A New Vet School Professors Don't Want

Long Island University, facing enrollment and programming cuts, is building a vet school even though its faculty members are dubious and New York State already has one at Cornell.

September 7, 2018
 
A rendering of the proposed veterinary school building at LIU

Long Island University is moving forward with plans to build a college of veterinary medicine, despite faculty opposition and declining enrollment at the university.

The program will be housed in a brand-new, 47,000-square-foot facility at the LIU Post campus in Brookville, N.Y. Construction has yet to begin, but the university expects the building to be completed in 2020. The college plans to welcome its first class of 100 students in the fall of 2019.

The plans are raising eyebrows on campus and off. Faculty leaders think the idea makes no sense. LIU is not up to par with the research universities, typically land-grant institutions, that house vet schools. And New York State already has a vet school -- generally considered among the best -- at Cornell University.

The new facility will cost $40 million, and LIU was promised $12 million for the project from the State of New York as part of a $72 million investment in “transformative” projects on Long Island. As for the remaining $28 million: “We certainly have a robust capital budget. We’ve also been undertaking a campaign for this,” Jon Schneider, director of public relations at LIU, said. He did not disclose how much the university has raised so far but said it is planning a polo fund-raiser this month where ticket packages cost up to $10,000.

LIU has brought in Carmen Fuentealba to serve as dean of the new college. Previously, she served as an executive associate dean at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and as a professor and associate dean at Western University of Health Sciences. She was not available to comment for this article and has not spoken with other reporters exploring the issues involved in the new project. LIU's program, similar to Western University's, will follow a distributed model of clinical education, which means that the university will not build a teaching hospital or house animals on campus. Instead, students will work with third-party partners to complete their clinical work in nearby communities.

Earlier this month, the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) Council on Education, the accrediting body for veterinary colleges, completed a comprehensive site visit at LIU. Representatives from the council will draft a report about the visit, which will be presented to the full council in March.

“We thought it was -- I don’t want to overstate -- it was a very comprehensive and productive visit. We certainly felt positively about it as we continue to move forward,” Schneider said.

If the council is happy with LIU’s progress, it will grant a letter of reasonable assurance, which doesn't guarantee accreditation but indicates that the university is on the right track to fulfill the council’s 11 requirements for accreditation.

Previous coverage of the developing veterinary college speculated about why LIU cut in front of other colleges on the council’s site visit list -- including Tufts University, Purdue University and the University of California, Davis -- but Andy Maccabe, CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said that there was no top spot to jump to.

“My understanding is that that’s not accurate at all, there’s no jumping at all, there isn’t a line. It just has to do with availability on the schedule,” Maccabe said. “There happened to be an opening in August of 2018, and Long Island University was able to use that position because they don’t have any students. The council will not schedule a site visit to another school when students are not present.”

Maccabe said that he was aware of two other universities vying for vet schools on the site visit list this year: Texas Tech University and the University of Arizona. Neither has had an easy time developing their programs. Texas Tech is fighting to make room for itself in the shadow of Texas A&M, the only other veterinary school in the state, and the University of Arizona was denied a letter of reasonable assurance twice, setting back its opening multiple years. To-be-expected hiccups for the other universities have left a few observers wondering: Why LIU?

The university has faced a steep decline in enrollment since President Kimberly Cline took over. From 2008 to 2013, average freshman enrollment at LIU Post, where the vet school will be located, was 824. In 2013, freshman enrollment dropped to 563 and has hovered around a 550 average ever since. The university admits 83 percent of applicants, but only 12 percent of those admitted choose to attend. Less than half of students graduate.

Opposition to the project has been growing among faculty members, albeit quietly. Inside Higher Ed spoke to a number of faculty members at LIU Post, all of whom did not want to be named publicly for fear that they could lose their jobs for speaking up. Not without reason: tenure and tenure-track appointment renewals were described as a "bloodbath" this past year. At the Brooklyn campus, over half of the tenure-track appointments were not renewed, four of five professors up for tenure were denied and five of seven up for promotion to full professor were denied. At Post, six of nine professors up for tenure were denied.

