USC president steps down in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal

University of Southern California President C. L. Max Nikias, seen here in May 2017, resigned Tuesday.

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

University of Southern California President C. L. Max Nikias resigned Tuesday in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal involving a campus gynecologist, in which school administrators faced criticism, they ignored decades of complaints.

Nikias, who had been president since 2010, agreed to relinquish his role of “immediately”, but is president emeritus and a life trustee of the school, according to a letter to teachers, students, and alumni of the supervisory Board President Rick J. Caruso.

Trustees hope to find his successor within four to six months, Caruso said.

Wanda M. Austin, who is a member of the board of directors, was appointed interim president.

“She is a professional of impeccable integrity and character,” Caruso wrote.

Austin has a USC engineer and became president and CEO of her own company, The Aerospace Corp. She is a former member of the Chairman of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and is currently in the boards of directors of Chevron, and Amgen, according to Caruso.

Austin is “a strong supporter of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines as well as for minorities and women,” he wrote.

Nikias, 65, agreed in May to step down at a date to be determined. He and the school faced with the accusation that they ignored decades of complaints against Dr. George Tyndall, a gynaecologist who worked in a university for 30 years.

Tyndall, who is now retired, is the focus of about two dozen lawsuits and a police investigation into allegations involving at least 50 women.

The lawsuits allege Tyndall routinely made crude comments, took inappropriate photos and forced plaintiffs to strip naked and groped them under the guise of a medical treatment.

Nikias also came under fire after reports in the Los Angeles Times that USC medical school dean Dr. Carmen Puliafito associated with criminals and people who used drugs, and was captured on video apparently smoking methamphetamine.

Puliafito gave up his post in 2016, but remained a member of the faculty to USC fired him last year.

In his letter, Caruso promised reforms.

“As I have said previously, it is clear that the recent crisis is the result of systemic and cultural shortcomings,” he wrote. “Both the behavior and the environment that has allowed to remain are inexcusable and will no longer be tolerated.”

Caruso said a law firm hired in May to investigate the Tyndall allegations had interviewed more than 100 witnesses and gathered 4.5 million documents.

He also noted that the school has a newly established Agency for Professional Ethics monitoring and investigating complaints.

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