The USC Keck School of Medicine received slightly more applications in 2017 than its yearly average, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Keck had 8,261 submissions in total this year, which is 80 more than its usual amount. This represents a slightly positive trend the school has seen in applications, despite following a year of controversy.
"We average about 8,181 applications/year with an average 2.3% acceptance rate. We accept 186 students each year. We are at 7,669 applications so far and we expect to be around our yearly average. I'd say it represents a slightly upward linear trend," the Keck School of Medicine's Office of Admissions told Annenberg Media in an email.
In July, an LA Times published an investigation that Dr. Carmen Puliafito, who served as dean of Keck until resigning in March 2016, had used illegal drugs during his time as dean and associated with a group of criminals and drug users.
Dr. Rohit Varma, who was appointed to succeed Puliafito in July, left his position just three months later, after the L.A. Times reported that he had settled a sexual harassment allegation filed against him in 2003.
Later that month, a top USC fundraiser, David Carrera, left his post as the vice president of advancement and health sciences development after the L.A. Times reported on an investigation of his treatment toward women by the university's Office of Equity and Diversity.
Despite these scandals, the number of applications did not decline.
"So many times there are companies that do something wrong that they apologize, they fix the problem, and they do fine," said Matthew Le Veque, a professor of public relations at USC. "I just think that the USC brand and the USC professional schools have such a deep and robust network alone."
In addition to a strong alumni network, other characteristics of a medical school such as research programs and donor contributions may pique the interests of pre-med students and overshadow administrative deficiencies.
"As a med student, what I'm looking for, I'm looking for more peers and professors that appeal to me rather than sheer administration," Maddy Lee, a sophomore pre-med student at Vanderbilt who is considering applying to USC, explained.
"I think as an institution, there's a lot more people within that institution other than the dean," she said, in reference to Puliafito.
This sentiment was echoed by Michael J. Palenchar, an associate professor of public relations with an interest in crisis management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
"I'd be surprised if students applying to medical schools are actually considering the dean of that college," he said.
Palenchar believes that media coverage for scandals such as those affecting Keck is a short-term issue, and most likely won't result in problems for the school's future as a whole.
"What would affect enrollment is if senior medical faculty leave, if there's a decrease in donations, or if medical institutions question to quality of students from USC medical school," he said.
Keck currently operates under Interim Dean Laura Mosqueda, who also serves as associate dean of primary care and the chair of the Department of Family Medicine at USC.
When the LA Times story first broke in July, USC Provost Michael Quick addressed the allegations in a letter: "Today, we are provided access to information of egregious behavior on the part of the former dean concerning substance abuse activities with people who aren't affiliated with USC. This was the first time we saw such information first-hand."
Later, USC created a task force and hired the law firm Gibson Dunn to investigate the allegations against Puliafito. According to the statement, they "are reviewing our procedures and will make recommendations going forward."
USC Media Relations did not immediately reply to a request for an update on Puliafito.