“A normal university doesn’t fire a bunch of its tenure track every year. It’s a lack of investment in those of us who are already here,” Emily Drabinski, faculty librarian at LIU Brooklyn, said. “I think people don’t feel the university is invested in them, and in their careers and keeping them around. Turnover in the administration is really intense. If you don’t have union protection, your job is in jeopardy really every day.”

Rebecca States, president of the Brooklyn Faculty Senate, said that faculty aren’t against creating a vet school, but they’re concerned about the message it sends to existing faculty and programs.

“The faculty are generally very dubious about the vet school,” States wrote in an email. “There are so many needs for investment to shore up existing buildings, infrastructure, programs, departments, student services, etc. that it's very hard to see how this big of a gamble makes sense, especially given how expensive it is to run a vet school and how few students it can ultimately serve.”

Ten concerned faculty at LIU Post last month issued the following joint statement to Inside Higher Ed, but wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation:

"Long Island University’s pursuit of a school of veterinary medicine is a major academic shift and financial commitment for a tuition-driven liberal arts institution in the middle of an enrollment crisis. Although the Council on Education completed a comprehensive site visit earlier this month, the administration still has not shared with the faculty its plans or vision for what it says is a $40 million investment but which in reality could be much greater. This troubling lack of communication is further proof that shared governance does not exist at LIU," they wrote. "We have many more questions than answers: Why does the administration think a vet school can succeed at LIU? Besides the $12 million pledged by Gov. Cuomo’s office, where will the remainder come from? How much money has the dean’s office raised to date? How many vet school faculty does LIU plan to hire, and will they come in as union or non-union employees? What campus resources are being diverted to this venture? Were attacks on tenure and promotion the last two years and the surprise elimination of nearly all probationary faculty this summer done so with vet school positions in mind? Although Gov. Cuomo’s office and Long Island news outlets such as Newsday have treated LIU’s vet school as unproblematic and even laudatory, we ask that the administration explain how this endeavor will improve and not exacerbate LIU’s current situation."

Schneider said that the vet school plans are “completely separate” from other decisions on campus.

“With regard to resource decisions here and the college of veterinary medicine, what we’re doing with the vet school … that is completely separate and apart from any decisions that are being made at Long Island University,” he said. “While I can’t get into personnel matters and why decisions are and aren’t being made, with all due respect, if anyone is giving you their opinion about what they think is going on, that opinion is off base.”

He also insisted that communication to faculty about the development of the veterinary school has been clear.

"There is an extensive, ongoing accreditation process which at times limits our ability to publicly communicate certain items, and we are very diligent, responsible, and respectful of that process," Schneider wrote in an email. "That said, deans have participated in briefings, faculty governance leaders have been updated at Board of Trustees meetings, and this subject has been reported on extensively in the media. When there has been relevant information we are able to share with the LIU community, such as Governor Cuomo’s announcement of $12 million in transformative aid, that information was broadly communicated … and, for the last year, we have had a dean located in a central place on campus with an outward facing sign that says 'College of Veterinary Medicine,' literally anyone on campus could have walked in, met Dean Fuentealba and received additional information."

LIU’s emerging program will not be the first veterinary college in New York. Cornell University has one of three veterinary programs in the Northeast (the other two are at Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania) and in July, Cornell celebrated the completion of a five-year, $91.6 million project to expand its veterinary school. In addition to facilities improvements, the expansion allows the program to admit more students.

When asked about the potential competition from LIU, Lorin Warnick, dean of the veterinary college at Cornell, did not address the new college specifically.

“We are confident that the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine will continue to enjoy strong interest among candidates for our professional veterinary education program, other advanced degrees and academic employment opportunities,” he wrote in an email.

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