After 200 faculty members called for President C. L. Max Nikias’ resignation for the University’s handling of a student health center gynecologist accused of sexual misconduct, Nikias and the Board of Trustees both released statements indicating they plan to stay the course.
The gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, is accused of inappropriately touching patients during their examinations, making comments and asking questions about their personal lives and discriminating against Chinese students unfamiliar with American gynecology practices. Tyndall has denied the allegations in statements made to the Los Angeles Times.
In a letter to the USC community, USC Board of Trustees Chairman John Mork expressed the Board’s confidence in President Nikias’ leadership and his ability to make decisions on behalf of the University moving forward.
“We strongly support President Nikias’ implementation of a thorough and comprehensive action plan that addresses these issues and enables USC to continue exemplifying our Trojan Family values as we move forward,” Mork said.
He also expressed sympathy toward those who submitted reports regarding Tyndall’s conduct while at USC.
“We have zero tolerance for this conduct and will ensure that people are held accountable for actions that threaten the university student body and that do not reflect our culture of respect, care, and ethic,” Mork wrote.
Nikias also sent a 20-page letter to the USC community detailing an action plan at the request of the Board to protect the University’s core values and mission. Primarily, Nikias announced the establishment of the President’s Campus Culture Commission to ensure that proper advice will be given to the senior leadership.
“The commission’s charge is to provide advice to the University’s senior leadership,” Nikias wrote in the letter. “Its work will be ongoing, and will begin at the start of the academic year with a half-day retreat, which will be attended by the university’s entire senior leadership, all deans, academic department chairs, directors of institutes, as well as other members of our community, drawn from both campuses.”
Overall, the plan will address an external review done by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, incorporate input from the University’s internal Task Force on Workplace Standards and Employee Wellness and implement new lessons and address areas of improvement that arose from the allegations brought forth against Tyndall and the student health center.
The action plan also includes the establishment of two new offices, the Office of Ombuds Services and the Office of Professionalism and Ethics, as well as the creation of three vice president positions for professionalism and ethics, human resources and communications.
“I think one of the positive things about the action plan is that patients, faculty, and staff have places and are encouraged to report things through normal channels and to their supervisors,” USC Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said to the Daily Trojan. “But they also know that if they have concerns that are not addressed, they have other places to go confidentially and anonymously to report those. Those concerns are taken seriously and investigated.”
With the new changes, Nikias hopes for a brighter future despite the trouble that was present this past year.
“I would like to conclude with a heartfelt reflection on the strength of our community,” Nikias wrote. “This past year, although challenging at times, has reminded all of us of the tremendous love and loyalty of our Trojan Family. As we have tackled difficult issues, our spirit, resilience, and character have shone through — time and again. We are fortunate to have each other, and we inspire one another to evince the very best qualities we have as humans, and to share those qualities with our fellow Trojans.”
The statements came shortly after 200 USC faculty members published an letter calling for the Nikias’ resignation.
“President Nikias’ own actions and omissions amount to a breach of trust,” the letter said. “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. President Nikias must step aside to allow new leaders to take the necessary steps to repair the damage.”
In the letter, the faculty expressed dissatisfaction toward the University for allowing Tyndall to quietly resign with a settlement and for not notifying the Medical Board of California, law enforcement and patients about the doctor’s alleged misconduct and abuse.
“There still has been no public report of the investigation into the two cases involving USC medical deans, nor any visible attempt to determine what University administrators knew and when they knew it, and why they waited as long as they did to take action,” the letter said. “We lament that, time after time, the administration has admitted to its failings only after being exposed by the Los Angeles Times.”
The faculty also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of communication from the University to the community and asked why USC took so long to take action.
“We call upon President Nikias to step aside, and upon the Board of Trustees to restore moral leadership to the university,” the letter said. “We also call on the Board to reaffirm the core mission of the University, ‘the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit’ . . . Restore our trust in USC by standing up for its highest ideals.”
In addition to faculty, USC alumni are calling for the University administration to be held accountable for their lack of responsibility to the USC community. Moreover, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress released a statement last Friday expressing its disappointment in the University, calling for the Board of Trustees to evaluate Nikias’ conduct.
One petition, “A Call for USC President Nikias’s Resignation,” was created last Thursday night, and had reached 2,402 signatures at the time of publication.
Another, “Alumni Demand USC Hold Administration Accountable for Supporting Sexual Predators,” had 2,964 signatures at the time of publication, and was also created on Thursday.
The faculty letter and those two petitions refer to the allegations regarding Tyndall’s misconduct, former Keck School of Medicine dean Carmen Puliafito’s use of illicit drugs during his tenure at USC, and former Keck dean Rohit Varma, who replaced Puliafito and was promoted despite the senior leadership’s knowledge of a previous sexual harassment allegation.
“President Nikias has repeatedly proven that he does not take seriously the safety of women on USC’s campus,”one petition’s description read. “Nikias fails to provide transparency to students; his decisions have jeopardized student safety.”
Rini Sampath, a 2016 alumna and former Undergraduate Student Government president, said she created the petition calling for Nikias’ resignation.
“This case in particular enraged me, because it affected so many women on our campus, and I was seeing so many stories come forward on my timeline, and actual news articles, so I knew I had to do something,” Sampath said. “This petition is really an avenue for the entire community to express their concerns and express their disappointment in senior administration leadership. It’s meant to serve as a megaphone for every single person who wants to see real change at USC.”
The other petition was created by alumni Tiffany Panganiban and David Bocarsly, who both graduated from the Price School of Public Policy this year.
“[It] was created out of sheer frustration and disappointment at the mishandling of sexual abuse and misconduct by the USC administration and leadership over the past two years,” Panganiban wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan.
This petition also cited sexual misconduct allegations regarding former professor Erick Guerrero and former vice president of fundraising David Carrera.
The two petitions claim that University administration handled these cases of sexual misconduct inadequately, and failed to address the issues and inform the USC community in a timely manner, instead prioritizing the school’s image.
“USC has a crisis of moral leadership — there is a trend of USC administration not holding abusers accountable, instead rewarding them with financial payouts . . . not respecting the public’s right to know of dangers in the community, instead concealing vital public health information to preserve the institution’s reputation,” the alumni petition said. “Students are harmed and victimized by the very hands who ought to ensure their safety.”
Panganiban also stated that the University needs to put the safety of students first, and act proactively rather than reactively to create a zero tolerance policy for abuse of power.
By collecting signatures from fellow USC alumni, Panganiban hopes the Board of Trustees will listen to their recommendations.
“That the gross negligence from the USC leadership in hiring staff with prior background in sexual misconduct, in handling investigations towards reports of abuse and misconduct, and in executing decisions will be reviewed and amended for the benefit of the Trojan community, particularly for the safety and wellbeing of students,” Panganiban said.
TAPP President Alec Vandenberg said the organization decided to release a public statement after seeing frustrated students post about their disappointment on social media, including in the USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens Facebook group.
“We consulted amongst ourselves as an executive board of a student organization with values of tolerance and accountability, and we wanted to hold our university to the same standards, so we decided to draft a public statement that expressed those values,” Vandenberg said.
The statement released by TAPP said the incidents, and the University’s limited communication about them with the USC community, represent a “profound breach of trust” to the student body.
“We as an organization condemn the unforgivable, decades-long inaction of the executive administration of our University whose duty lies in prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of its student body,” the TAPP statement said.