USC moves to fire, ban from campus former medical school dean over ‘egregious behavior’ – Los Angeles Times
Faced with mounting questions and anger on campus, USC announced Friday it was hiring an ex-federal prosecutor to investigate a report by The Times that the former dean of the universityâs medical school associated with criminals and drug abusers and used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.
âWe are outraged and disgusted by this individualâs behavior,â USC President C.L. Max Nikias said in a letter to the campus community, referring to Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, former dean of the Keck School of Medicine.
USC officials said they had begun the process to strip Puliafito of his faculty tenure and terminate him. In a separate letter to the faculty, Provost Michael W. Quick said the university had just learned about âegregious behavior on the part of the former dean concerning substance abuse activities with people who arenât affiliated with USC.â
The statements by USCâs top officials were much more strongly worded than comments they made earlier in the week.
Quick said that shift was due to evidence officials reviewed Friday.
âThis was the first time we saw such information first-hand,â Quick wrote. âIt is extremely troubling and we need to take serious action.â
He did not reveal the evidence or say how it was different from the detailed account of Puliafitoâs behavior published in The Times on Monday.
Puliafito is âbarred from our campuses and any association with USC, including attending or participating in university events,â the provost said.
Puliafito had continued to represent USC in public as recently as Saturday, when he spoke at a medical education seminar in Pasadena sponsored by the Keck School.
The Times report said that Puliafito used drugs with a circle of much younger people while leading the medical school.
âIt is crucial that we understand how these events occurred,â Nikias said in his letter.
The universityâs investigation will be overseen by Debra Wong Yang, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles and a former member of the Los Angeles Police Commission.
Yang represented USC when it faced a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against USC in 2012 by the parents of two graduate students who were slain off-campus. The suit was dismissed in 2013.
Yang’s profile page on the Gibson Dunn website says she has worked as an adjunct professor for USC’s Gould School of Law. It does not say when she taught there. She did not immediately respond to an interview request.
The law firm has close ties to USC. Its managing partner, Kenneth M. Doran, is a graduate of the USC law school and a former chairman of its board of councilors. He has also been a prominent fundraiser for the school. Gibson Dunn was cited in USC Law magazine in 2009 for achieving â100% participationâ by its lawyers in a fundraising drive. Of 28 law firms cited for their generosity, Gibson Dunn had the most USC alumni, with more than 30, according to the magazine.
Nikias said that Yang would âconduct a thorough investigation into the details of Carmen Puliafitoâs conduct, the universityâs response, as well as our existing policies and procedures.â
âAll of us must cooperate fully and swiftlyâ with the investigation, the letter said. âIt is critical we understand how and why this happened so we can do everything possible to improve our ability to prevent something like this from happening again.â
Nikias said Yang would present findings and recommendations to the executive committee of the USC board of trustees. He did not say whether the findings would be made public.
Nikias has declined interview requests by The Times, and did not respond to written questions addressing how USC handled the Puliafito affair.
On Monday, when The Timesâ lengthy investigation was published, USC announced that Puliafito, 66, had been placed on leave from his positions as a faculty member and Keck eye surgeon, and was no longer seeing patients.
Puliafito, who led the medical school for nearly a decade, resigned his $1.1-million-a-year deanâs post in March 2016, in the middle of the spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.
He did not mention that three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered. Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests.
A tip about the episode prompted The Times to investigate. The newspaper interviewed six people who said they partied and used drugs with Puliafito in Pasadena, Huntington Beach and Las Vegas, as well as at USC. They ranged in age from the late teens to late 30s. None were USC students.
Members of the group captured their exploits in photos and videos shot in 2015 and 2016.
In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, âThought Iâd take an ecstasy before the ball.â Then he swallows the pill.
In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman appears to smoke heroin from a piece of heated foil.
On Wednesday, the current medical school dean addressed angry students.
âThese allegations, if they are true, they are horrible and despicable,â Dr. Rohit Varma told the gathering of scores of medical scholars and graduate students at the Keck School of Medicine in Boyle Heights.
âHeâs a man who had a brilliant career, all gone down the drain,â Varma said. âIâm standing in this place where my predecessor now has this taint. … It is sad.â
He also said that Puliafito had sought treatment in the past for alcoholism, but that the allegations in the article that he used drugs âcame as a complete shock to us.â
At the meeting on the Keck campus, students â some wearing hospital scrubs â said university administrators should have known more about Puliafitoâs troubling behavior, including reports that he appeared drunk or otherwise intoxicated at campus events. One woman said that it âseems shocking that no one has been able to figure anything out in the last 10 years. … People are now going to be questioning our professionalism.â