Ariela J. Gross
In October, the scandal erupted at the University of Southern California – again. This time around, it’s allegations of drugs and sexual assault at the Sigma Nu fraternity’s home that the administration was aware of for nearly a month before warning other potential victims.
During this long silence, another student reported another assault there.
If this sounds familiar to you, it should. In 2018, under chairmanship of CL Max Nikias, the LA Times revealed that George Tyndall, a gynecologist at the Student Health Center, was accused of assaulting female students for three decades, despite numerous complaints from students and nurses, and despite an investigation by USC’s Title IX office that found “there was no ‘there’ there. “
USC let the doctor continue to treat the students. The accusations keep growing. The university eventually gave him severance pay and allowed him to leave quietly.
For years, authorities failed to alert medical authorities, police, or prosecutors, nor did they notify USC students or former patients. The USC administration actually seemed unwilling to know the truth.
But, you might ask, wasn’t the ship righted after that?
In the days after the LA Times story in May 2018, a group of 200 faculty members signed a letter demanding Nikias resign. (I drafted the letter with a small group of my colleagues.) The next day, the board announced that it had hired a prestigious law firm to investigate the fiasco and that its report would be made public.
Nikias resigned at the end of the summer. The council also promised to make public the investigation reports into previous administrative failures, including the case four years ago of a dean of a medical school who had been addicted to methamphetamine and drugs. other drugs and nearly let his young girlfriend die in a hotel room from a drug overdose.
You may not be surprised to learn that the reports on these allegations have not been made public.
In addition, several administration officials intimately involved in the moral and administrative failures remained in post for more than a year. Meanwhile, a new administration took control of USC, but President Carol Folt and Provost Charles “Chip” Zukoski maintained secrecy and denial in handling the fallout from a series of cases: involvement of multiple USC officials in confession scam, School of Social Work dean indicted for allegedly bribing millions of dollars in Los Angeles County contracts , and a doctor from the Student Health Center accused of assaulting young men.
In each case, the fallout and costs will affect USC faculty, staff, and students for decades to come. I hate the word “scandal” because it conjures up something slightly salacious and even sexy.
The truth is, the USC administration’s ethical failures, including cover-ups, have been tragic, not sexy. Yet this administration continues to cover up rather than tell the truth.
The USC community needs campus leaders to bluntly admit mistakes, investigate failures, and report the results of those investigations. Instead, we get distractions and euphemisms.
Recognized ethics experts McKinsey & Co. have been on campus for two years advising the president on improving the “culture” of USC, among other things. Yes, you read that right: the consultants known for their role in the opioid crisis and immigrant detention centers, and for their involvement with Enron. And the centerpiece of that effort, called USC’s “Culture Journey,” consisted of polls and focus groups to generate six sentences to articulate USC’s “values,” after which the university holds panels. to talk about these values.
These polls and focus groups revealed that many groups on campus, especially full professors, felt alienated and outraged by failures in integrity and ethics, lack of openness and decision-making. imperial from the top. But the administration persisted in treating its problems as large cultural problems for which others are responsible.
In the meantime, USC has failed to deliver on the minimum commitment it made following the legal settlement it reached with some of Tyndall’s accusers and a separate settlement with the Civil Rights Division. from the United States Department of Education. Both regulations required USC to agree to a series of best practices to reform its protocols for preventing sexual assault on campus. The university has dragged its feet and implemented only a few so far.
The new – and newer – administration could have used this crisis as an opportunity. Even if he wanted to bury the past, he could have prepared for a brighter future by passing reforms to make USC an exceptional campus for sexual assault and prevention.
Instead, we don’t even have a place for survivors to go after an assault to gather evidence with a rape kit. Rather, they have to drive to Santa Monica.
This brings us to Sigma Nu. Members of the USC community discovered the alleged rapes at the fraternity through a daily “crime alert” email from the Department of Public Safety on October 21, weeks after officials with the administration have been alerted. When the LA Times highlighted this disclosure and reported on the allegations, and after the students began to protest, the Marshal sent a letter to faculty and staff warning us not to “make assumptions” about “organizations that use Greek letters in their names “or” live in the same area or residence where the events may have occurred.
Instead, he asked faculty and staff to take responsibility for supporting our students in the face of sexual assault and violence. Once again, understatement and denial are the order of the day.
My students, professors and fellow staff are some of the best, hardest working and most ethical people I have ever known. Indeed, one of the positive points for me of my involvement in protesting against the actions of the university administration during the last years as president of the Concerned Faculty of USC has been to know them better.
But the culture of the USC administration is rotten from above. What will it take for this to change?
Ariela J. Gross is professor of law and history at USC. This commentary originally appeared in the LA Times.