Arizona to appeal adverse decision

Concerns raised in five areas for proposed veterinary school
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The AVMA Council on Education has voted to deny a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation for the University of Arizona’s proposed School of Veterinary Medicine, saying that the school did not meet five of the accrediting body’s 11 standards.

Reasonable assurance does not confer accreditation but is a first step toward earning provisional accreditation and, ultimately, accreditation. The classification means a developing college has demonstrated that it has a realistic plan for complying with COE standards.

UA officials have notified the AVMA Board of Directors of their intent to appeal the decision, asking that a letter be awarded on the basis of information the university has already provided.

“We will demonstrate that we have addressed all of their concerns as communicated in the AVMA standards, and that we have the support of the board of regents, the agricultural community, and the state legislature to move the school forward,” said Dr. Shane C. Burgess, dean of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and interim dean of the veterinary school, in an Aug. 9 press release.

A screenshot taken from a video about the University of Arizona's proposed School of Veterinary Medicine

UA submitted documentation supporting its appeal on Sept. 9. A hearing will be conducted no later than 120 days from receipt of the documentation, and the university will be notified 10-40 days beforehand of the hearing’s date, according to the COE’s policies and procedures.

The UA’s Marley Foundation Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program is composed of the preprofessional program and the professional School of Veterinary Medicine; the COE decision impacts only the professional program.

The plan for the UA program is to allow students who have met the prerequisites and have a sufficiently high GPA to directly enter a two-semester preprofessional program at the main campus. This could include students without an undergraduate degree.

From there, students would apply for acceptance into the three-year, year-round School of Veterinary Medicine. Those who are not selected on their first application for the DVM professional program could pursue an undergraduate degree at UA or reapply the following year. Students who have an undergraduate degree and at least a 3.0 GPA could earn a master’s in animal and biomedical industries and also could reapply.

On the basis of UA preveterinary enrollment, the university anticipates at least 500 students will be qualified to enter the preprofessional, first-year curriculum. It plans to select up to 100 of those students for the remaining three-year veterinary curriculum.

Six of the nine semesters of the veterinary school program would be completed at the university’s Oro Valley campus, about 6 miles north of Tucson. Following the six-semester preclinical program, students would spend 48 weeks of clinical rotations primarily at UA facilities out of Tucson, but also at five private practice partners in Tucson and at animal industry sites around the state.

The COE’s decision caused UA to postpone enrolling veterinary students in its veterinary school, originally intended for this fall. It does still plan, however, to launch its companion master’s-degree program and a first-year undergraduate curriculum. State funding of $8 million also has allowed the university to begin renovating the veterinary school building in Oro Valley. Plus, the UA already has contractual agreements with five Tucson private veterinary practices, the Reid Park Zoo, Hermitage Cat Shelter, and Pima Animal Care Center to provide students with a diverse set of clinical opportunities.

“This combination of Tucson and statewide opportunities means the broadest education for least cost. It’s not the traditional vet school model and it’s not intended to be. We need a model for the 21st century and for Arizona,” Dr. Burgess said in the release. For more information, visit here.

UA started the process to seek COE accreditation when the School of Veterinary Medicine conducted a feasibility study in 2013 and asked that year for a consultative site visit from the COE; the visit took place Jan. 13-15, 2014. Arizona then filed a letter of application with the COE in 2014, seeking a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation. A council site team traveled to Tucson for a comprehensive site visit Jan. 24-28 of this year.

Deficiencies that still need to be addressed

According to a copy of the accreditation status letter provided to JAVMA by the University of Arizona, the AVMA Council on Education noted the following concerns:

  • Standard 2 (Finances): The COE wants to see a more detailed assessment of the financial structure of the veterinary school, so that the proposed tuition model, which relies heavily on year-one undergraduate tuition, demonstrates long-term financial sustainability. Plus, the veterinary school must continue to report on progress in securing administrators and faculty (a national search for a permanent dean is currently underway).
  • Standard 4 (Clinical Resources): The council wants more information about how veterinary students will have access to the veterinary school’s new medical records system while working in private practices in addition to a more detailed assessment of the number and types of diseased animals that students will see at the associated specialty practices.
  • Standard 6 (Students): UA’s plan for faculty—projected to total 113—and their course assignments, contact hours, and distribution for teaching, service, and research needs “are not clearly developed and adequately planned to develop and balance the curriculum” for the three-year professional program.
  • Standard 8 (Faculty): The veterinary school needs to clarify how some of the faculty “will interact with the curriculum.” In addition, the council says the veterinary school’s plans to address specialty discipline education by contracting with off-campus specialty practices—and how students will participate with these off-campus specialty practices—is not defined.
  • Standard 10 (Research): While UA appears to have extensive research programs, the COE says “if and how the program will develop a substantial, high-quality research program that is integrated within the veterinary school” remains unclear. The same goes for how veterinary students will be connected with the research program—and how veterinary faculty will demonstrate continuing scholarly productivity—when the majority of veterinary-related research will be performed in other colleges at the university.

Related JAVMA content:

Accreditation status remains uncertain for Arizona (July 15, 2016)

Arizona veterinary program secures funding (Oct. 15, 2014)

Arizona veterinary program being reconceptualized (June 15, 2014)

AVMA provides background on Western University of Health Sciences’ lawsuit (Nov. 15, 2000)