The University of Southern California is taking steps to terminate a former dean who is said to have engaged in illicit drug use during his tenure at the university, the administration announced in two letters on Friday.
Carmen Puliafito, who served as dean of the Keck School of Medicine for almost a decade, is now suspended from his position as a faculty member at the university and is barred from setting foot on campus or participating in university events, USC Provost Michael Quick announced in a statement posted online.
The letter comes after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that Puliafito was using hard drugs like methamphetamines and ecstasy and keeping company with prostitutes and criminals while still working at the university, including in his office on campus.
“Today, we were provided access to information of egregious behavior on the part of the former dean concerning substance abuse activities with people who aren’t affiliated with USC,” Quick said in the letter. “This was the first time we saw such information first-hand. It is extremely troubling and we need to take serious action.”
Although Puliafito resigned his position as dean in March 2016 — 10 days after USC allegedly received a call notifying the university that Puliafito was engaging in drug use — he remained on the faculty and continued to represent USC at official events. It is unclear whether he continued to see patients, though he remained on the USC Roski Eye Institute website as a practicing doctor until Monday.
A statement provided by USC on Monday said that Puliafito was on leave from his position at USC and not seeing patients.
The Times investigation found that Puliafito was present when Sarah Warren, who met the dean while working as a prostitute, overdosed on the “date-rape drug” GHB in a Pasadena, Calif. hotel room in March 2016. Ten days later, an anonymous witness placed a call to USC President C. L. Max Nikias’ office alerting him of Puliafito’s involvement. USC has not confirmed that this phone call took place, but in his letter on Friday, Quick said that the university “needed actual facts” and could not act on “allegations and hearsay.”
A separate letter sent by Nikias to the USC community on Friday that USC has hired an outside attorney to look into the matter.
The attorney, former Los Angeles federal prosecutor Debra Wong Yang, will investigate “the details of Carmen Puliafito’s conduct, the university’s response” and USC’s policies and procedures, the letter says, and she will present her findings to the USC Board of Trustees. Nikias said the USC community must “cooperate fully and swiftly” with the investigation, and that the administration aims to understand what happened to prevent it from happening again.
“We are outraged and disgusted by this individual’s behavior,” Nikias said in the letter. “It runs counter to our values and everything for which our university stands.”