Dean of Keck School of Medicine Rohit Varma resigns after less than a year


Photo courtesy of USC News.

Dr. Rohit Varma resigned from his position as dean of the Keck School of Medicine on Thursday, according to a letter from Varma to Keck staff and faculty obtained by the Daily Trojan.

“I care deeply about the Keck School and felt it was in the best interest of the school for me to step down at this time,” Varma said in the letter.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that in 2003, USC had disciplined Varma following allegations that he had sexually harassed a researcher while he was a junior professor.

USC did not confirm that the sexual harassment accusation and Varma’s resignation were related.

“Today we learned previously undisclosed information that caused us to lose confidence in Dr. Varma’s ability to lead the school,” USC Provost Michael Quick said in a statement. “Our leaders must be held to the highest standards. Dr. Varma understands this, and chose to step down.”

At the time of the alleged harassment, Varma was a 40-year-old ophthalmologist who had worked alongside Mother Teresa, according to a USC press release when he was installed as dean.

The Times reported that Varma told the woman that he had booked a single room for them to share. She said that while she protested, Varma took her phone and threatened to have her visa revoked.

Following the incident, Varma was denied an expected promotion, his salary was reduced by $30,000 and he was ordered to go through sexual harassment counseling, according to the Times. USC reached a $135,000 settlement with the woman, of which Varma paid $11,000.

In 2004, Varma’s salary reduction was removed and he was promoted to full professor the following year.

While Varma’s letter to Keck faculty and staff was dated Wednesday, Oct. 4, the letter was sent after 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5.

The Times also reported receiving a statement from the University on Oct. 4 defending Varma.

“This incident was addressed and resolved 15 years ago,” the statement read. “We carefully considered Dr. Varma’s character and qualifications before rehiring and promoting him. We remain confident in his ability to lead the Keck School of Medicine.”

Today, USC’s statement read that USC leadership had “lost confidence in Dr. Rohit Varma’s ability to lead” the medical school.

Varma had been selected to replace former Keck dean Carmen Puliafito following his resignation in March 2016. Varma began his tenure as dean in November 2016.

Last July, the Los Angeles Times reported that Puliafito had engaged in drug use while dean of Keck and had kept company with convicted criminals and an underage drug user.

According the the Times, a few weeks before his resignation, Puliafito was present at a Pasadena hotel party where a woman he had been affiliated with suffered a drug overdose.

Quick said in Thursday’s statement that he is currently working to name an interim dean and following that appointment will complete a “full national search process” to name a new dean.

“I know there are many important issues to be attended to in the near future, and I look forward to working closely with the Keck School of Medicine in the days and months ahead,” Quick said in the statement.

The Keck School is hosting an event Friday at noon in a location that had not been determined at time of publication.

Varma did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Kaitlyn Chu | Daily Trojan

  • BostonTW

    Fire. Max. Nikias. I’ve lost count of the number of scandals under his tenure. USC needs to clean house, starting at the top.

    • Kenneth E. Fraser

      Would you please douse your torches and put away your pitchforks. Change gonna come.

  • RDLA

    At this point, I’m not even surprised. Is there actually a campaign going on to undermine the reputation of the university? It would be one thing if this info was unknown to USC… But the school can’t even do a background check and make a solid, moral decision on information it is ALREADY IN POSSESSION OF. If this isn’t willful ignorance or recklessness, who knows what is… and the school wasn’t even going to do anything about it until the L.A. Times was going to out them! I’ll always be a proud alum, but it’s hard to imagine encouraging anyone to donate a dime to this place until the trash responsible for this gets taken out.

    • Kenneth E. Fraser

      To paraphrase Steve Earle, KSOM, don’t you reckon it’s time?

  • GeorgeCurious

    If this latest scandal doesn’t make USC’s Health Sciences Campus feel like a red-headed stepchild, nothing will.

    • Kenneth E. Fraser

      In The Official Ranking of US Medical Schools for 2005 KSOM placed 32nd, below the University of Minnesota Minneapolis Medical School and well below the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. On a similar survey, conducted by U.S. News, HSC placed 31st. KSOM was great once, time to be great again.

  • david

    Time for Michael Quick to go!
    He is a mediocre administrator at best, a failed leader, and an embarrassment to our school.
    At a time when we need the best of the best, we have an incompetent in the office of the Provost.

  • Kathleen Warner

    That front page scandals keep happening at USC should give the Board of Trustees pause about the direction of the university and whether degrees from USC are being devalued as a result.

  • Friend of Ron

    Quick, shut down the Greek system before anyone finds out about another SC administration problem!

  • Kenneth E. Fraser

    I find it so ironic that one ophthalmologist followed another in this high drama of leadership when a blind person could have seen this coming.