USC Medical School Dean Plagued by Complaints for Years

A Los Angeles Times investigation found faculty and staff complained about behavior throughout the dean’s tenure.

July 31, 2017 10:53 am
Dr. Carmen Puliafito attends an event at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel in November 2014.
Dr. Carmen Puliafito attends an event at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel in November 2014. (Tibrina Hobson/Contributor/Getty)

Faculty and staff at the University of Southern California complained about Dr. Carmen Puliafito’s worrisome behavior for years leading up to his public ousting amid accusations of illicit drug use and solicitation while dean of the Keck School of Medicine, according to an ongoing Los Angeles Times investigation.

Current and former university employees, as well as documented letters of complaint, show that Keck employees found Dr. Puliafito oftentimes unbearable to work for due to his uncontrollable temper, affinity for public humiliation, and perceived drinking problem.

“I literally put people on medical leave for stress … related to working with him,” one Keck physician recalled in an interview with the Times. Another administrator — James Lynch, the medical school’s human resources director for five years — recounted that many complained it was difficult “just being around” Dr. Puliafito.

“The dean was a heavy drinker,” Lynch also noted. “He was fond of martinis. He would have several,” then drive home from events, concerning staff he could harm himself or others in an drunk-driving crash.

Despite the high number of negative staff evaluations of Dr. Puliafito, he was still rehired by President Max Nikias in June 2012, at least in part due to significant contribution funds he’d raised, as well as the recruitment of prominent researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and other prestigious schools around the country.

 When then-Provost Elizabeth Garrett made the announcement, staff was stunned; Garrett said she’d discussed employee feedback with the dean, “including the matters on which some of you believe he could pay additional attention or that may require a different approach.”

“I am certain he will move forward with your suggestions firmly in mind,” she reportedly wrote.

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