USC President C.L. Max Nikias says he was “saddened and upset” about recent revelations regarding the activities of former medical school dean Carmen Puliafito, and acknowledged that the university “could have done better” in handling the situation.
“It is my responsibility to ensure the trust and well-being of our Trojan family, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” Nikias wrote in a letter to the USC community. “I feel badly for all the people directly impacted by this situation. And I feel badly for all the faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, friends and supporters of this great university who work tirelessly every day to advance knowledge, educate students, care for patients and serve the community.
“As we move forward, their safety and best interests guide my actions,” he wrote in the letter Wednesday.
USC has begun the process to terminate Puliafito and strip him of his faculty tenure because of alleged substance abuse activities.
Puliafito, 66, a renowned eye surgeon, led the Keck School of Medicine for almost a decade before resigning in 2016. He remained on the Keck faculty and continued to represent the university at public events as recently as this summer.
The Los Angeles Times reported that during his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and addicts who said he used drugs with them. The paper also reported that Puliafito was with a prostitute when she overdosed on drugs at a Pasadena hotel room and had to be rushed to a hospital.
The same day as The Times report, USC said Puliafito was no longer seeing patients and was on leave. Puliafito resigned his $1.1 million-a-year dean’s post in March 2016, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.
Puliafito is under immediate suspension from the university, barred from its campuses and any association with USC, including attending or participating in university events, Michael W. Quick, the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs wrote in a memo to faculty members.
Nikias previously announced that former federal prosecutor Debra Wong Yang has been hired to look into the allegations.
In his letter on Wednesday, Nikias stressed that “the unfortunate actions of one individual in no way reflect the broader actions of the university and our thousands of faculty members and employees.
“That said, we could have done better,” he wrote. “In facing other crises, we always found opportunities to learn and ways to improve, and then emerged stronger. Dr. Puliafito’s situation is extraordinarily complex, but we should assume we cold have done better to recognize the signs and severity of his issues.”
Nikias said the university is creating a task force to study how it can improve its policies for dealing with employees’ behavior “outside the workplace that may be improper or illegal,” and for conducting investigations into such actions and “follow up on leads or anonymous reports of such employee behavior.
“We must move forward with resolve and urgency, and we must move quickly to establish the task force and begin our process of learning from the past,” he said.
–City News Service
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