Cornell nails No. 1 spot among U.S. veterinary schools

Cornell nails No. 1 spot among U.S. veterinary schools

Incoming dean sees it as 'honor and challenge,' cites agenda for his tenure for the next five years
Jun 01, 2007

ITHACA, N.Y. — It's nice to be No. 1, but Dr. Michael I. Kotlikoff, incoming dean of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, doesn't want to overplay the fact that U.S. News and World Report recently rated Cornell's veterinary program as the nation's best in its 2008 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools."

"Here at Cornell, we benefit from a good balance of several strong programs, but that doesn't detract from the excellence you'll find in other top veterinary schools – some even excel beyond us in specific areas," he tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Formerly professor and chair of the university's biomedical sciences department, Kotlikoff begins a five-year term as dean on July 1, succeeding Donald F. Smith, who will return to the veterinary faculty after 10 years in the position.

Kotlikoff speaks from firsthand knowledge when he pays his respects to some of the other top veterinary schools. "I've been fortunate to have trained at two of the best, and to have worked at two of the best," he says.

While the No. 1 ranking adds to the college's prestige and national image, Kotlikoff sees it as "recognition of our accomplishments and historical contributions, and as a challenge to continue to innovate and excel. Cornell has a history of advancing the profession through expertise and innovation, evidenced in (areas such as) vaccine discoveries, clinical tests, pathology. We've sometimes written the textbooks. Our faculty always pushed things forward. This peer recognition (ranking) should help us maintain our sense of purpose."

Beginning next month, the clock starts ticking on a five-year deal to keep the veterinary college at the top of its game.

Armed with an annual budget of $100 million, Kotlikoff's vision is to build on the college's "array of balanced strengths in clinical (patient care), diagnostics/surveillance and research" programs, including its work on behalf of the state of New York and the U.S. government. He has 265 faculty members, 680 staff members, 320 DVM students and 145 graduate students to accomplish it. Research remains a priority for the college, especially in three key areas – genomics and genetics, cancer biology and infection biology.

There are many important issues facing academia and veterinary practice, Kotlikoff adds.

Retention, recruitment a priority

A shortage of veterinarians, both in small-animal and large-animal practice – especially critical in rural areas – is one of the key challenges facing all veterinary schools, he says.

Another challenge for schools "is attracting and retaining good veterinarians in academic practice. The profession is changing," Kotlikoff says. "With the rise of so many large and sophisticated private practices, it's hard for the academic world to compete for the best, to create positions that are both attractive and rewarding. Yet, we must somehow keep training the next generation, planting the garden that will produce future veterinarians. This profession can't allow external forces to eat its young, so to speak."

A career ladder

Kotlikoff earned his VMD degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1981, and his PhD in physiology from the University of California-Davis. He was recruited to Cornell while working at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000.

At Cornell, Kotlikoff chaired the provost's Cornell Local Advisory Committee and the Mammalian Genomics Initiative, served on the Cornell Genomics and Life Sciences Task Force, its Institute for Biotechnology and Life Science Technologies Scientific Board and the Cornell Neurosciences Steering Committee. He directs the Cornell Core Transgenic Mouse Facility.

His laboratory is internationally recognized in mouse genetics, cardiac and smooth-muscle biology and cell signaling.

Kotlikoff led studies in physiological processes at the molecular level through genetics, molecular design and advanced optics, and work from his laboratory has provided insights into heart development, injury and repair and the molecular basis for abnormal muscle contractility.