USC president: University 'could have done better' in handling former Keck School of Medicine dean Dr. Puliafito's behavior

Los Angeles-based USC President C.L. Max Nikias, PhD, issued a second letter to the campus community July 26 stating the university "could have done better to recognize the signs and severity" of Carmen Puliafito's, MD, former dean of Los Angeles-based Keck School of Medicine, behavior, according to The Los Angeles Times.

While Mr. Nikias's letter did not specify how the university could have "done better," he said he "ha[s] every confidence [USC] acted in good faith and in accordance with [its] core values" in dealing with the allegations brought against Dr. Puliafito.

"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. And, presently, the university has very limited capacity to conduct investigations and follow up on leads or anonymous reports of such employee behavior," Dr. Nikias wrote in the letter.

Dr. Nikias appointed USC Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Michael W. Quick, PhD, and Todd Dickey, JD, senior vice president for administration, to form a task force to address some of the concerns that surfaced after The Los Angeles times published a story July 17 alleging Dr. Puliafito engaged in drug misuse and associated with criminals.

The university's board of trustees also issued its first public statement on the issue July 26, expressing their confidence in Dr. Nikias and his team to "put in place policies and procedures to prevent something like this from happening again," according to the report.

The news comes two days after a crisis management specialist representing USC admitted officials received a phone call from an unidentified source in March 2016 detailing Dr. Puliafito's alleged exploits at the Pasadena, Calif.-based Hotel Constance and asking the university to investigate the situation. The spokesperson said the anonymous report did not reach senior administration, the report states.

Keck School of Medicine Dean Rohit Varma, MD, told students last week USC "had found no evidence, particularly, of [the anonymous witness's] phone call."

It is unclear when the university first discovered Dr. Puliafito's alleged behavior. The Los Angeles Times made repeated inquiries to the university about Dr. Puliafito's behavior during the past 15 months, but university officials "never responded to the inquiries."

USC initiated termination proceedings to fire Dr. Puliafito from his faculty position at the medical school July 21.

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