To my faculty and staff colleagues:
Since becoming provost three years ago, I have been honored to share in your successes, and those of our students. This is truly a remarkable place. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed some terrible tragedies, as well as events that have filled me with regret, shame, and frustration. This most recent event, involving a gynecologist in our student health center, in many ways has been the most difficult, because it strikes at the core of the issue of trust: trust in the leadership of the university, trust in each other, and, most importantly, trust our students place in each of us to ensure their safety, care, and well-being.
Over these past three years I have met with many of you, and you have been so kind to share with me how you feel about these events – your anger, your pain, your frustration. I have appreciated your honesty. I hope you have felt that I have been honest with you as well. And it is in that spirit that I write to you today.
First, and most importantly, I apologize to our students who were mistreated by Dr. Tyndall. Full stop. This should never happen to anyone, least of all to one of our students. I am horrified by it and disgusted that it occurred at USC. For the women who wrote or called to report their experiences, I know that I can’t possibly understand the pain this has caused them, but I recognize the courage that it took to make their reports. I want them to know that I sincerely appreciate what they have done.
We have received many emails and calls from faculty and staff angry at senior leadership. You have every right to be angry. Furthermore, I know that over the past year enough has happened to make you distrust those in leadership. I completely understand that as well. It is up to us to earn back that trust. For some of you that will take a lot; I am sure for some it is likely irreparable. Please know that I am committed to doing what I can to re-earn your trust, as is everyone in senior leadership.
That said, some of you have written, and I have seen media reports allege, that the university leadership knew about Dr. Tyndall’s misbehavior for a long time, and that we covered it up for the sake of the USC brand. This is absolutely untrue. It is unthinkable. It is true that our system failed, but it is important that you know that this claim of a cover-up is patently false. We would never knowingly put students in harm’s way.
I have also received emails about other issues raised in media reports. I feel the need to offer my thoughts briefly on these as well. Some ask about Dr. Tyndall’s targeting of Chinese (and other international) students. Although this was alleged, there is no evidence that any one group of students was affected more than others. We are carefully reviewing all complaints and have yet to find a pattern in who was affected. Others ask about why we would have entered into a settlement agreement with Dr. Tyndall in 2017. While it is difficult to accept, as settlements never sound appropriate, the reality is, given our size, structure, and due process policies, it is often the most expedient way to remove someone from the university. And, at the time we thought he had only been verbally inappropriate, as a survey of 2,500 students at the time revealed no patient complaints about his clinical practice. I have also received questions about why we did not report him to the medical board when his employment ended in 2017. No excuses. We could have reported him for his verbally inappropriate behavior and we didn’t. We reported as soon as we learned that he might be trying to practice again.
The vast majority of people I have heard from ask about how senior leadership could not have known. The frustrating truth is, we didn’t — not until 2017, when we were briefed about the OED findings of 2016. And even then the findings did not indicate the full extent of the situation. While I am not happy that it took so long to learn about Dr. Tyndall’s actions, I want to thank those who, as soon as they found this out in 2016, stopped him from seeing our student patients. Absolutely we should have known about this much sooner, and we are all going to have to work together to create a culture and structure where reporting is safer, easier, and a responsibility we all take seriously, no matter our rank or position. That has been the charge that our Task Force on Workplace Standards and Employee Wellness has been grappling with over the past year.
We have learned from previous events where our community did not feel well informed or felt that the university was not being transparent. So, we have tried to keep you updated through memos, and we have created a website detailing what we knew and when we knew it. I refer you here for the details.
We wish Dr. Tyndall’s conduct had surfaced earlier so we could have taken action sooner. I assure you that we are working to do all we can to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. In the last few days, we let go two people who had responsibility to oversee the quality of health care our students receive. We have a new director of student health, Dr. Sarah Van Orman, who is a nationally recognized expert in this area. She is deeply concerned about this matter and we promise that she will have all the resources and support she needs to provide the highest quality care to our students. Right now, she is in the process of making job offers to two first-rate gynecologists and she has our full support to revamp operations as she sees fit. Last year’s move to integrate the student health centers into our academic medical center ensures that there are even more checks and balances on the system.
There is no justification for what happened. And as you also know, this is not just an issue of a bad gynecologist, just as before it was not an issue of a wayward dean. It is about who we are as a university, and who we are as a community committed to our students, our patients, and each other. Please do not give up hope. Rather, let’s come together to have the honest difficult conversations, and to make the necessary changes so that USC becomes the place we all know it can be. This is an issue of creating a new and improved culture for everyone. The president will shortly be putting forward steps to start us in that direction, but it is only a start, and it will not work without everyone committing to doing the hard work to make it a reality.
As always, I am happy to meet with anyone who wishes to talk to me about this or any issue, both to help me better understand what we could have done, and what we can do in the future for our students, and for our university.
Michael W. Quick