WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday an agreement with the University of Southern California that requires the school to overhaul its processes for responding to sexual assaults after the department found “systemic failures” in its response to abuse allegations against a former gynecologist, George Tyndall.
The agreement requires the university to review the actions of current and former employees involved in the Tyndall matter to determine whether they should be disciplined, and to make reasonable efforts to contact and offer remedies to nine patients who may have been harmed over Mr. Tyndall’s 31-year medical career, and possibly to others.
The school also agreed to improve training and procedures to deal with complaints filed under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The department will monitor the school’s compliance for three years.
“This total and complete failure to protect students is heartbreaking and inexcusable,” Ms. DeVos said in a statement. “Too many at U.S.C. turned a blind eye to evidence that Dr. Tyndall was preying on students for years.”
In January, a federal judge in Los Angeles signaled that he was inclined to approve the University of Southern California’s $215 million class-action settlement with former patients of Mr. Tyndall, who was charged criminally in June 2019 with 29 total counts of sexual penetration and sexual battery. If convicted, he could face up to 53 years in prison. He has denied wrongdoing.
Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said the investigation was one of the largest that the office had ever conducted. The department initiated the investigation itself, a rare step, in May 2018 based on concerns that had arisen during previous investigations at the school. Investigators reviewed 20,000 pages of documents, interviewed about 95 staff and students, and held a community meeting.
Mr. Marcus said the investigation turned up “extraordinarily egregious” facts in one of the “most shocking cases we’ve seen.” Investigators determined that the university was notified about sexual harassment since at least 2000, and that “its failure may have allowed female students to be subjected to such discrimination for more than a decade.”
They found that patients and staff complained that during pelvic examinations, Mr. Tyndall made inappropriate remarks about physical attributes; that he would conduct pelvic exams without gloves; and in 2016, that the university failed to investigate more than 200 photographs of patients’ genitals that were discovered in his office.
Carol Folt, the university’s president, said in a statement that the agreement reflected its commitment to “work in partnership” with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights “to further a culture and climate where students, faculty and staff can learn, work and thrive,” and that the university had already taken several steps to improve.
“The university is confronting its past and implementing changes necessary to inform its future,” Ms. Folt said.
The inquiry was the third large-scale Title IX investigation undertaken under Ms. DeVos. In September, the department hit Michigan State University with a record fine after finding the school failed to protect students from abuse by a former team doctor, Lawrence G. Nassar.
The same month, the department announced a resolution agreement with the Chicago public school system, after finding “widespread” failures to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct by students and staff.
The agreement comes as schools across the country await Ms. DeVos’s highly anticipated new rules for how administrators must address and adjudicate complaints of sexual harassment on campuses. On Wednesday, the department announced that it would conduct “nationwide compliance reviews” in the country’s K-12 schools where reported assaults, and schools’ violations of Title IX obligations, are on the rise.