Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss sexually abused at least 177 students throughout his 20-year tenure, and university officials repeatedly failed to investigate or act on complaints about his conduct from as early as 1979, according to a long-awaited report released Friday morning.

When the university did undertake a limited investigation into the now-deceased doctor's conduct in 1996, Strauss pushed back. 

>>For complete coverage of the Ohio State investigation into Dr. Richard Strauss, go to Dispatch.com/Strauss

"Strauss persisted in protesting his removal from Athletics and Student Health," and threatened to take legal action against the university and a student, according to the report's executive summary.

Ohio State released the 180-page investigative report from Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie more than 13 months after it announced the first allegations against Strauss. The investigation included interviews with more than 500 individuals. 

Perkins Coie was asked to evaluate the sexual misconduct allegations against Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, as well as determine whether the university had knowledge of such allegations.

Investigators found that university personnel had knowledge of Strauss' "sexually abusive treatment" of male student-patients as early as 1979, but "complaints and reports about Strauss' conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health until 1996."

The abuse ranged from subtle acts "masked with a pretextual medical purpose," to the overt, such as "fondling to the point of erection and ejaculation," the report's summary said.

Despite early and repeated complaints about Strauss' misconduct, he continued serving as an assistant professor in the College of Medicine. By 1980, he was associate director of the Sports Medicine program, and  joined the athletics department shortly after, where he worked at a sports medicine clinic located within Ohio State's Student Health Services department.

Over the years, his responsibilities as a team physician expanded beyond the teams based out of Larkins Hall, where he was known to shower with male students, to teams in other facilities across campus, including the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ernie Biggs Training Facility, and St. John Arena, the report summary said.

Strauss' behavior was not reported to law enforcement. The state medical board received a complaint about Strauss in 1996, but did not take disciplinary action, according to available records.

The doctor retired from Ohio State in 1998 and was granted an emeritus designation. The university has initiated the process to revoke Strauss' emeritus faculty status.

“On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse,” Ohio State President Michael V. Drake wrote in a university-wide message Friday. “Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable — as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members."

“The findings of the report have shaken us to our core,” Ohio State Board of Trustees Chairman Michael J. Gasser said in a news release. “The university is committed to supporting the safety and well-being of our entire community. The lessons of the past will continue to inform our efforts today and well into the future.”

Within months of announcing the investigation last year, hundreds of former students had reported they'd been abused by Strauss.

The investigation received increased national attention last July, when a number of former Ohio State wrestlers accused U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, of knowing about the abuse by Strauss. Jordan, who was an assistant wrestling coach at the university from 1986 to 1994,  repeatedly said he knew nothing about the abuse.

The report's release came a day after a federal judge denied Ohio State's request to include certain confidential information from a 1996 State Medical Board investigation into Strauss, writing that the matter was not for him to decide because the university's request did not pertain to using material from the probe as evidence in judicial proceedings.

Three lawsuits filed by former Ohio State students who said they were sexually abused by Strauss remain pending in U.S. District Court in Columbus. Ohio State officials said they "will continue to work with these survivors and through any process outlined by the court."

On Thursday, lawmakers introduced a bill in the Ohio House of Representatives that would grant victims of sexual abuse by a university physician during the years of Strauss' tenure the ability to bring civil action against the university, effectively removing the statute of limitations for such abuse.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has been investigating Ohio State’s handling of the Strauss allegations since August. The department said then that it would “examine whether the university is responding promptly and equitably to complaints and reports by former students, including allegations that employees know or should have known about the sexual misconduct and allowed the abuse to continue.”

jsmola@dispatch.com

@jennsmola