Letter to the Editor: Health center gynecologist scandal should not have destroyed Nikias’ reputation as USC president

It disappoints me that a reporter who should be devoted to truth, law faculty who should be devoted to justice, and other faculty who should support the rights of all in the University family to a fair hearing, would participate in a rush-to-justice takedown of USC President C. L. Max Nikias, sans due process — and before facts were in — including what was known by whom, when.

Regarding the Puliafito scandal, it is unclear why any believe that a University president ought to have investigated the actions of a faculty member — with a consenting adult, off University grounds, on his private time. Salacious though the details may be, such misbehavior — since outside the realm of employment — is a matter not for the employer but the police — until a criminal conviction occurs. Few would approve an environment in which employers were in the business of investigating the private lives of their personnel. Why was this not pointed out?  

The behavior of former Engemann Student Health Center gynecologist George Tyndall, is the business of USC. Yet, I am perplexed by the pitch of vitriol directed at the president. And why now when Nikias already removed the offending party  a year ago?

He did so before the scandal, not because of it.  Unless someone has sound evidence that Nikias himself was aware of the gravity of the claims and flagrantly rejected action, he is not the guilty party.

Given that the gynecologist denied wrongdoing, paying him to go quietly was the expeditious means to ensure his removal. Anything else carries risks: There is always a chance he could prevail in an employee hearing. He could contend that looking at, feeling, and talking about patients’ private parts is part of the job description; what is at question is how he went about it. And for that, he might cite different norms from when he trained in his field.

It perplexes me that Nikias has been singled out for opprobrium in both cases, without evidence presented to justly place him at fault in either. Why are the most negative motives imputed? Why are moderating considerations omitted? Is it reckoned good journalism to topple a leader, whether or not they merit it? I wonder if the Los Angeles Times — or its reporters — has a hidden agenda.

As I understand, Nikias fired two supervisors who failed to report the problem up the chain. He crafted an approach, so in the future, disgraceful actions could not be kept from those high in the administration — a centralized place to report ethics complaints. His solution would defend against such problems in the future. However, the solution others have proposed — deposing Nikias before facts are in — would not.

Whatever the Times may urge — or law faculty who, disturbingly, spurn notions of justice and due process — I urge that other faculty and media stand firm against complicity in a bullying mob-assault.  Those who incited Nikias’ ouster — and sullied his name indelibly — with no investigation to show him culpable, have lost their own moral authority in seeking to impugn his.

 Too many seem eager to fight one wrong (the actions of Tyndall) by committing another: destroying Nikias’ reputation, career and life. Consequently, these individuals are now risking the fate of our University before any evidence has even been presented in the court of law to incriminate him.

I wish more would speak out against the rush to (in)justice, and urge facts, reason and a fair process — not vigilantism — to determine a man’s and a university’s fates.

Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph. D.

Class of 1979