Texas leaders at impasse on veterinary school proposal

Texas leaders at impasse on veterinary school proposal

Nov 01, 2001

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.

State officials are proposing the creation of a veterinary school at Texas Tech University. The only similar program offered in the state originated 85 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 College Station, home of Texas A&M.

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

Tommy Merritt, a Republican state representative, and Tom Ramsey, chair of county affairs in the Texas house of representatives, both hail from the northeast corner of the state. They and other legislators plan to meet with 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's daughter had been rejected by the Texas A&M veterinary school, one of 28 veterinary programs in the country. The woman's rejection, he says, inspired an investigation on his behalf: "Does the state of Texas have adequate and ample space for our students wishing to study veterinary medicine?"

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

Their plan, while criticized by some, including the dean of veterinary medicine 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, "it was based on opening a school at Texas Tech in West Texas. The feeling now is that that (original) authority was so long ago that the conditions that might have gone into making decisions then may or may not exist anymore."

Texas Tech still has planning authority regarding a veterinary medicine program, but implementation would require reapproval from the THECB. As of July the board had not received any formal proposal for a new veterinary school, so no action has been taken. Even so, Texas Tech officials have been 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 eastern Texas - and how it would be financially supported.

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

On the Western front

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

"We did not initiate the idea of a new school. We don't really have 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 of the legislature."

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

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

Texas Tech officials have hired Dr. Bill Rosser, a feasibility consultant and retired veterinarian from Lubbock, to conduct preliminary studies and gather information. While not revealing details, Rosser says he and fellow officials 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 building a veterinary school from the ground up is a very expensive proposition because of all the physical facilities that are required as well as equipment and faculty," he says. "Our expectation is that it would be well over $100 million, but, again, that kind of information is something we would want to base on empirical information we might receive.

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

Provost says the school is planning subsequent meetings, but nothing will be finalized until more information becomes available.

AVMA notification

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

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

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

A&M responds

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

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

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