Board suspends VLE sponsorship, calls for review of student programs

VLE supporters still see chance for funding
Published on August 15, 2009
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

It appears that most everyone is taking a wait-and-see attitude after the AVMA Executive Board this July disapproved a recommendation guaranteeing a total of $300,000 in AVMA sponsorship dollars to the Veterinary Leadership Experience over the next four years.

Veterinary students
Veterinary students express their support for continued AVMA funding of the Veterinary Leadership Experience at the July 14 Executive Board meeting in Seattle.

The board, for reasons of budgetary constraints and questions about whether the Association's money could be more effectively used on other veterinary student initiatives, voted not to recommit the AVMA to supporting the popular VLE program offered by Washington State University.

Advocates of the VLE are hoping this isn't the end of the AVMA-VLE relationship, however, and their expectation isn't without merit.

Although the board did suspend AVMA sponsorship, it also directed the Membership and Field Services Division to work with the Student AVMA and Association members on prioritizing current AVMA student programs, examining potential new ones, and determining whether the VLE fits in with the overall mission of the Association. The division is to present its findings at the November Executive Board meeting.

This directive means there is a chance that the M&FS Division could come to the board with a recommendation for the Association to renew its sponsorship of VLE in some measure. But it's also possible that the division could go in a different direction, suggesting that AVMA resources be used in other areas to better serve veterinary students.

The board has been looking strategically at our programs with our students, and we really see this as an opportunity to work with Membership and Field Services to see what new opportunities for leadership programs with the students are.


Executive Board Chair John R. Scamahorn explained that the board decision wasn't made lightly and that it was in the best interest of the Association as well as students. "People are very passionate about the VLE, and it isn't that the Executive Board doesn't like the program. But we have to ask, 'What can we do in these tight economic times to get leadership development opportunities to students in the most effective way?'" Dr. Scamahorn said.

"The board has been looking strategically at our programs with our students," he added, "and we really see this as an opportunity to work with Membership and Field Services to see what new opportunities for leadership programs with the students are."

The VLE funding recommendation was submitted by AVMA CEO, Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, and the Member Outreach Task Force for consideration in April. A vote on the measure was postponed when some board members questioned the wisdom of recommitting the AVMA to the program, and to allow staff attending the VLE in June to speak about the program's merits.

When the board returned to the recommendation July 14, its deliberations were conducted in a closed-door session, as was the vote, which, given the proposal's $300,000 price tag, required a three-fourths majority to pass.

Prior to the closed session, approximately 20 veterinary students filed into the meeting room in an expression of support for the VLE. Harpreet Singh, president of the student chapter of the AVMA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was invited to address the board on behalf of the students about the value of the VLE.

Following the board meeting, Student AVMA President Rebecca Steers sought to strike a conciliatory note. "Of course there's some disappointment, but in all honesty, part of the message of VLE is looking at the possibilities and opportunities that are presented to you, so we are trying to look at this opportunity the board has given to us," said Steers, who attended the June VLE.

Steers noted that the SAVMA House of Delegates had earlier in the week approved a $25,000 donation to the 2010 VLE.

The VLE has its roots in a leadership development program started in 2002 for veterinary students at Washington State University. Out of that came the VLE, which was unveiled to the veterinary profession in 2004. The AVMA has co-sponsored the VLE since 2005 with a total of $315,000 and the stipulation that the program be called the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience. The AVMA House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution this past January calling on the Executive Board to support the program for another four years.

Today, in addition to the annual June event held in Idaho, the VLE is offered in an abbreviated form at 22 U.S. veterinary schools and colleges and has been presented on four continents. VLE co-founder and facilitator Dr. Richard M. DeBowes estimates that around 750 people have participated in the AVMA-VLE and another 1,200 individuals have been through VLE-based programs worldwide.

Dr. DeBowes, who is also the delegate for the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians in the AVMA HOD, understands the Executive Board must make tough decisions about AVMA finances. Yet the associate dean of development and external relations at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine is concerned with the board's decision about the VLE.

"As a lifelong AVMA member, I'm disappointed that for all the calls for leadership and how to bind young people to the AVMA and equip them for success in the future, we're forced to walk away from the VLE now, ostensibly because of the economy," Dr. DeBowes said.

Nevertheless, Dr. DeBowes is encouraged by the directive to the Membership and Field Services Division to think strategically about veterinary student needs. "The Executive Board is asking students, 'What do you need? How can we help?' That's how I interpret their action," he said.

Dr. Kevin J. Dajka, who took over as director of the M&FS Division in June, admitted it was difficult seeing such a large student program "cut." But he recognizes that the board has had to make difficult decisions, given the current economic recession. Still, Dr. Dajka is confident his division can deliver what the board is asking for.

"It's an opportunity to connect to our members," Dr. Dajka said, "especially SAVMA, and learn what they want from their professional association. They have the chance to get involved, make an impact in the services supported by the AVMA, and then Membership and Field Services can work together with the board to make it happen."