LIU accreditation decision slated for spring

Controversy surrounds veterinary college proposed in New York

October 8, 2018 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Roth Hall
Veterinary school officials are housed at Roth Hall, a newly renovated building on LIU Post’s 307-acre campus. To make room for the program’s faculty, administrators and staff, several College of Management faculty were relocated to vacant dorm space before the start of the fall semester.

It will be six months before Long Island University Post learns the fate of its bid for U.S. accreditation, on which hangs the future of its fledgling veterinary medical college.

As they wait, LIU officials are fielding complaints from faculty members who say their programs are being cut to pay for the veterinary college. The university's weak general enrollment and recent legal woes have added to the controversy.

Regarding LIU's proposal to open a veterinary school, the American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education will meet in March to review a report by inspectors who gathered Aug. 12-16 at LIU Post's campus in wealthy Brookville, New York. The COE, authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit domestic veterinary education, will assess whether the proposed program meets the 11 standards for U.S. veterinary accreditation.

LIU Post seeks "reasonable assurance," a first step toward accreditation by the COE. Reasonable assurance does not confer accreditation but indicates that a college is on the right path and may begin enrolling students.

The COE is unlikely to consider the program's merits before the body meets in March. The lag time between the site visit and the COE's decision reflects the accreditation body's scheduling policy, the AVMA explained by email. While COE processes are known to be arduous and deliberate, the system sometimes can move with speed. Eyebrows raised earlier this year after the COE granted an August site visit to LIU, just three months after the program applied for it. Other programs have waited a year or more to earn a site visit from the COE.

AVMA officials say LIU did not receive special treatment but benefitted from happenstance. COE reviews must take place while classes are in session — provided they exist. "Clearly, Long Island University does not have students, allowing for the August 2018 date," AVMA spokesperson Sharon Granskog said by email. "Delaying a Long Island University visit for a year in the face of an available slot this past August would not be in keeping with COE policies."

Nor does it provide LIU an advantage, she added: "All colleges visited between July and December 2018 have decisions made at the subsequent March 2019 COE meeting."

If all goes as planned, the LIU program could be the nation's 31st in the country, the second in New York state. The four-year program is slated to open with 100 students in September 2019.

To get there, funds have to be raised. The veterinary school's capital budget is around $40 million. Thus far, the program has received nearly $13 million in promised state support: $750,000 in capital funds from New York State Sen. Carl Marcellino and $12 million in seed money from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an investment designed to help boost Long Island's economy and funnel graduates to rural areas where veterinary care is said to be scarce.

Many in the veterinary profession wonder, though, how opening a school near Manhattan would fulfill needs in rural New York. Moreover, they point out, the area is surrounded by veterinary academia. LIU is within 200 miles of some of the world's best veterinary schools: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York; University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia; and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

"Let's be real … none of the kids graduating in Long Island are going to go to practice dairy management and herd health in upstate poverty stricken areas," Dr. Mary Fornes, a practitioner in Hamburg, New York, wrote in a discussion on the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service.

"I live two miles from this campus," added Dr. Keith Niesenbaum of Garden City Park. "Not a ruminant to be seen. And only a few horses."

Dr. Carmen Fuentealba, dean of the program, was unavailable for comment. By email, LIU spokesperson Jon Schneider spoke on her behalf: "This is a great program that a lot of talented people have devoted considerable time and energy building, which has deep support on our campus and our region."

Meanwhile, the university and its two campuses — one at Post in Brookville, the other in Brooklyn — are in the midst of controversies that could aggravate the program's opening.

Growing pains

Those controversies include low enrollment and opposition by faculty, many who believe LIU doesn't have the resources to open a veterinary school. According to faculty, the number of freshman attending LIU Post has dipped at least 30 percent during the past decade, hovering around 550 per class.

Schneider would not corroborate the data. "We did not provide you with enrollment figures, other than to say the university's total enrollment is approximately 16,000," he said.

Chris Fevola, LIU treasurer and vice president for finance, classified enrollment as "stable" and said that financially, the institution is on an upswing after years of running on an operating deficit. LIU recently completed a $76 million agreement to sell air rights on its Brooklyn campus, and gifts to the university have increased 50 percent during the past four years, to total $42 million.

"We have double-digit operating surpluses and our endowment has gone up 200 percent in the last five years," he said. It's more than $230 million.

Asked what prompted the fiscal turnaround, Fevola explained that LIU has made a "conscious decision to improve academic quality, graduation rates and retention" that for many years have been "insufficient." There was also some belt-tightening, he said, downsizing departments that are "under-enrolled."

