LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. Department of Education said Thursday it found systemic failures in the University of Southern California’s treatment of allegations of sexual abuse by a longtime campus gynecologist and ordered the school to overhaul its procedures for preventing sex discrimination and to conduct a formal review of how employees responded.
“This total and complete failure to protect students is heartbreaking and inexcusable,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.
Dr. George Tyndall, who treated USC students for nearly three decades, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office regarding 16 patients. Civil litigation involves thousands of former patients.
“What we have found at USC is shocking and reprehensible,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus. “No student should ever have to face the disgusting behavior that USC students had to deal with.”
The Education Department said its Office of Civil Rights and the university have entered into an agreement calling for sweeping changes in its enforcement of Title IX, the law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal funding.
Those changes include ensuring that USC’s Title IX coordinator and office have independent authority to respond to reports of sex discrimination, track every complaint or report of potential sex discrimination, and provide documentation of such reports and complaints.
Among other measures, the university must also make efforts to contact current and former patients as well as former employees who may require remedies to sex discrimination, and a review must be conducted to determine whether current and former employees took appropriate action when there were complaints about Tyndall.
Also, students, employees and trustees must be trained about sex discrimination, and health center employees must receive specialized training. The university must allow compliance monitoring for three years, according to the agreement.
“There is no higher priority for me than protecting the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and patients,” USC President Carol Folt said in a statement. “I will continue to work diligently to restore trust in this institution and build a strong foundation of integrity and accountability."
She also said the school wants to foster a campus environment free from discrimination and harassment.
Tyndall resigned from USC in 2017 and allegations against him became public in 2018 through a Los Angeles Times investigation.
The Education Department said it found that USC had notice of possible misconduct by Tyndall involving patients as early as 2000 but it failed to investigate or take action.
The department also found that patients and staff complained that Tyndall made inappropriate remarks about patients’ bodies while conducting pelvic examinations and that USC failed in 2016 to investigate complaints that he conducted those examinations without gloves.
Among other findings, the department found that the university permitted Tyndall to continue seeing patients for a day and a half after hundreds of photographs of patients’ genitals were found in his office in 2016.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge approved a $215 million class-action settlement between USC and about 18,000 women who saw Tyndall at the university. Payments would range from $2,500 to $250,000, with specific sums decided by a panel of experts.
Hundreds of women have opted out of the federal court settlement and many are pursuing separate lawsuits in state court.