Possess the wrong firearm after dark just one block west of Vermont Avenue, and the Los Angeles Police Department will have you pinned to the ground before you can say, “I can’t breathe.” Serially molest hundreds of your patients from your perch as the sole full-time gynaecologist at the University of Southern California Engemann Student Health Center, and it appears the bureaucrats and billionaires who run the school will protect you for years.
By now the story has broken into national news, namely that Dr. George Tyndall stands accused of commenting on patients’ sexual potential and attractiveness while pushing his fingers inside and outside of them, specifically preying upon and grooming Chinese nationals, keeping photos of students’ genitalia, and countless other ethical atrocities. The kicker: USC allowed him to practice for decades.
Tyndall’s alleged conduct alone would constitute hundreds of instances of sexual battery. But even more horrifying than the crime is the apparent cover-up.
At every level, it appears USC abetted Tyndall’s continued sexual abuse. By at least 2013, the upper echelons of USC’s administration lost their plausible deniability defense when the Office of Equity and Diversity conducted a wildly thorough internal investigation – interviewing a grand total of one student. The office’s current director, Gretchen Dahlinger Means, claimed that Tyndall did not violate university policy, saying that “there was no there there.” Whatever that means.
Only when a nurse reported Tyndall to the rape crisis centre did Ainsley Carry, USC’s vice president of student affairs, gift the 71-year-old Tyndall with an undisclosed financial settlement and a quiet departure. Consider it a generous retirement package.
USC president C.L. Max Nikias, the famed fundraiser responsible for the $700 million monopolistic ‘Village’ for dorms and shops with $10 acai bowls, seems shocked, writing in a third memo to the student body, “I am struggling with the question – as you are: how could this behaviour have gone on for so long?” Perhaps because the Office of Equity and Diversity only responded to allegations in 2013, he was removed from student care in 2016, and he wasn’t reported to the state medical board until 2018?
Between a public petition authored by former USC student body president Rini Sampath and a 200 professor-strong faculty letter, both calling for Nikias’ removal, it seems as though the beleaguered president’s time is finally running out.
As with all of these cases, the looming, unanswerable question isn’t ‘why are certain individuals monsters?’ but rather, ‘why will hundreds of people protect a monster?’ In the case of Carmen Puliafito, the disgraced former Dean of the USC Keck School of Medicine who last year was exposed by the LA Times for smoking meth and cavorting with prostitutes and minors in his office, the reason seems obvious enough: Puliafito was really, really good at fundraising. But Tyndall was just an ordinary physician.
Just as USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University demonstrated in the case of the paedophilic Dr. Larry Nassar, rigid and hierarchical systems like modern, illiberal academia and national monopolies tend towards a sort of institutional inertia under which monsters can thrive under protection. Even private universities reap the benefits of millions of dollars of fast and loose federal funding through student loans and countless, practically unconditional federal grants. USC and MSU are extreme cases, but hundreds of universities across America have their own, internally ran law enforcement and nearly unchecked domains of power.
So long as colleges remain autocratic regimes reaping all of the benefits of government rent-seeking with none of the legal oversight that smaller private companies must endure, Nassars and Tyndalls of a smaller scale will continue to thrive. But in the meanwhile, perhaps Nikias’ obsession with money will prove his very downfall.
At Michigan State alone, Nassar abused 332 victims over the course of decades. Over 200 women have reported incidences of conduct with Tyndall to a USC hotline in the past week. At USC, Tyndall saw sometimes over a dozen women daily since the 1990s. Over 20,000 women attend USC per year. 200 victims, then, seems a bit of a low estimate. In the first 48 hours since this story broke, I discovered that I actually know a handful of his alleged victims. You do the math.
MSU has reached a $500 million settlement over the victims of Larry Nassar. For reference, USC’s entire endowment is $5.1 billion. If Tyndall’s alleged victims reach the same settlement, the administration’s negligence and complicity would cost the university a whopping 10 per cent of its endowment.
It turns out that Nassar was a very expensive hire after all. The administrations of USC and MSU may refuse to realise this when they protect predators. Perhaps, in the future, the universities’ boards will look at what should be a matter of ethics and human decency as a matter of dollars and cents. But with that I say, Nikias, Carry and Means all must go. There was ample reason to fire Nikias with the Puliafito case alone. The fish rots from the head down. Something to remember when USC asks for your dollars and your daughters.
There may be other Tyndalls or Nassars seeking university perches to prey on new victims. Let us make an example, not just of Tyndall, but of the bureaucrats who are complicit in their crimes.