USC, still reeling from the ouster of its former medical school dean over reports of drug use and consorting with criminals and prostitutes, announced Thursday it has now removed the man chosen in January to take over the program.
“Based on previously undisclosed information brought to the university in recent days, USC leadership has lost confidence in Dr. Rohit Varma’s ability to lead our medical school. As of today, he is no longer dean of the Keck School of Medicine,” USC Provost Michael Quick wrote in a statement sent to the Los Angeles Times.
The university did not provide specifics about the “previously undisclosed information.” But the announcement came as The Times was preparing a story about a 2003 sexual harassment allegation made against Varma, then a junior professor, by a young researcher he was supervising.
In a letter to Keck School staff and obtained by the Daily Trojan, Varma said he had resigned as dean, but he did not discuss the reasons why.
“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 wrote.
According to The Times, which cited personnel records and interviews with people familiar with the investigation, the researcher in 2003 accused Varma of making sexual advances toward her at an out-of-town conference, and then retaliating against her when she reported him. The university ultimately reached a $135,000 settlement with the woman and Varma was temporarily blocked from becoming a full member of the faculty.
But Varma was kept on staff. The Times noted that the action came one month after Varma received a five-year, $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, at the time the largest grant ever given to the university’s ophthalmology department.
According to The Times, Varma received a written reprimand in 2003, noting the behavior he exhibited “is inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, reflects poor judgment, is contrary to the university’s standards of conduct and will not be tolerated at the University of Southern California.”
Despite the reprimand, Varma was promoted two years later to a full professor, The Times reported. He left USC in 2012 to chair the ophthalmology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Varma returned in 2015, when he was named chair of USC’s ophthalmology department by then-Keck School Dean Carmen Puliafito, who stepped down last year amid the allegations reported by The Times of drug use and associating with criminals.
Varma was elevated to dean of the Keck School in January following a national search.
During the ceremony, USC President C.L. Max Nikias told the crowd, “Healing, passion and hope — these words speak to the character of our new dean,” The Times reported.
According to The Times, the university issued a statement to the paper on Wednesday defending Varma and the decision to hire him as dean.
“This incident was addressed and resolved 15 years ago. 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,” the university told the paper.
–City News Service
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