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Dean exits admid budget woes, Oregon program downgraded

Article

Corvallis, Ore. ? The American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education (COE) plans this month to demote Oregon State University's (OSU) accreditation status for the second time in six years. The move was in response to officials hiring a researcher and geochemist as the veterinary college's interim dean.

CORVALLIS, ORE. — The American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education (COE) plans this month to demote Oregon State University's (OSU) accreditation status for the second time in six years. The move was in response to officials hiring a researcher and geochemist as the veterinary college's interim dean.

Both COE downgrades occurred during dean searches and in reaction to the interim hiring of non-DVMs. The latest action comes on the heels of Dr. Howard Gelberg's apparent firing. In a letter to colleagues, the former dean and tenured professor reports he was given an ultimatum — step down or balance the college's $12.7 million budget, which was $800,000 shy of a $13.5 million plan for 2006. He contends the budget is still $34 million below the national average.

Gelberg, who's remains on staff at OSU, declined to speak to DVM Newsmagazine regarding his exit but referred to the letter, which details his vision for the college, money disputes and an apparent disconnect with Provost and Executive Vice President Sabah Randhawa.

DVM Newsbreak

In an e-mail, Randhawa says the leadership change was necessary "because the college was on a path that was not fiscally sustainable," and he's confident a "strong individual" will soon serve as college dean. Dr. Don Simmons, director of AVMA's Education and Research Division, confirms that COE accreditation standards mandate that veterinarians head all veterinary institutions, but he predicts nothing for students or faculty will change.

In the meantime, Richard Holdren has taken up Gelberg's former role. The former senior associate vice president for research worked in central administration prior to being tapped for the veterinary college job. On his first day in office, he echoed officials' plans to have a permanent dean installed within nine to 12 months. Five other veterinary dean searches currently are underway at Michigan State University, Purdue University, Tufts University, Mississippi State University and the University of Florida. Some have continued for more than a year.

For OSU, the dean search ranks top priority, Holdren says. "The search is really in the hands of the provost, but we've already talked about search committee membership. Not having a background in veterinary medicine, there's a lot I need to learn in this post."

Pressure cooker

Like Randhawa, Holdren declines to discuss personnel issues, yet he maintains that Gelberg steered the deanship well since his start in 2001, and supports his retention: "It's still an uncomfortable situation for him. He needs some time to decide what he's going to do. He did many, many good things here, so his tenure is appropriate."

During Gelberg's leadership, OSU established its four-year resident program and expanded class size from 36 to 48 students per year, prompted by the opening of the $14-million Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital Small Animal Clinic last spring. Since then, staff and faculty numbers rose 40 percent, OSU officials say. The college currently is engaged in a $10-million renovation of its large animal hospital.

Yet in his letter, Gelberg claims memories at OSU are short. The controversy boils down to the college's future and pressure to deliver a lot with few resources, he says, adding that the university's top brass ignored his 45-page budget for fiscal year 2006 that sought $13.5 million.

"The people who hired me and shared my vision are gone," he writes. "We have hospitals to build, equip, staff and operate, a chronically underfunded (veterinary diagnostic laboratory) with increasing responsibilities for public health and food safety and a professional education to deliver with half the personnel of our sister colleges.

"In my opinion, accepting the campus-generated budget meant breaking my good-faith promises to you, halting the college's spectacular growth, compromising patient care and taxing human resources within the college to the point of career stagnation for some of you."

Randhawa insists the college is important to OSU's mission as a land-grant university and is "well positioned for continued growth."

Easing in

Yet in the wake of change, the mood among the college's 40 faculty members and 50 staff remains "cautious," Holdren contends. While there was no mass exit at presstime, Gelberg's retained a lot of support. Now sitting in the dean's office, Holdren says he's using his administrative skills to ease his entry in the position.

"This is uncomfortable for everyone involved," he says. "I obviously have a long way to go."

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