Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, Calif, in April withdrew an antitrust lawsuit against the AVMA. WesternU sued the AVMA in federal court claiming restraint of trade and denial of due process.
The lawsuit stems from WesternU's initial unsuccessful attempts to receive a "letter of reasonable assurance" for its proposed veterinary college from the AVMA Council on Education. Since 1952, the Council on Education has been recognized by the US Department of Education as the accrediting agency for colleges and schools of veterinary medicine in the United States.
On March 5 the council determined that WesternU had made the necessary improvements to the plans for its veterinary college and granted the letter (see JAVMA, April 1, 2001). WesternU approached the AVMA later that month seeking to settle the lawsuit.
By withdrawing the lawsuit "with prejudice," and under the terms of the settlement, finalized in April, WesternU will not sue the AVMA on this issue again and will reimburse the AVMA for expenses incurred in connection with the May 2000 appeals process. For its part, the AVMA agreed to dismiss a pending counterclaim against WesternU to recoup all legal fees. The AVMA and WesternU will absorb their respective legal costs.
In a joint statement released in April, AVMA president, Dr. James E. Nave said, "The AVMA's Council on Education is committed to ensuring the quality of professional veterinary education, and through the accrediting process, protecting the interests of the general public as related to veterinary medicine. We wish every success to Western University of Health Sciences as it develops the proposed college."
"We are thrilled that the AVMA has recognized the quality of our proposed program, which we see as one of the most innovative in veterinary academia," Dr. Shirley D. Johnston, dean of Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, said. "We look forward to working cooperatively with the AVMA Council on Education in the years ahead."
Since the letter of reasonable assurance was granted, WesternU has stated it will begin hiring faculty, recruiting students, and raising funds to complete construction projects. The veterinary college expects to open its doors to students in the fall of 2003.
Granting the letter of reasonable assurance signifies the council has determined that the proposed veterinary college is likely to receive accreditation if it implements the plans as proposed, thus demonstrating that it meets or exceeds the Standard Requirements for an Accredited or Approved College of Veterinary Medicine.
AVMA executive vice president, Dr. Bruce W. Little said, "It is important for everyone to recognize that in granting the letter of reasonable assurance, the standards of the AVMA Council on Education were not compromised in any way.
"The council's official policy is to recognize the existence and appropriateness of diverse institutional missions and educational objectives; however, the council does not believe that local circumstances justify the accreditation of a substandard program in veterinary education leading to a professional degree. To its credit, Western University made the necessary improvements to its plan for the proposed veterinary college, and that's why it was granted the letter."
The council established its Standard Requirements to ensure that graduates of accredited schools and colleges of veterinary medicine are firmly based in the fundamental principles, scientific knowledge, and physical and mental skills of veterinary medicine—briefly stated, both the art and science of veterinary medicine. Graduates should be able to apply these fundamentals to solving veterinary medical problems for the different species and types of domestic animals. The requirements include standards related to organization, finances, physical facilities and equipment, clinical resources, library and learning resources, students, admissions, faculty, curriculum, continuing education, and research programs.
Each of the 31 accredited veterinary colleges in the United States and Canada is evaluated on a regular basis and must demonstrate that it meets these standards to maintain accreditation.
In September 1998 WesternU submitted a self-study report for its veterinary college seeking a letter of reasonable assurance. Council members conducted a site visit in December of that year. Citing deficiencies in WesternU's plan, the council voted in February 1999 not to grant the letter at that time. WesternU submitted a second report that October, but a subsequent site visit by a new team again resulted in a negative vote by the council in February 2000. At issue were deficiencies in the plans for the veterinary college's curriculum and physical facilities.
WesternU filed an antitrust suit against the AVMA the following April with the US District Court, Central District of California.
The suit alleged that the Association had disregarded its own criteria for accreditation, neglected to follow its stated procedures, and failed to consistently apply its standards when compared with other accredited veterinary medical colleges. The suit asked the court to compel the AVMA to issue the letter of reasonable assurance and to apply its accreditation policies and procedures to WesternU in an unbiased manner. WesternU also demanded monetary damages.
Furthermore, WesternU filed a complaint with the US Department of Education, asking for an investigation of the council's handling of the university's application for accreditation.
WesternU appealed the council's decisions to an AVMA-constituted independent hearing panel in June 2000. The panel found that none of the issues cited by the university would have substantially affected the council's decisions not to grant the letter. Additionally, the investigation by the Department of Education determined that the council had adhered to its procedures and did not treat WesternU unfairly.
In the meantime, an ad hoc liaison committee created by the council was working to assist WesternU with its reapplication for the letter. Shortly after that committee voted to deny the letter in October, WesternU officials, saying they had no alternative, had the AVMA served with the lawsuit (see JAVMA, Nov 15, 2000).
During a scheduled meeting in March 2001, the council determined that WesternU had since improved its plan for the proposed college's curriculum and facilities, and granted a letter of reasonable assurance.
WesternU is promoting an "innovative curriculum" for its veterinary college. During the first two years of the academic program, students will participate in a problem-based learning curriculum on the California campus. This system emphasizes learning basic science in the context of case studies and acquiring communication skills as student groups cooperate to learn veterinary concepts.
Veterinary students in their final two years will rotate through regional veterinary practices and clinics, similar to students in human medical schools, rather than study in a university-owned veterinary teaching hospital.