Puschner assumes Michigan State deanship, Baker worked to reduce educational debt

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Dr. Puschner
Dr. Birgit Puschner (Courtesy of Michigan State University CVM)

Dr. Birgit Puschner will serve as the new dean of Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She fills the position left vacant by Dr. John Baker, who is stepping down after working to reduce educational debt.

Dr. Puschner begins at MSU on Oct. 1, having received approval by the MSU Board of Trustees on June 22. She currently is chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. After completing her residency in veterinary toxicology in 1999, Dr. Puschner joined the UC-Davis veterinary faculty.

She credits her upbringing in rural Bavaria, Germany, for providing a love of and connection to agriculture and animal health, according to a June 21 university press release. Dr. Puschner received her veterinary and doctoral degrees from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. She did postgraduate training at the Animal Medical Center in New York and went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Michigan School of Medicine. She is a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology. Her research concentrates on diagnostic veterinary toxicology and the development of criteria for interpretation of analytical data.

"Dr. Puschner possesses a broad range of leadership, research and teaching achievements and skills that will advance all aspects of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the vision to take the college and the university to new places," said MSU Provost June Pierce Youatt in the press release.

Dr. Puschner will succeed Dr. Baker, who has served as dean since 2014 and is stepping down on June 30 to pursue other work within the veterinary college as he transitions to retirement. An administrator is filling the dean position from July 1 to Oct. 1.

While at Michigan State, Dr. Baker (Ohio State '80) served in a number of capacities prior to becoming dean, including associate dean for research and graduate studies within the veterinary college and acting director of AgBioResearch from 2004-05. He began his career at the university in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, where he was section head for food animal medicine and surgery. He is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Shortly after he was named dean, Dr. Baker saw the need for large-scale collaboration to address the crisis of educational debt. The Fix the Debt summit (see story), held in April 2016 at Michigan State, was his brainchild. Dr. Baker announced at the end of the summit that he planned to reduce educational debt for veterinary students at Michigan State.

Since then, the veterinary college's rate of increase on in-state tuition has dropped from 4 percent to 2 percent annually. Out-of-state tuition was frozen for the 2017-18 school year. Dr. Baker told JAVMA News in July that if this trend continues, the veterinary program will no longer have the most expensive tuition for out-of-state students.

In addition, the veterinary college has moved from covering 4.7 percent of students' tuition bill, on average, to approximately 10 percent, by making scholarships a No. 1 priority in the four years he's been there.

Finally, MSU's veterinary college has revised its curriculum in an effort to reduce debt loads and enhance student success and wellness. Prerequisites for admission have been restructured so they can be completed in two years. A shortened time to entry and earlier entry into the workforce reduce debt levels and increase lifetime earnings potential, Dr. Baker said. The new curriculum will be rolled out this fall for the Class of 2022.

Related JAVMA content:

Michigan State receives $12.6M to establish endowed chairs (April 1, 2017)

Veterinary colleges look within for debt-reduction strategies (June 15, 2016)