"Students are more tightly correlating their education with employment," Fevola said. They're trading liberal arts for health and science programs like veterinary medicine, he said.

Faculty members, however, say LIU isn't communicating with them about the changes. A longtime employee who didn't want to risk his job by being named, said the university is "reaggregating assets to support the veterinary school" by terminating or phasing out other programs: "We've been kept in the dark, getting bits and pieces by reading it in the newspapers and press releases from the institution.

"In terms of any discussion internally, it's simply not happening," the employee added. "When it comes to these changes, we're being kept out of the loop."

One such change was announced last Wednesday, when LIU President Kimberly Cline held a press conference at The New York Athletic Club in Manhattan to declare that the athletic departments on LIU's two campuses would merge in 2019 to form a "more robust" program to compete in NCAA Division 1.

She stated: "We believe allowing our student-athletes to compete at the highest level will increase the university's visibility and ultimately create a broader platform to tell the 'One LIU' story."

The consolidation of the sports program, officials said, has been in the works for a decade. Cline said LIU's "transformational initiatives" extend beyond athletics to academics. She noted that the university is readying to open "New York metropolitan area's first veterinary school, pending accreditation."

Some LIU faculty are skeptical that the decision to merge the athletic departments was made to better the university's sports programs. The true goal, they suspect, is to cut costs and divert those funds to help establish the veterinary school.

"With our enrollment problems, it's hard for faculty not to see this as just one more cost-cutting measure designed to eliminate duplicative sports," a faculty member said, also speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of workplace reprisal. "I'm sure the administration is mainly looking at a spreadsheet showing the savings on athletics scholarships and salaries."

The faculty member added that since May, "the administration has denied tenure or promotion to 15 worthy faculty members. Several colleges have been forcibly consolidated for no other reason than to eliminate chairs' stipends ..."

A third faculty member, also anonymous for fear of losing her job, concurred: "We have a strong impression that people are being terminated or phased out and the money that would go to those faculty lines have been re-aggregated to support the faculty at the vet school."

The faculty's union has filed at least 13 complaints on behalf of aggrieved staff. The LIU Post campus has roughly 245 full-time faculty members, "and a whole bunch of adjuncts," the faculty member said.

"I'm convinced that this had very little to do with academics and much more to do with economic considerations, but technically, it's hard to prove," she said. "The enrollment is down, and that's part of the problem. To fund a new vet school, you've got two choices: raise funds or bring in a crop of students."

The LIU Board of Trustees voted in September to downsize the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which went from 12 to five departments. The board is expected to approve similar reorganization plans for other colleges during its Oct. 16 meeting.

"We've seen disinvestment everywhere but at the administrative level, and many of us think this is being done with the vet school in mind," the faculty member said. "No duplicative sports means fewer salaries for coaches and staff, fewer scholarships, fewer expenses."

Schneider, the university spokesperson, rejects the notion that finances motivated LIU sports to consolidate. "It's all about unification and branding for our university, to have a common identity and participate in collegiate athletics at the highest level," he said by email.

Speaking by phone, Schneider was emphatic: "The notion that we're draining all corners of the university to get this vet school up and going is inaccurate. ...How many programs are there with two completely separate athletic identities? We need one identity, and this is a step toward improving our national profile. It's as simple as that."

Mercy lawsuit

A lawsuit filed Aug. 13 in Westchester Supreme and County Court isn't helping LIU's image. Mercy College, a private, nonprofit institution in Dobbs Ferry, New York, is suing LIU and an administrator for allegedly poaching would-be Mercy undergraduates to boost enrollment.

The suit asserts that Edward Weis, a former dean at the Mercy School of Business and now vice president of academic affairs at LIU Post, used proprietary information to lure would-be Mercy students to LIU Post's business program.

Mercy had made offers to a list of high academic achievers, from which Weis plucked names and contact information, the lawsuit alleges.

"As of May 1, Mercy College had 42 accepted and registered freshmen for the Business Honors Program for the 2018-19 school year. By July 20, 2018, nine of these registered students notified Mercy College that they would be attending LIU …" the complaint says.

"Mercy College has suffered damages in excess of $700,000 (excluding scholarship money offered by the college) for the loss of the nine registered students," the suit states, alleging that Weis and LIU "knowingly and maliciously competed unfairly." The college is seeking compensation that includes Weis's pay during the time he's said to have behaved as a "faithless servant" at Mercy.

LIU and Weis had until Oct. 4 to respond to Mercy's allegations, records show. However, the filings are not on the court's website. Weis's attorney Hayley Dryer did not return an email inquiring about the case.

LIU was mum, too. Schneider said, "We cannot comment on pending litigation."

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