Blog: COE needs to abandon ship on proposed new rules for veterinary faculty


Shift in focus from preparing graduates to publishing in academic journals is not in the professions interest. Plus its impossible.

The American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) will no doubt receive many comments about its proposed changes to the veterinary school accreditation process. I will keep mine to a minimum, focusing on the faculty obligations related to peer-reviewed research. Let me begin by quoting the portion of the proposed new rules to which my comments are directed:

12.10.3 Faculty

The majority of full-time faculty (including those at distributed sites and in the curricular component [professional courses, journal clubs)] must be engaged in research that results in peer-reviewed scholarship. A majority of full-time faculty engaged in teaching students must publish (or confirm to have in-press) as senior or co-author at least one peer-reviewed scientific manuscript each year. A majority of full-time faculty must have sought or have acquired research funding each year.

First, the question is where is the impetus for such a radical restructuring of veterinary education in the United States? At a period of high student debt with veterinary employers and the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium demanding more practice-ready graduates, the proposed new rules require that schools instead shift their focus to producing traditional research scholarship for academic journals. I have scoured veterinary-related media from the past five years, and other than the COE's handful of fiercest critics, no one has called for such a sea change in how students are prepared to deliver healthcare to American pet owners and farmers.

This is not a mere suggestion that schools devote more time to academic scholarship, but a proposal that continued accreditation (meaning the continued existence) of veterinary schools depends on whether each school follows this mandatory, highly prescriptive path. It is a breathtakingly sweeping power shift by advocates of a narrow vision of what animal healthcare training should mean in America.

It's not enough that some schools walk this road; these mandates prescribe that every single veterinary school make traditional research scholarship its raison d'etre-or close its doors. It won't be lost on observers that veterinary medicine is doing this at a time when human medical education is moving in precisely the opposite direction.

Second, the revisions on their face fail the common sense test. What other profession or higher education sector proposes to make accreditation a function not of how well a school trains students but whether a third-party publication accepts for publication each year a majority of a school's faculty's scholarly research? Is this what the U.S. Department of Education wants from its accrediting bodies, namely that they delegate to a handful of academic journal editors the power to determine a school's fate-its life or its death? And are we to believe all of this is for the greater good of training more practice-ready veterinarians to serve animal owners in America?

Third, while we're on the topic of academic journals, just how many such journals are serving the veterinary profession? The answer is a handful: You can literally count them on one hand-maybe two if you add international journals. If schools were required to comply with these new rules, we would see three things happen, none of which is good for veterinary education:

1. Each school will manage its faculty to ensure that they're busy beavers in their offices or laboratories with doors closed cranking out “peer-reviewed research” (which means they're also reviewing their peers' manuscripts) so their schools aren't in jeopardy. I'm envisioning the dean's office starting to look like the film Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always be publishing!”

2. A backlog of articles will pile up at the few academic publications serving veterinary medicine. It will be mathematically impossible for a majority of faculty to get published each year.

3. The “solution” will be for veterinary higher education to make a mockery of these new rules: Schools will create their own journals to ensure outlets for their faculty's scholarship, and schools will form strategic alliances to help each other out. And this entire apparatus presumes that new funding sources will sprout up throughout America.

The COE does a good job, and a thankless one at that. But these proposed rules are not the answer to any problem facing veterinary medicine. They should be abandoned promptly.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

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