LOS ANGELES, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- The University of Southern California (USC) has appointed a female engineer as interim president, replacing C. L. Max Nikias who agreed to step down immediately Tuesday amid an ongoing school gynecologist scandal.
"I am pleased to let you know that the Board of Trustees has appointed Wanda M. Austin as Interim President of USC," Rick J. Caruso, chairman of the USC board of Trustees, said in a statement.
Austin is a member of USC Board of Trustees. She is an internationally honored engineer, who was president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation from 2008 to 2016. In 2015, she was appointed by former U.S. President Barack Obama to serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and in 2016, she received the Goddard Astronautics Award, one of the highest honors of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Austin currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Chevron Corporation and Amgen.
Austin earned a PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the USC in 1988.
USC has been criticized by the public including many former and current female students for failure to protect them from repeated and pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct of the school's former gynecologist George Tyndall.
"The Board and I are committed to an ambitious, aggressive agenda for change. As I have said previously, it is evident that the recent crises have resulted from systemic and cultural failures. Both the behavior and the environment that allowed it to persist are inexcusable and will no longer be tolerated. Most importantly, we must understand exactly why these failures occurred and take bold action to reform what is broken so that they never happen again," said Caruso.
Nikias agreed to step down, effective immediately, and will be moved into the role of President Emeritus and Life Trustee of the University.
"This decision follows the announcement, earlier this summer, that the Board of Trustees and President Nikias had agreed to an orderly transition and that a Special Committee of the Board would commence a search for a new president," Caruso added.
Caruso noted that the process to select the 12th president of USC is underway and the goal is to complete the search within four to six months.
Tyndall had worked as the only full-time gynecologist at the USC student clinic for 27 years. Complaints about his repeated misconduct toward his young female patients started in early 1990s, including improperly photographing students' genitals, touching women inappropriately during pelvic exams and making sexually suggestive remarks about their bodies.
Two hundred professors at USC called upon Nikias to step aside in May, saying he "has lost the moral authority to lead the University, and in addition, to lead the investigation of institutional failures that allowed this misconduct to persist over several decades."
Hundreds of former and current patients are now suing the USC over its alleged failure to prevent sexual abuse by Tyndall. According to Deng Law Center based in Los Angeles, three former Chinese students joined lawsuits against the university.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some colleagues of Tyndall feared that the gynecologist was targeting the university's growing population of Chinese students in recent years. Those Chinese students often had a limited knowledge of the English language and American medical norms. The Consulate General of China in Los Angeles expressed its serious concern over the scandal, requesting the university take serious steps to investigate the issue and protect Chinese students from illegal acts.
The USC is a leading private research university located in Los Angeles in the U.S. state of California. A total of 45,500 students were enrolled in the 2017-2018 academic year, including around 5,400 from China's mainland.