Citing systemic failures in the university’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct by then-campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday it is mandating sweeping changes in USC’s Title IX procedures and subjecting the school to three years of federal monitoring.
“This total and complete failure to protect students is heartbreaking and inexcusable,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement announcing the results of the federal Title IX probe. “Too many at USC turned a blind eye to evidence that Dr. Tyndall was preying on students for years.
“We are grateful to every survivor who came forward to share their story with our (Office of Civil Rights) investigators,” she said. “Because of your bravery, we can now work with the university to ensure this never happens to another student on USC’s campus.”
Responding to the findings and resulting “resolution agreement” between the university and DOE, USC President Carol Folt said the conclusions “align with my personal resolve to strengthen USC policies, procedures and practices to promote patient well-being and prevent future misconduct.”
“The university is confronting its past and implementing changes necessary to inform its future,” Folt said. “We have already taken significant steps to better integrate our Title IX protections into the healthcare setting and to reinforce a culture of care, responsibility and accountability across all university programs and activities.”
Tyndall is awaiting trial on charges of sexually assaulting 16 patients over a seven-year period, but some former patients have alleged wrongdoing dating back decades. Hundreds of former patients have sued Tyndall and USC, accusing the university of failing to respond to allegations of abuse, some as far back as the 1980s. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Los Angeles gave final approval to a $215 million class-action settlement with some of the plaintiffs.
Hundreds of other women are still suing the university and Tyndall in state court. Attorneys for those alleged victims have criticized the federal class-action settlement, calling it inadequate.
The lawsuits contend the university received numerous complaints of Tyndall’s alleged sexually abusive behavior, dating back to at least 1988, and actively and deliberately concealed his actions. Attorneys for some former patients allege that following an internal investigation of complaints against Tyndall in 2016, the university paid Tyndall a substantial financial settlement so he would quietly resign.
USC officials have denied any cover-up.
According to the Department of Education, its investigation determined that the university was informed of possible misconduct by Tyndall toward five patients between 2000 and 2009. But the university “failed to investigate, assess whether interim measures were needed, determine whether the five patients were subjected to sex discrimination or ensure that steps were taken to prevent recurrence of the conduct and correct its effects for patients who complained and/or other patients.”
The DOE also faulted the university failed to investigate complaints that Tyndall was conducting pelvic exams without gloves and engaged in “digital penetration of patients” and conducted “full-body skin checks,” according to the federal agency.
Federal officials also said the university failed to investigate possible sex-discrimination violations after discovering more than 200 photographs of patients’ genitals in Tyndall’s office in 2016.
Under the “resolution agreement” between the university and DOE, USC will have to make a series of changes in its procedures aimed at enforcing Title IX, the federal law protecting students from sex-based discrimination.
The agreement mandates that the university:
— ensures its Title IX office has independent authority to respond to sex discrimination reports;
— ensures that the Title IX office monitors every complaint and provides the federal government with documentation of such reports;
— reach out to nine patients federal investigators identified as making complaints against Tyndall, “to offer to remedy the harm done by sex discrimination”;
— change its Title IX procedures to ensure “all involved parties receive due process, require training for students, employees and trustees regarding sex discrimination and require specialized training for health center employees”; and
— conduct a review of current and former employees to determine if they took appropriate actions after receiving complaints regarding Tyndall.
“What we have found at USC is shocking and reprehensible,” Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said. “No student should ever have to face the disgusting behavior that USC students had to deal with. I am pleased that (USC) President (Carol) Folt is now committing to major changes, and we will closely monitor the university to make sure that it complies with our agreement.”
In its statement, USC acknowledged that the investigation has helped identify needed improvements in internal communications, record-keeping to track complaints, training and collaboration between the health care system and Title IX program.
“There is no higher priority for me that protecting the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and patients,” Folt said. “I will continue to work diligently to restore trust in this institution and build a strong foundation of integrity and accountability.
“By signing this agreement, we are confirming our commitment to work in partnership with (the Department of Education) to further a culture and climate where students, faculty and staff can learn, work and thrive,” she said.