Former Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen Puliafito was the subject of various complaints during his 10 years as dean from co-workers and also received disciplinary action, according to a letter sent by President C. L. Max Nikias to the USC community on Friday and a new report released by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
Co-workers of Puliafito detail his heavy drinking, verbally abusive tendencies and low faculty morale in the latest Times report about his tenure at USC.
Many of the co-workers contacted by the Times say that they had brought forth complaints to senior administrators during the review process in 2012 at the end of his term to determine if the University would rehire him.
Despite these complaints, Puliafito was re-hired at a $1 million per year salary. Nikias declined to comment to the Times on the faculty complaints.
Detailed in the coworker testimonies include yelling matches between Puliafito and staff-members at meetings, high-ranking Keck administrators leaving due to Puliafito’s demeanor and concerns about the dean driving home drunk from work functions.
The Times reported in their initial investigation that Puliafito was often in his USC office after hours, partying with a string of criminals and drug addicts, however, the co-worker testimonies indicated that Puliafito was often absent during working hours and difficult to contact.
In the most recent of what has been a series of letters from USC administration following the Los Angeles Times investigation into the misconduct of Puliafito — which includes drug use and association with criminals and drug addicts — Nikias provided more details about when and how senior administrators found out about Puliafito’s behavior.
According to the LA Times, this letter was sent out to the USC community shortly after the Times shared evidence published in Sunday’s report with senior USC officials.
In the letter, Nikias stressed that senior administrators were not aware of any “illegal or illicit activities” at the time of Puliafito’s resignation in March 2016 — just 10 days after police were called to a Pasadena hotel room in Puliafito’s name to aid his female companion suffering from a drug overdose.
Nikias also claimed that he and other senior administrators were not presented evidence of Puliafito’s conduct until the LA Times published their report on July 17, which then caused USC to dismiss Puliafito and strip him of his tenure.
“In my view, we acted when we felt we had the information necessary to act, and then we acted decisively,” Nikias said.
The letter also stated that Puliafito seemed disengaged from his leadership duties for months prior to his resignation, resulting in Provost Michael Quick putting him on notice in November 2015. It was not until two other USC employees came forward on March 11, 2016 with questions about Puliafito’s recent behavior that Quick spoke with Puliafito for a second time, ultimately leading to his March 24 resignation. Nikias did not detail the nature of Puliafito’s behavior that led to the employees’ concerns.
Nikias also confirmed that in March 2017, senior USC officials received information from the LA Times about the overdose associated with Puliafito in the Pasadena Hotel. He stated that this information was referred to the Hospital Medical Staff, who found evidence of “no existing patient care complaints and no known clinical issues.” The LA Times has since reported that following the publication of their initial report about Puliafito, the Hospital Medical Staff has reopened their investigation.
In the initial Times report about Puliafito’s conduct, it cited a record of a six-minute phone call to Nikias’ office by an anonymous person with a tip about the Pasadena hotel incident. A spokesperson for USC told The New York Times and LA Times earlier this week that the phone call had never reached a senior administrator. Nikias reinforced this in Saturday’s letter.
“Neither receptionist found the claims or the caller credible, and so the information was not elevated and did not reach a senior administrator,” Nikias wrote. “Needless to say, we have already put into place a new system that documents and records all incoming calls to the president’s office.”
This is one of a few actions the University has announced in response to the report, amid growing frustration by the USC community at the University’s seemingly sluggish response to the investigation.
Last week, USC announced the hiring of Debra Wong Yang, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a former member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, to oversee the university’s internal investigation into the incident. According to the LA Times, Yang is also a former USC faculty member, and her firm’s managing partner is a USC alumnus and former chair of its board of councilors.
Sarah Chan and Terry Nguyen contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story has been updated to reflect new details published in a Los Angeles Times report on Sunday.