defended the efficacy of his medical exams.
The university recently brought the situation to the attention of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which referred the matter on May 9 to the Los Angeles Police Department “to investigate potential criminal misconduct,” a spokesman for the D.A. said in an email.
An LAPD spokesman, Tony Im, said on Tuesday police “have no active criminal investigation on this matter.”
Responding to the faculty letter, USC Board of Trustees Chairman John Mork said in a statement that the board’s executive committee had “full confidence” in Nikias.
Mork called the reports surrounding Tyndall “distressing.”
Nikias acknowledged the “faculty’s anger and frustration” in a statement on Tuesday, and said he was “committed to working with them” to implement a new action plan to address the crisis and to “change the culture.”
Nikias came under fire last year over accusations of chronic drug abuse by a former USC medical school dean and allegations of sexual harassment by another medical school dean.
Those scandals were cited in both the faculty letter and the online petition as evidence of Nikias’ failures as president.
“He has lost the moral authority to lead the university,” the letter said. “The university administration’s actions have been wrong at every turn.”
The letter pointed to the fact, acknowledged by USC, that the university allowed Tyndall to quietly resign last year, following the inquiry, without reporting him to the state medical board.
The university said it initially declined to report Tyndall to the medical board because he stated his intention then to retire, but USC did report him after he sought reinstatement in March.
“In hindsight, we should have made this report eight months earlier when he separated from the university,” Nikias said in a letter to the campus last week.
“It is true that our system failed, but it is important that you know that this claim of a cover-up is patently false,” USC Provost Michael Quick said in a message posted on Monday.
Several accusers who alleged Tyndall molested them under the guise of medical treatment recounted a sense of something being wrong at the time but not fully comprehending the encounters as sexual abuse until reading about other allegations in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
One USC graduate identified only as Jane Doe alleged in a sworn declaration released by her attorney on Tuesday that Tyndall had taken pictures of her genitals with a camera during a pap smear appointment, then tried to deny it, in 1991.
Eight complaints reported in the early 2000s to a former health center director, who has since died, were never brought to light until they were uncovered during the course of an investigation the university opened in 2016.
That probe was launched, and Tyndall was suspended, after a staff member at the student health center came forward with reports that he had made sexually inappropriate comments to patients.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Dana Feldman in Los Angeles; Editing by Neil Fullick