Texas Tech to break ground on veterinary school facilities

Program endures amid efforts by opponents to undermine it

Published: September 17, 2019
By Jennifer Fiala

Image courtesy of Texas Tech University
An artist’s rendering depicts the main entrance to the future Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine Amarillo Campus. Officials anticipate that the school will open in August 2021.

Texas Tech University will host a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday to mark the beginning of construction on facilities for its prospective veterinary school. 

The Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine aims to enroll 60 students in fall 2021, and grow to become a program of 240 veterinary students within four years. Development costs are anticipated to total $90 million. The veterinary school will include two sites: a main building on Tech's Amarillo campus and a large-animal facility nearby, called the School of Veterinary Medicine Mariposa Station. The program's operational budget is estimated to hover around $20 million. 

If all goes as planned, Tech will open as the nation's 31st veterinary program in the U.S. (should another emerging school not earn the distinction first). It will serve as a second option for veterinary education in Texas, which has been home to Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medical and Biomedical Science for more than century. 

"In terms of groundbreaking, it is for the entirety of our facilities that will cover the professional program as well as planned graduate research programs," said Dr. Guy Loneragan, dean of the veterinary school. "So this really is a big deal."

The event marks a high point in what’s been a rollercoaster journey for the Tech veterinary school, which has been in the works, on and off, for decades. Approximately 60% of the 7,000 or so veterinarians licensed to practice in Texas are Aggies, many of whom fear that a second program in the state could dilute legislative support for A&M.

Outspoken A&M officials have rallied in opposition to the Tech program since it was announced in 2015. The criticism is speculated to have led to the abrupt retirement last year of former Texas Tech Chancellor Robert Duncan, a major advocate for the new veterinary program. Proponents for keeping Texas a one-veterinary-school state cite A&M's expansion to the Texas Panhandle via a partnership with West Texas A&M University in Canyon, a 25-minute drive south of Tech's main campus. The $22 million Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach Complex is under construction and intended to create a pipeline between aspiring veterinarians in West Texas and the Texas A&M veterinary program in College Station. The program will open as an extension of A&M in 2020.

Dr. Eleanor Green, dean of the A&M veterinary college, has characterized plans for a second veterinary school in Texas as unnecessary and wasteful. "… A&M can clearly meet all of the veterinary needs in Texas," she said in a newspaper commentary published in February. 

In an email sent Monday to the VIN News Service, she noted that the conflict between A&M and Tech has never been about competition. "It has everything to do with reaching the highest bar of excellence in DVM education most efficiently and effectively — while minimizing student debt, saving state dollars and taxpayer investment, and serving animals/clients, the state, and the profession," she wrote. "Imagine what it could mean to all of these entities if the Texas Tech funding were used to increase the Texas A&M budget. Now that would have a positive impact."

Last week, Green announced plans to leave A&M for a position with the consulting firm Animal Policy Group. Her new employer is Mark Cushing, a litigator and political strategist who founded Animal Policy Group and has a history of aiding in the opening of new veterinary programs across the country and overseas. He's ushered through the U.S. accreditation process programs at Ross University in the Caribbean; Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee; and the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. According to Cushing, veterinary academia is ripe for expansion. He announced last week during the Pet Healthcare Industry Summit in Portland, Oregon, that the LMU College of Veterinary Medicine might double enrollment by adding a January class, and stated that another client, the University of Arizona, soon would receive an accreditation nod for its new veterinary school, which would enable it to open in August 2020.

No U.S. veterinary program exists without accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education. A COE site team is expected to conduct a comprehensive review of the Tech program next spring. If the team's findings are favorable, the COE can extend to Tech "reasonable assurance," which does not confer accreditation but indicates that a program is on the right path and can seat a first class. The designation allows students to access loans under Title VII of the U.S. Public Health Service Act. Full accreditation hinges on favorable assessment by the COE after a program's first class graduates.

To help navigate the accreditation process, Tech has sought the expertise of a consultant. Last month, the University of Texas System Board of Regents approved a contract with Dr. Alastair Cribb, former dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and current dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Cribb has worked with faculty and staff to develop the administrative and academic model necessary for accreditation, Loneragan said.

The Board of Regents also approved an $8.4 million budget for Tech's veterinary school facilities that include design development, construction documents, administration and information related to the probable cost and project schedule. In July, farm equipment dealer Associated Supply Company, Inc., made a $5 million contribution to the program. In return, Tech will name its veterinary school lobby ASCO Hall. 

Full accreditation for Tech is years ahead, Loneragan acknowledged. "I suspect the finish line will be with the first class graduates, and we get full accreditation," he said.

But for now, he added, "This is exciting."

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