Texas leaders at impasse on veterinary school proposal


As big as Texas is - with more than 700 miles separating its eastern and western borders - there is debate as to whether the Lone Star State can accommodate more than one veterinary school.

As big as Texas is - with more than 700 miles separating its easternand western borders - there is debate as to whether the Lone Star Statecan accommodate more than one veterinary school.

State officials are proposing the creation of a veterinary school atTexas Tech University. The only similar program offered in the state originated85 years ago at Texas A&M University.

The two schools have plenty of legroom between them. Texas Tech, in Lubbock,occupies the west side of the state. Nearly 400 miles to the east is CollegeStation, home of Texas A&M.

The catch: the state legislators are appealing Texas Tech officials tohead east. Where livestock thrives. Where prospective students from Arkansasand Louisiana are just a tankful of gas away. And, by no coincidence, wherethe legislators call home.

Tommy Merritt, a Republican state representative, and Tom Ramsey, chairof county affairs in the Texas house of representatives, both hail fromthe northeast corner of the state. They and other legislators plan to meetwith Texas Tech officials in coming months to further study the school plan.

Why another school?

Merritt originally proposed the idea, he says, upon hearing that a friend'sdaughter had been rejected by the Texas A&M veterinary school, one of28 veterinary programs in the country. The woman's rejection, he says, inspiredan investigation on his behalf: "Does the state of Texas have adequateand ample space for our students wishing to study veterinary medicine?"

Ramsey says he suspects as many as 1,000 students were turned away fromTexas A&M last year because the program was at capacity. "Whenyou have that much interest," he says, "you ought to provide anavenue for those kids to pursue the education they want to pursue. Significantlythis is something that will help rural east Texas continue to grow."

Their plan, while criticized by some, including the dean of veterinarymedicine at Texas A&M, isn't based on a whim.

Setting precedent

In 1971 what is now the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB)authorized Texas Tech to create a veterinary school on its main campus -in western Texas. But the plan never left the table, according to Ray Grasshoff,public information officer for THECB, because funds were lacking.

"If you look at that old authority," Grasshoff says, "itwas based on opening a school at Texas Tech in West Texas. The feelingnow is that that (original) authority was so long ago that the conditionsthat might have gone into making decisions then may or may not exist anymore."

Texas Tech still has planning authority regarding a veterinary medicineprogram, but implementation would require reapproval from the THECB. Asof July the board had not received any formal proposal for a new veterinaryschool, so no action has been taken. Even so, Texas Tech officials havebeen in talks with the board.

Before the board would consider re-approval, Texas Tech, says Grasshoff,would be required to explain why a school is needed - especially in easternTexas - and how it would be financially supported.

"I'm not suggesting it couldn't be established in the eastern partof the state, but we don't want unnecessary duplication of programs,"Grasshoff says. "There might be a need there, but until we study thestatistics on it, we don't know."

On the Western front

Texas Tech officials had no intention to assess the need for a new veterinaryschool until they were approached in recent months by Merritt and otherlegislators.

"We did not initiate the idea of a new school. We don't reallyhave a position on it at all at this point," says Glen Provost, J.D.,M.P.H., vice president of the Texas Tech University Health and Sciences."All we're doing is in response to this request from some members ofthe legislature."

School officials report they are assessing the feasibility of anotherveterinary school, including determining the extent of the need, the cost,and related issues.

"My role in this," Provost says, "has been convening theinterested parties for the discussion. We are going to have other folkswho know more about this issue look at it and see whether or not anotherschool is needed and whether it is going to be financially feasible."

Texas Tech officials have hired Dr. Bill Rosser, a feasibility consultantand retired veterinarian from Lubbock, to conduct preliminary studies andgather information. While not revealing details, Rosser says he and fellowofficials expect the analysis to be completed by early fall.

Provost says funding would "certainly be a major hurdle."

"With preliminary information we have obtained, we know that buildinga veterinary school from the ground up is a very expensive proposition becauseof all the physical facilities that are required as well as equipment andfaculty," he says. "Our expectation is that it would be well over$100 million, but, again, that kind of information is something we wouldwant to base on empirical information we might receive.

Merritt and Ramsey say they are determined to obtain the funding if giventhe green light.

Provost says the school is planning subsequent meetings, but nothingwill be finalized until more information becomes available.

AVMA notification

Provost says if the school moves forward with the plan, officials wouldcontact AVMA to gather relevant information pertaining to Tech's assessmentof the need for another veterinary school.

"I would expect that they have a lot of information that would beuseful. Of course, they are the accrediting body and the information theyuse in making determinations regarding accreditation would be importantfactors as well," Provost says.

AVMA spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Granskog says the association was notaware of a proposed veterinary school at Texas Tech and had not yet beencontacted by anyone in Texas.

A&M responds

Dr. H. Richard Adams, dean of the college of veterinary medicine at TexasA&M University, says he doubts the proposed veterinary project willsail in the next legislature.

Adams contends Merritt was digging up the past when he told the LubbockAvalanche-Journal how the THECB's predecessor reportedly approved a veterinaryprogram 30 years ago.

"When the legislature started looking at whether one was neededand what it would cost, clearly it had never been funded, and after lyingthere for three decades, I'm sure people are wondering whether it is trulyvalid," Adams says. "We do not think that it makes sense to developanother veterinary school without objective evidence that additional veterinariansare needed."

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