USC head steps down amid sex abuse scandal

USC head steps down amid sex abuse scandal

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Engemann Student Health Centre at USC Image copyright AFP
Image caption The gynaecologist in the case worked at the university for 30 years

The University of Southern California (USC) president has stepped down amid mounting criticism of his handling of abuse claims against a former doctor.

CL Max Nikias resigned less than a week after more than 600 faculty members signed a letter urging that he quit before classes begin this month.

Mr Nikias had agreed to resign in May, but the university appeared to fast-track the process on Tuesday.

USC is facing lawsuits over the alleged actions of an ex-campus gynaecologist.

The lawsuits accuse George Tyndall, who worked at a university clinic for 30 years, of sexual misconduct, including groping and improper examinations.

Mr Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing.

USC Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr Nikias had stepped down, effective immediately, but would “continue to assist with the transition of the incoming president” and would move into the role of president emeritus.

As the university looks for a replacement president, board member Wanda Austin – former CEO of the Aerospace Corporation – has been named interim president.

She is the first female and first African American appointed to serve in the role.

Ms Austin was also the first female and African American president at the Aerospace Corp.

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Gloria Allred, one of the lawyers representing some of Mr Tyndall’s alleged victims told CNN it was “a slap in the face to the hundreds of female students” that Mr Nikias would remain at the university in an emeritus capacity.

The title of emeritus is often bestowed on retired academics who have been eminent at a particular university.

Other lawyers representing dozens of plaintiffs in the case echoed the same sentiment.

“A cosmetic departure 10 weeks after this was made public will do nothing to change the culture that has operated in the dark for 30 years,” attorney Andy Rubenstein told CNN.

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption Attorney Gloria Allred (left) and her client Danielle Mohazab speaking out about an alleged incident with Mr Tyndall during a news conference earlier this year.

Regarding the scandals around Mr Tyndall, the chairman said that “the behaviour and environment that allowed it to persist are inexcusable and will no longer be tolerated”.

“The Board and I are committed to an ambitious, aggressive agenda for change. As I have said previously, it is evident that the recent crises have resulted from systemic and cultural failures. “

Mr Nikias had announced his resignation in May, but remained in his role.

More than 670 concerned faculty members who believed Mr Nikias did not intend to step down signed a petition to ensure his departure, the Washington Post reported.

“Two months ago, we wrote to you to express our grave concern over the terrible episodes that have shaken the university during the last year,” the petition reads.

“We called for President Nikias to step aside to allow new leaders to heal the damage to the university, restore the trust of the community, and help us to move forward…We ask the Board to move swiftly to announce the formal resignation of President Nikias and the installation of an interim President by the time our students arrive.”

USC professor Ariela Gross told the Post: “It’s just not acceptable to go back on what was already announced two months ago. We really can’t move forward until we have new leadership.”

The university has created a new Office of Professional Ethics to ensure future issues are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.

What are the allegations?

The Tyndall case arose after the Los Angeles Times published accounts from former and current employees about his alleged sexual misconduct as a gynaecologist.

Two class actions were filed in May “on behalf of thousands of female students”.

Lawyer Howard Janet said his team’s case “centres on allegations of grossly improper pelvic exams that involved improper probing, at times without gloves, sexually charged remarks and illicit photographing of genitalia”.

A lawyer for another group taking action at USC, John Manly, said the case there also had echoes of Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving a life term in jail for sexually abusing more than 300 women and girls at the university and at USA Gymnastics.

Mr Tyndall denied wrongdoing in interviews with US media.

He left the university in 2017 after it found he had made inappropriate remarks to patients.

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