Letter to the Editor: USC must face the fact that it enabled a predator for decades

We are all members of the Trojan Family. We range in ages from 21 to 53. We represent the class of 1989 through the class of 2021. We have earned our degrees and built our careers in science, law, health care, business, media and nearly every other field of endeavor. We are black, white, Latina and Asian. We are ’SC.

However, all of us have one more thing in common: We were sexual abuse victims of USC’s former gynecologist  George Tyndall, and we are profoundly disappointed with the University’s response to this stain on our alma mater. If you are one of us, we urge you come forward and speak out. You are not alone.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Tyndall is estimated to have treated more than 10,000 Trojan women during his 27-year career as the only full-time gynecologist at the Engemann Student Health Center. Hundreds have now filed complaints alleging sexual abuse and mistreatment by Tyndall and more than 300 have filed lawsuits against the University.

These lawsuits tell a story of a university doctor using his position of trust to sexually assault, molest, photograph and terrorize his female patients for nearly three decades. They tell another story that is equally disturbing. The University routinely ignored complaints made about Tyndall to nurses and University employees dating back to 1989. Had that not been the case, none of us would have met Tyndall.

The University has acknowledged investigating Tyndall in 2013 and again in 2016. According to a 2018 report by the Senior Vice President for Administration, in 2013 “numerous witnesses were interviewed, including student health leadership, clinical supervisors, medical assistants and nurses.” The Office of Equity and Diversity concluded that there was insufficient evidence to find a violation of University policy. The 2013 interviews yielded mixed opinions of Tyndall with some witnesses stating that they “loved him” and others describing him as “creepy.”

The in-house 2016 investigation concluded that Tyndall violated University policy on harassment by making racist and sexually inappropriate comments to his patients during exams, but concluded that while his practice of penetrating patients with ungloved hands was “outdated and not current standard of care,” it was not criminal. They did not report  Tyndall to law enforcement or to the state medical board. Instead, they simply paid him to leave.

All of this was hidden from the public and the USC community until it was revealed by the Los Angeles Times in May. The University’s first response was to attempt to contain the scandal by encouraging students to report complaints about Tyndall to a USC-sponsored hotline. We later learned that these complaints went to University officials who collected information but did not directly report these crimes to law enforcement.

As the publicity about the scandal grew, the University responded by firing two supervisors in the student health center. When faculty members demanded the resignation of former president C. L. Max Nikias, the Board of Trustees issued a strong statement of full confidence in Nikias’ “leadership, ethics and values.” Three days later, Nikias announced his intent to resign amid outrage from students, faculty and alumni. Two months later, it was announced that Nikias would be named “President Emeritus and Life Trustee of the University.”

In the face of this turmoil, the silence of the Board of Trustees has been deafening. Is it that the male majority of the Board — which includes director Steven Spielberg, real estate mogul Ed Roski, Jr., United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz and The Washington Post publisher Frederick J. Ryan, Jr. — find it difficult to imagine the vulnerability that the rest of us feel every time we endure a gynecological exam for routine health care? Or are these men truly complacent about the fact that this powerful university failed to stop a sexual predator from molesting students for nearly 30 years?

The silence of the women on the Board may be even harder to understand. It pains us to think that Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss, former congresswoman Jane Harman and philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, to name a few, seem utterly unsympathetic to the women of our Trojan Family.

Think about this. If there is truly a Trojan Family, we are USC’s daughters, sisters and mothers. We are not its enemies. It is time to change a culture that puts the financial health of a University above the physical and emotional health of its most vulnerable students. USC, by its failure to remove a known predator, enabled George Tyndall to victimize three generations of women. It is time for USC to hold predatory enablers accountable and offer compassion and healing for the survivors.

Theresa Brennan, ’94

Lucy Chi, ’14

Lisa Poole Daly, ’89

Laura Dawson, ’12

Kellyna Fox, ’17

Shernae Hughes, ’18

Christy Leach, ’94

Daceia Malone, ’96

Anna Lisa McClelland, ’16

Ja’Mesha L. Morgan, ’18

Audry Nafziger, ’92

Allison Rowland, ’97

Nicole Wensel, ’10

This letter was co-signed by 55 other USC students and alumni, ranging in class from 1989 to 2021, who wish to remain anonymous.