USC dean drug use allegations not likely to slow fundraising, expert says

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According to a news investigation by the Los Angeles Times, Carmen Puliafito – the former dean of the University of Southern California's medical school – led a secret life of hardcore drug use while raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the university – that has some faculty saying that the university has not done enough to put the university at ease.

But observers of higher education philanthropy say the allegations are unlikely to significantly dampen the university's fundraising efforts. 

Puliafito reportedly befriended a 20 year-old college drop out who was a prostitute and with whom he shared drugs such as crystal meth. He was with that woman when she overdosed at a hotel room in Pasadena. Puliafito resigned from his post as dean three weeks later.

“If this is true, what does it say about our university that in effect we have someone as a spokesman for university who is providing drugs to young people?” said USC Professor William Tierney, who studies how universities are run.

“[USC President Max Nikias] needs to clarify, what are the values that we stand for, and given those values what then do we do with an individual who has broken our trust,” Tierney said. He and other faculty said they'd not received any communication from USC administration about the Puliafito allegations.

“The university is not at liberty to discuss personnel matters, which by law are confidential,” said USC Director of Communications Eddie North-Hager.

Puliafito was on sabbatical from his faculty position after he resigned as dean, North-Hager said, and USC is reviewing his status. He did not clarify whether Puliafito was receiving a paycheck from USC and whether he was still representing USC at events.

Puliafito claimed in the news story that he’d raised $1 billion for USC after he was hired by the university in 2007.

“They’ve been on a fundraising tear in recent years,” said David Callahan, who has researched and written about philanthropic giving.

“I don’t think this is going to derail anything, except if there’s revelations about… if they protected him, if they knew what was going on and they looked the other way,” he said. If that happens, donors may have second thoughts about giving to a university that’s out to raise large sums no matter what the costs.

The largest donor to USC’s medical school, the Keck Foundation, would not answer questions about whether the revelations about Puliafito would affect any future giving and referred the questions to USC.

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