Deep Background

Background Screening Inside Candidates: When Background Screening an Inside Candidate, You Might Want to Check Your Own Files

Courtesy of USC Keck School of Medicine

The first in the series of mishaps at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine occurred in March 2016, when the school’s then-dean –we will call him Dean #1 — abruptly resigned.  It later emerged that he had been at the scene of a young woman’s drug overdose in a Pasadena hotel room, the Los Angeles Times reported.  Tipped off about the overdose, the Times launched an investigation that found that as Dean #1 had “kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.”

“Confidential Personnel Records”

A USC committee appointed to find a replacement examined a pool of more than 140 people from around the country, and narrowed the list to 15, the LA Times said.  USC administrators interviewed those applicants, and in November 2016 selected Dean #2 for the position.  He was then chair of one of the med school’s departments.

Eleven months later, the LA Times found some unsettling information about Dean #2  — that in 2003 USC had disciplined Dean #2 for sexual harassment.  A female researcher had said Dean #2 made unwanted sexual advances during a work trip and then retaliated against her for reporting the allegation, according to “confidential personnel records reviewed by The Times and interviews with people familiar with the university investigation.”  USC paid her more than $100,000 and temporarily banned Dean #2 from becoming a full faculty member, according to the documents and interviews cited by the paper.   A 2003 USC letter reprimanding Dean #2 said that “the behavior you exhibited is inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, reflects poor judgment, is contrary to the University’s standards of conduct, and will not be tolerated at the University of Southern California,” the Times reported.

“Previously Undisclosed Information”

The paper reported that when it had asked for comment from USC about its 2003 reprimand of Dean #2, the university replied that it considered the 2003 matter settled and that it retained confidence in Dean #2.  But one day later, USC reversed itself.  “Based on previously undisclosed information brought to the university in recent days, USC leadership has lost confidence in [Dean #2]’s ability to lead our medical school,” a top university official said in a statement, according to the Times.  “As of today, he is no longer dean of the Keck School of Medicine.”

The episode apparently could have been avoided if USC officials had reviewed their own internal records.  That would have prevented the unfortunate moment when the local newspaper informed them that it knew more about their own leader than they did – an event that by all accounts happened not once, but twice.

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