USC will take steps to terminate former Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen Puliafito and strip him of his faculty tenure after reviewing evidence of his prior drug use, Provost Michael Quick announced Friday in a letter to the USC faculty.
These steps include hiring an outside attorney to investigate the allegations against Puliafito, as President C. L. Max Nikias announced in a separate letter on Friday addressed to the USC community.
This comes after a report by the Los Angeles Times found that Puliafito had engaged in drug use, kept company with criminals and partied on campus prior to his resignation in March 2016.
Puliafito has been suspended and is barred from campus and all USC-affiliated activities, Quick said in his statement. Quick said that the University is taking these steps after reviewing evidence linking Puliafito to “substance abuse activities with people who aren’t affiliated with USC.”
Debra Wong Yang, a partner in the international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a former Los Angeles federal prosecutor, has been selected to lead the internal investigation, Nikias said in his letter. At the conclusion of the investigation, Yang will present her findings and recommendations to the USC Board of Trustees, according to Nikias.
In the letter Nikias said he was “outraged” and “disgusted” by Puliafito’s behavior while at USC.
“It runs counter to our values and and everything for which our university stands,” Nikias said.
Nikias encouraged all staff members and faculty to cooperate fully with the investigation in order to understand why the events surrounding Puliafito occurred and to prevent them from happening again.
“In this instance, we will look to improve the ways in which we could have recognized the severity of the situation sooner,” Nikias said.
The University said in a statement on Monday that Puliafito is on leave from his positions at USC and is no longer accepting patients. It remains unclear whether Puliafito continued to see patients at the Keck School of Medicine’s Roski Eye Institute after he resigned from his post as dean in March 2016.
His resignation came 10 days after a female companion overdosed on the illicit drug GHB in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The Times story stated that an anonymous witness called USC after the overdose to alert Nikias of Puliafito’s involvement, citing phone records that show a six-minute phone call was placed to the president’s’ office on March 14. The University has not confirmed the existence of this phone call, but Quick said in Friday’s letter that the administration “needed actual facts” and would not act on “allegations and hearsay.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to account for the release of a second letter from the USC administration concerning former Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen Puliafito.