Schooled Reporting on education

Campus healthcare crisis

Education | Abuse accusations spring up at college student health centers
by Laura Edghill
Posted 6/19/19, 05:05 pm

Lawsuits filed last week against Ohio State University and UCLA claim the schools did not do enough to protect students from sexual abuse by campus doctors. The accusations echo those at several other universities across the country and raise troubling concerns about the safety of students who seek care at campus health centers.

A study published in 2015 by the Journal of American College Health found that about 16 percent of students at 23 participating universities sought preventive care at a campus health center at least once a year. College students face increased health risks from stress, communal living conditions, and exposure to drugs and alcohol, according to a report released in April by Statista, a global provider of market and consumer data. Since many of these young adults are living on their own for the first time, they grapple with the added stress of navigating healthcare services independently, often for complicated conditions like anxiety, depression, and infectious diseases.

A lawsuit filed Friday against UCLA claims that gynecologist James Heaps made “grossly inappropriate and humiliating comments” to an 18-year-old student and asked “embarrassing, non-medical questions about her personal life and sex life.” Heaps also faces criminal charges of sexual battery and dozens of other complaints from student and adult patients. He denies any wrongdoing. Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, said in a statement last week that she has put together a group of experts to review policies and procedures “related to inappropriate sexual behavior in our medical centers and student health centers.”

The news comes in the wake of a scandal involving another gynecologist at the nearby University of Southern California. More than 650 women have accused USC campus physician George Tyndall of sexually abusing them during their medical visits. A federal judge last week paved the way for a $215 million dollar class-action settlement between the university and Tyndall’s alleged victims. The physician has persistently maintained his innocence, and despite being the target of one of the largest sex crimes investigations in Los Angeles police history, authorities have yet to issue any criminal charges against him.

In the Midwest, a group of alumni filed lawsuits last week against Ohio State University over the school’s handling of complaints against the now-deceased Dr. Richard Strauss. An investigation had already concluded that the doctor sexually abused 177 young men over several decades while he was a sports doctor for the university. The 16 plaintiffs, many of whom were college wrestlers, complained that Strauss molested them and even invited some of them to his home for dubious medical visits. The behavior continued despite complaints to university officials, the plaintiffs said, and the school left them in a vulnerable and harmful situation.

Also last week, Michigan State University’s former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel, was found guilty of misconduct in office and neglect of duty for failing to supervise convicted abuser Larry Nassar. The former sports physician, who is in federal prison on child pornography charges, was also sentenced in Michigan for up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of young women and girls under his care through both MSU and USA Gymnastics (USAG). Strampel is the first university official convicted in conjunction with Nassar’s case.

Whether college students need routine healthcare, treatment for a specific issue, or the more specialized care many athletes require, inexperience can foster misplaced trust as young adults learn how to communicate effectively and advocate for their medical care without parental input. Attorney and sexual abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander described that vulnerable position in her statement at Nassar’s sentencing in January 2018.

“I was confident that because people at MSU and USAG had to be aware of what Larry was doing and had not stopped him, there could surely be no question about the legitimacy of his treatment,” she said. “This must be medical treatment. The problem must be me.”

Psychology Today columnist and University of Florida psychiatrist Marcia Morris advocates for strong parental involvement in college students’ healthcare. She encourages parents to be proactive with phone calls and visits and to take practical steps like asking their children to sign the necessary release form so that they can be actively involved in their ongoing medical care on campus.

Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne (file) Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne (file) John Vandemoer at federal court in Boston on March 12

Admissions scandal sentence

Stanford University’s former head sailing coach was sentenced last week to one day in prison for his role in the college admissions scandal that exposed corruption by wealthy parents trying to ensure spots for their children at elite universities. John Vandemoer, the first defendant sentenced in the scam, apologized in court to his family, friends, the sailing team, and the university.

“A big part of my coaching philosophy has always been it’s not the mistake that defines you but rather it’s what you do afterward,” he said outside federal court in Boston. “I’m holding true to those words now.”

Vandemoer’s sentence includes credit for already serving his one day in prison, a $10,000 fine, and two years of supervised release with six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Prosecutors urged the judge to mandate a harsher sentence that would send a message to those still considering trying to game the college admissions system.

“If we fail to take these crimes seriously, if you give just a slap on the wrist instead of real punishment … we are short-changing not only the criminal justice system, but all those kids in high school who are working hard every day in an effort to improve their own lives and to get into the best school they can honestly and through hard work,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen.

U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel said that while she believed Vandemoer deserved punishment, an influx of support letters for the coach swayed her decision. She called him the “least culpable” of those charged in the massive case since he did not take any money for himself but rather directed the ill-gotten funds to Stanford’s sailing program.

Several other coaches have pleaded guilty, including former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, who is scheduled for sentencing later this week. The court cases involving the coaches who have pleaded not guilty, as well as those of numerous parents who have been charged, will unfold over the coming months. The investigation remains active with the FBI, and the case is the largest of its kind ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. —L.E.

Facebook/Texas A&M University Facebook/Texas A&M University A water tower on the Texas A&M University campus

Foreign funding fears

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether Georgetown and Texas A&M universities properly disclosed foreign gifts and contracts. Education Department officials detailed several instances in which both schools appear to be out of compliance with federal requirements that U.S. colleges and universities self-report such donations and arrangements when they exceed $250,000. Both schools operate branches in Qatar’s Education City, a lavish, 5-square-mile complex in the oil-rich Middle East nation that houses numerous satellite campuses for major U.S. universities.

Officials are also scrutinizing dealings by Georgetown and Texas A&M with Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the schools have been ordered to disclose any funding from Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE. Both schools said they take the reporting requirements very seriously will comply fully with the investigation.

Some U.S. institutions of higher education have reevaluated their ties to foreign donors in recent years amid growing concerns over the influence of ideological extremes on academic freedom. Last fall, Harvard University ended its fellowship program with the MiSK Foundation, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s charity, following the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

“When U.S. schools take money from foreign governments, the American people deserve to know about it,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who chairs a bipartisan congressional panel tasked with investigating the issue. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 06/21/2019 08:37 pm

    I suppose it makes sense. Anyone who wants to use medicine as a cover to gain accesss to women's bodies is likely to seek out a place with a lot of young women (or men, as the case may be).

  • Bill Taylor
    Posted: Sat, 06/22/2019 12:16 pm

    Another part of the problem is that the current generation of college kids is having trouble adjusting to being away from home.  As "Infants in Mortarboards" points out, the real problem with our culture and with our society is that too many college students are not nearly mature enough to leave home, never mind attend college.  No sensible lender would give them a dime to go to college, they aren't ready.