Education Dept. Penalizes University of Southern California

An investigation by the federal agency's Office for Civil Rights found the university failed to protect students from a serial sexual predator employed as a gynecologist at the campus health center.

February 28, 2020
 

The University of Southern California will make "sweeping changes" to its procedures for managing sexual assault cases under a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which investigated the university's mishandling of serial sexual abuse of students by a former campus gynecologist.

In addition to requiring USC to "overhaul its Title IX processes," the agreement with the department's Office for Civil Rights also mandates that the university "conduct a formal review of current and former employees to determine if they responded appropriately to notice of possible sex discrimination" and submit to monitoring by OCR for three years to assure compliance.

The agreement announced Thursday is the result of the investigation by OCR, which was prompted by revelations in May 2018 that George Tyndall, a longtime gynecologist at the university student health center, had repeatedly sexually assaulted women students as far back as 1989. OCR found that USC "failed to protect students" from Tyndall despite getting complaints about his behavior.

“This total and complete failure to protect students is heartbreaking and inexcusable,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release announcing the agreement. “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 OCR investigators. Because of your bravery, we can now work with the university to ensure this never happens to another student on USC’s campus.”

Title IX, the federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, protects people from sexual discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. OCR began investigating USC in 2018 to determine if it had violated the law.

"OCR investigated whether the university received notice of allegations of misconduct by Tyndall, whether the university failed to respond appropriately, and if so, whether the failure allowed any female student to be subject to continuing sex discrimination," according to the department's press release. "OCR found that the university failed to respond appropriately to notice of possible misconduct by Dr. Tyndall and that the university’s failure to respond appropriately may have allowed female students to be subjected to continuing sex discrimination. OCR also found that USC failed to maintain a recordkeeping system to identify and monitor incidents of possible sex discrimination by its employees."

Kenneth L. Marcus, assistant secretary for civil rights, called the findings “shocking and reprehensible” in a written statement included in the press release. “No student should ever have to face the disgusting behavior that USC students had to deal with.”

His office sent a 51-page letter to USC president Carol Folt outlining the findings of the investigation.

“We share OCR’s mission to foster a campus environment free from discrimination and harassment,” Folt said in a written statement. “There is no higher priority for me than protecting the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and patients. 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 OCR to further a culture and climate where students, faculty and staff can learn, work and thrive.”

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