USC disputes Los Angeles Times’ fundraising allegations

The USC administration has rebuked a story published by the Los Angeles Times in early February alleging that the University, frequently cited for its large-scale fundraising efforts, experienced a significant decrease in donations from July to Dec. 2017.

Graphic by Karan Nevatia | Daily Trojan

The Times reported that donations to the University were down $100 million, or 22 percent, when compared to the same six-month period in 2016. According to the article, donations for the Keck School of Medicine at USC were affected the most, raising only 45 percent of the funds it was able to procure in the previous year.

This decline was attributed by the Times to a previous report they published on former Keck dean Carmen Puliafito. The report alleged that Puliafito used methamphetamines while associating himself with criminals. During the time of his alleged drug use, Puliafito had been seeing patients.

The USC administration questioned the legitimacy of the Times’ report on fundraising.

“The story in the LA Times is factually incorrect,” said Albert Checcio, USC senior vice president of university advancement. “There has been no lapse in fundraising.”

Checcio called the report a disservice to the USC community.

He said that examining donations received by the University over a six-month period, which does not end until June 30, is methodologically flawed.

“You have to look at the full 12-month period,” Checcio said. “It’s really disingenuous to take a snapshot in time and try to fit it to a certain narrative … Even if we just look at that six month snapshot, it’s still unfair because it’s a 12-month year.”

However, the Times stated in an email to the Daily Trojan that their reporting was accurate.

“We stand behind our reporting,” a Los Angeles Times spokesperson wrote. “The story was based on USC’s own internal accounting of fundraising during the first half of the fiscal year, which shows the shortfall during that period.”

Checcio described fundraising as a continuum that could not be accurately measured on a fixed interval, referring to President C. L. Max Nikias’ “Campaign for USC” in 2011, which aimed to raise $6 billion in donations by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

The initiative, according to Checcio, hit its goal nearly 18 months ahead of schedule and has raised over $6.6 billion in funds as of last month.

USC was ranked fifth among universities in 2017 in terms of total revenue raised from fundraising, behind Harvard, Stanford, Cornell and MIT.

“I’m really confident that overall fundraising to the University will be the same as last year,” Checcio said.

Despite the funds generated by Campaign for USC, some argue that the administration’s handling of the scandal involving former Keck dean Carmen Puliafito has put a damper on fundraising efforts.

Much of the Times’ report on Feb. 7 focused on the role Puliafito played in securing donations for the University, and on the resulting dissatisfaction of some alumni in the wake of the administration’s handling of the incident.

While Checcio said that Keck experienced a decrease in donations over the six-month period examined by the Times, he said the decrease was not due to the findings regarding Puliafito.

“Carmen Puliafito was fired a year before [this period], he was not a factor in our fundraising,” Checcio said. “He was never a fundraising star at all here, none of those gifts had anything to do with him.”