University of Southern California President C. L. Max Nikias stepped down on Tuesday amid a sex abuse scandal involving a former campus gynecologist.
Students and faculty had been calling for Nikias’ ouster since May, when the Los Angeles Times reported that the school had allowed Dr. George Tyndall to remain on staff for decades, despite repeated sexual misconduct complaints against him.
Nikias will move into the role of president emeritus and life trustee of the university, and Wanda Austin, a renowned engineer and a member of USC’s board of trustees, will serve as interim president, the school said in a statement Tuesday.
“By working together, with passion and commitment, we will restore trust and heal our community,” Rick Caruso, trustees chair, said in the statement. “It is because of that Trojan passion and commitment that USC will light the human mind more luminously than ever before.”
A May letter to trustees signed by 200 USC professors demanded Nikias resign for “his failure to protect our students, our staff, and our colleagues from repeated and pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct.” Thousands of students and alumni have signed an online petition calling for his ouster.
Several lawyers representing women who have accused Tyndall of sexual misconduct railed against the board of trustees’ decision to keep Nikias as president emeritus.
“That’s a message that the harm Tyndall did is not serious [and] they want Max to keep raising” money, tweeted John Manly, who represents 150 women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Tyndall. “USC can’t have it both ways.”
Gloria Allred, who represents more than 35 of Tyndall’s accusers, called Nikias’ new role “a slap in the face to hundreds of female students who have alleged abuse.”
Tyndall, 71, worked at USC’s student health clinic for nearly 30 years, despite repeated accusations by students and staff that he touched patients inappropriately during exams, made suggestive remarks, and photographed students’ genitals. His behavior was particularly inappropriate toward international students from Asia, several witnesses reported.
USC suspended Tyndall in 2016 after a campus nurse reported him to the school’s rape crisis center.
An internal USC investigation found Tyndall’s behavior during pelvic exams constituted sexual harassment, but the school allowed him to quietly step down last summer with a financial payout, according to the Times. The school did not alert Tyndall’s patients and did not report him to the Medical Board of California at the time.
Several students have filed lawsuits against Tyndall and USC. Tyndall’s attorney told CNN in July that the doctor “is adamant that he engaged in no criminal conduct while practicing medicine at USC.”
USC said in its statement Tuesday that it has hired a law firm to further investigate Tyndall’s tenure at the student health center.