USC to form task force in response to former Keck dean scandal

Nikias said in the open letter to the USC community that the University “could have done better” in the handling of the Puliafito incident.

USC will form a task force led by Provost Michael Quick and Senior Vice President of Administration Todd Dickey to address how to better investigate and confront employee misconduct, President C. L. Max Nikias wrote in a letter to the USC community on Wednesday.

This comes following last week’s Los Angeles Times report detailing the misconduct of former Keck School of Medicine dean Carmen Puliafito, which included drug use, partying and association with criminals.

“As a result of this recent incident, it is clear to us now that the University currently has only loosely defined procedures and guidelines for dealing with employee behavior outside the workplace that may be improper or illegal and has the capacity to affect USC,” Nikias said.

Also in the letter, Nikias admitted that the University could have done better in investigating and responding to the matter.

“In facing other crises, we always found opportunities to learn and ways to improve, and then emerged stronger,” he said. “Dr. Puliafito’s situation is extraordinarily complex, but we should assume we could have done better to recognize the signs and severity of his issues.”

In a statement released on Friday announcing that USC has begun the processes necessary to terminate Puliafito and strip him of his tenure, Provost Michael Quick alluded to new evidence reviewed by USC officials that led to the decision.

“This was the first time we saw such information first-hand,” Quick wrote.

The Times also reported that two employees in Nikias’ office received an anonymous tip detailing Puliafito’s involvement in a drug overdose incident that occurred in March 2016 — just 10 days prior to Puliafito’s resignation. In response, a spokesman for USC told The New York Times the tip never reached senior administrators.

USC announced Friday they are moving to terminate Puliafito and strip him of his tenure. | Photo courtesy of Keck School of Medicine

On Sunday, the Times ran a follow-up story, claiming that they had approached the University with questions about Puliafito’s conduct for more than a year prior to going public with the story, but with no response.

It is unclear when senior administrators first became aware of Puliafito’s conduct, but it has been a question raised in the days following the LA Times investigation. In light of the incident, the University has faced scrutiny from students, parents and faculty for its seemingly slow response.

Though the University did not provide a comment in the initial Times report, USC has released a series of statements in the week since it was published announcing actions taken in response to the allegations.

In separate statements released by Quick and Nikias on Friday, it was announced that Puliafito has been barred from campus while the University begins termination proceedings, and also that an independent investigation has been launched into the incident by hired outside firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

1 reply
  1. Max Slavkin
    Max Slavkin says:

    As an alum, this make me so sad. Not just what this one guy did, but the university’s failure to seriously look in the mirror at what’s happening. So much of the problem, from sketchy sports deals to out of control behavior on the row to this, seems to be a widespread culture of privilege and insularity from leaders who are almost all wealthy old white guys, and creating a task force that’s exclusively more old white guys doesn’t seem to acknowledge the level of change SC needs :( Here’s for more people in charge who look more like the trojan student body, and not like a mad men episode.

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