LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – USC has begun the process of terminating former medical school dean Carmen Puliafito and stripping him of his faculty tenure because of substance abuse-related activities, university officials announced.
Puliafito is under immediate suspension from the university and is 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 on Friday.
“We certainly understand that substance abuse is a tragic and devastating disease,” Quick wrote. “But we are also bound to our responsibilities as a university to take the necessary actions concerning Dr. Puliafito’s status.”
Quick wrote that USC was provided access Friday “to information of egregious behavior” by Puliafito “concerning substance abuse activities with people who aren’t affiliated with USC.”
“This was the first time we saw such information first hand,” Quick wrote. “It is extremely troubling and we need to take serious action.”
Earlier Friday, USC President C.L. Max Nikias announced that former federal prosecutor Debra Wong Yang has been hired to look into recent allegations by the Los Angeles Times that Puliafito abused hard drugs and associated with criminals and drug users.
“It is critical we understand how and why this happened so we can do everything possible to improve our ability to prevent something like this from happening again,” Nikias wrote in a letter to USC staff announcing Yang’s hire.
“As an academic institution, we are always challenging ourselves to be better. In this instance, we will look to improve ways in which we could have recognized the severity of the situation sooner.”
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 Saturday, July 15.
On Monday, the Times published an article reporting 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 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.
Yang is a former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, a former state judge and a former member of the Los Angeles Police Commission. She currently is a partner in the international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Nikias said Yang will investigate the details of Puliafito’s conduct, the university’s response, as well as its existing policies and procedures and make findings and recommendations to the USC Board of Trustees Executive Committee.
“As an academic institution, we are always challenging ourselves to be better. In this instance, we will look to improve ways in which we could have recognized the severity of the situation sooner,” Nikias wrote.
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