Delegates punt move to eliminate AVMA vice presidency

Task force to assess relevance of leadership position

August 13, 2012 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Photos courtesy of the American Veterinary Medical Association
Dr. Walter Threlfall (above) has been elected vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The theriogenology consultant and former academician from The Ohio State University beat Drs. James E. Smallwood (bottom right) and Stacy Pritt (bottom left) for the office.
A bid to rid the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) of its vice presidential office will be assessed by a task force charged with scrutinizing the national organization’s entire governance structure.  

During its annual meeting in San Diego earlier this month, the AVMA House of Delegates voted to have the Task Force on Governance and Member Participation review whether to eliminate the vice presidency in favor of establishing regional liaisons that might better meet student needs. Eighty-five percent of the policy-making body favored conducting the review before determining whether to permanently ax the vice presidential position.  

Some delegates, however, consider abolishing the vice presidential office to be an urgent and necessary move to better connect with students.  

The vice president serves as a liaison between the AVMA and students. The problem, critics say, is that the office typically is staffed by untrained, politically motivated and older male veterinarians, some of whom might find it difficult to relate to a student body mostly comprised of young women.  

What’s more, the heavy travel schedule — 78 days a year — often isn’t feasible for those who aren’t established in their careers or retired. Considering that such demands are part of the two-year volunteer position, younger veterinarians aren’t lining up to vie for the vice presidency, critics contend.  

“We are very aware that our organization needs to better connect and engage its veterinary students, to better hear and address the concerns of younger veterinarians,” stated the bylaws proposal, submitted by the California and Vermont veterinary medical associations. “We need to establish the AVMA as important and vital to their future careers.” 

The call for such change is not new.  

In 2008, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) proposed two resolutions designed to alter the AVMA’s governance structure. One called for eliminating the vice presidential office entirely; the second sought to use funds allocated for the post to create a Student Affairs Division dedicated to veterinary student issues and concerns. 

While both measures failed to pass the House, the debate that followed shed light on criticisms once confined to private talks and closed-door meetings. Four years later, challenges to the vice presidency seem less divisive to those entrenched in AVMA governance.  

"The reality is that change is more accepting now," observed Dr. George Bishop, a delegate representing California. "People are willing to step forward with creative ideas." 

To get AVMA leaders more face time with students, the proposed bylaws suggested splitting the job of the vice presidential office between six Regional Veterinary Student Liaison representatives, each responsible for connecting with students at a select number of schools.    

The vast majority who voted on the proposed change sought to have it first scrutinized by the Task Force on Governance and Member Participation, a group formed last summer by the House of Delegates and charged with making formal recommendations to alter how the AVMA functions so that it's more transparent, inclusive and representative.   

Initially, that idea didn't sit well with those in favor of more immediate change to the vice presidency. The office is more about political wrangling than student issues, critics say, and the task force is, by design, slow moving.   

“The AVMA governance, particularly the House of Delegates, should not become stagnant and ineffective waiting for potential change,” stated a proviso in the bylaws proposal. “We should act now to try a new way to engage our veterinary students in a more effective and connected way.” 

During the House debate, however, some who objected to a task force review of the vice presidential office eventually softened to the idea. What changed their minds? News that the Task Force on Governance and Member Participation plans to present a full report to the House of Delegates next summer in Chicago on how best to change the governance structure.

Delegates will cast votes on whether to upend AVMA governance — the vice presidential office included — during that meeting. 

"We wanted a time frame for action, and we got it," Bishop said. "I'm comfortable with that." 

While the value of vice president is assessed, Dr. Walter Threlfall plans to assume the role. The former academician and theriogenology consultant from Powell, Ohio, beat Drs. James E. Smallwood of Raleigh, N.C., and Stacy Pritt of Chino Hills, Calif., for the seat.   

This month, Threlfall begins his two-year term as AVMA vice president.


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