The AVMA House of Delegates makes policy on matters of veterinary medicine. So does the AVMA Executive Board, and therein lies a problem.
That's according to Dr. Mark P. Helfat, then alternate delegate for New Jersey in the HOD, speaking during the regular annual session of the House. The HOD met July 14-15 in conjunction with the AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis.
After debating multiple proposals relevant to the Association's governance, delegates approved a resolution calling for the board to establish a task force to evaluate the entire governance structure of the AVMA.
The Association's current governance structure might not work in future years, said Dr. Ted Cohn, District IX representative on the board, advocating for the resolution during a meeting of a House reference committee. He emphasized a need for more input from AVMA members in the policymaking process.
The HOD currently comprises delegates from state VMAs and allied veterinary organizations, and the board comprises representatives from 11 multistate districts (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) and the AVMA officers. The House meets twice annually, while the board meets more frequently.
The AVMA Bylaws state that the House "shall be the principal body in the Association responsible for establishing policy and providing direction for matters relating to veterinary medicine." The bylaws also state that the board "shall act for and on behalf of the House of Delegates between sessions of the House of Delegates."
The recent debate about the authority of the HOD arose after the board approved revisions to the Veterinarian's Oath last year. The House adopted the Veterinarian's Oath in 1954 and approved revisions in 1969, and the board approved revisions in 1999 and 2010.
Delegates did not raise objections to the most recent changes, which identify animal welfare as a priority of the veterinary profession, but to the board's making the changes.
Ten VMAs subsequently sponsored a bylaws amendment to give sole authority to the House to revise the Veterinarian's Oath. Delegates approved the amendment.
"The oath controversy was the most recent example to show flaws in our overall process," said Dr. Stewart W. Beckett, Connecticut delegate, at the full session of the HOD. "We have a process that has councils and committees that make recommendations on veterinary policy go to the Executive Board and bypass the House, and yet the House is charged in our bylaws with deciding matters pertaining to veterinary medicine."
The Utah VMA proposed a bylaws amendment that would have directed the board to determine policy "after consultation with the House of Delegates on any matters relating to veterinary medicine." The Utah VMA withdrew the proposal in favor of a proposal from the Connecticut VMA.
The Connecticut VMA proposed a bylaws amendment that would have designated as interim any policy changes relating to veterinary medicine that receive board approval, with policies becoming final only on HOD ratification.
Delegates discussed but defeated the amendment. Dr. John R. Brooks, then board chair, argued to delegates that the board needs the flexibility to act without waiting for a final checkoff from the House.
Photo by R. Scott Nolen
"We have a process that has councils and committees that make recommendations on veterinary policy go to the Executive Board and bypass the House, and yet the House is charged in our bylaws with deciding matters pertaining to veterinary medicine."
Dr. Stewart W. Beckett, Connecticut delegate
Delegates also discussed a resolution from the New Jersey VMA that would have called for a task force specifically to perform an analysis of the role of the HOD.
Advocating for an analysis of the HOD, Dr. Helfat said, "If we can admit that our present structure of governance needs improvement, we must choose our course of action. Do we just keep plugging away under the same system? Do we give up? Or, as I strongly recommend, do we regroup, study our faults, formulate a new approach, which will get us back on track with an improved system of governance?"
Delegates defeated the resolution from New Jersey, but they approved a resolution recommending that the board establish a task force to evaluate the entire governance structure of the AVMA.
The Executive Board and the House Advisory Committee proposed the broader resolution. A statement about the resolution cites recommendations from the report of the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission, which offers a vision for the AVMA for the year 2020. The report, available at www.avma.org/2020vision, calls for a review of the entire AVMA governance and enhancement of member participation in governance.
According to the statement about the resolution, the board will consider various forms for the task force. The task force likely will consist of about 11 individuals with pertinent expertise or experience. The board also will consider the feasibility of the task force engaging external experts on association governance.