The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights visited USC Wednesday to discuss the University’s response to complaints about former health center gynecologist George Tyndall. Following a one-hour community meeting, OCR reserved two hours for private discussions with students regarding the sexual assault allegations.
Over 300 women have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Tyndall during his tenure at USC, since revelations of his alleged misconduct were first made public in May. Tyndall was a gynecologist at USC for nearly 30 years.
The OCR is investigating USC’s compliance with Title IX, which prohibits educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment.
Laura Faer, the regional director of the OCR office in San Francisco, started the meeting by speaking about OCR’s role in the investigative process. The investigation began on May 24, and concerns whether USC failed to respond promptly and equitably to notice of the harassment, and if they allowed any student to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment after being notified of the harassment.
“We do not represent the complainant, and we do not represent the institutions who have alleged to have been engaging in discrimination,” Faer said. “During the investigation, as I discussed before, OCR is a neutral fact-finder.”
Following Faer’s short presentation, three people testified publicly to nearly 30 people and the media.
Mark Malan, a member of the staff assembly and an accountant in the Provost’s office, spoke on his experience with the “culture of silence” at USC.
“I’m here to admit my guilt for not speaking out publicly on matters like this,” Malan said. “As staff at USC, we all know someone who knows something, who should step forward and speak, but we also know that they don’t. Because anyone who does, gets fired.”
Malan argued that the University should abolish the arbitration agreement it forces employees to sign, which prevents staff members from suing USC.
Malan said he believes USC equates legal actions with ethical behavior, which allows the University to discriminate systemically.
“So I hope that part of OCR’s recommendation, to free the staff from the bonds that we are in, will be that the University needs to eliminate the arbitration agreement immediately,” Malan said. “Because otherwise, all of this is just going to happen again.”
Dana Loewy spoke about her experience with Tyndall in the early 90s. She thanked OCR for conducting the investigation, and said she hoped there was more time being dedicated to this investigation than just the three-hour period reserved.
“This is nothing short of scandalous,” Loewy said. “USC is guilty of maintaining a culture of silence and secrecy.”
Loewy believes Provost Michael Quick and president emeritus C. L. Max Nikias should both step down from the University.
Alumna Annette Richardson said that when she entered the University in the Fall of 2000, she needed a referral from Tyndall for an off-campus gynecologist. She called the encounter “the most uncomfortable exam” she had ever had.
“At the time I was young, I didn’t know what else to do other than just go along with the visit,” Richardson said. “It felt like I was being molested by an unwanted sexual predator.”
Richardson said she was extremely uncomfortable, in pain, and felt humiliated during the exam. After the appointment, she told the nurse what had happened.
“She said, ‘That’s just how Dr. Tyndall is,’” Richardson said. “I’ve met women that have had horrible things happen since my visit, and it could have been prevented.”
Following the testimony, the OCR began its two-hour session of 15-minute meetings with those who had signed up to speak to them. The investigation is ongoing.
“The reason that I’m here is I want to stand up for anyone that has been abused through this system,” Richardson said. “We need to make changes so this doesn’t happen to anyone in the future.”