Summer is upon us, and here I am writing my last Advance column as interim dean. The days are long, the weather is beautiful, and our Class of 2020 graduated in May despite all the challenges presented by COVID-19. Our faculty have really stepped up to deliver our curriculum in creative and effective ways in the absence of face-to-face instruction, and our students have shown incredible resiliency. Our Class of 2021 senior students are now in their clinical rotations after a bit of a delay, and we are actively working on a hybrid approach to deliver our undergraduate, graduate and first through third year veterinary curricula in the fall using a mix of face-to-face and online instruction.
As I begin my final weeks as interim dean of the college, I wanted to acknowledge that although we are making excellent progress on many fronts during this coronavirus pandemic, we as a community and a nation have not made nearly enough progress ending systemic racism. The recent killings of George Floyd and other African Americans have sparked nationwide protests that once again demonstrate the anger and frustration over years of racial disparity, violence, poverty and inequitable treatment. We must do better as human beings. Black Lives Matter. As a middle-aged white male who has benefited from a lifetime of privilege, I cannot pretend to ever know what it feels like to be an African American, or any other person of color, in the United States right now. As a college, we are working to develop strategies to improve our understanding of systemic racism, our role in it, and how we become anti-racist. Along with the other WSU Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) college deans, I made a pledge to continue to improve our college’s efforts in recruitment and hiring, as well as mentoring and employee training programs that can further create a culture of inclusivity and reduce bias and barriers. We will do better.
As you all know, our long-time dean Bryan Slinker has been serving as WSU’s interim provost, and he has done an amazing job as the University’s chief academic officer in navigating these incredibly complex times. Bryan will be officially retiring on July 15. Dori Borjesson, our incoming dean, will be taking the helm July 20 and you will be hearing a lot more from her in the coming months. As for me, I’ll be taking over as chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences on August 1, and I am really looking forward to serving the college in this new role.
Our future is bright. We’ll have 140 new students joining our Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah (WIMU) Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine program this fall—our biggest incoming class ever! Although instruction will look a bit different this year, our students will benefit from joining one of the top colleges of veterinary medicine in the country. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges recently released their annual comparative data report for all 30 U.S. veterinary colleges. We rank in the top six in total research funding, and impressively, in the top three in federal research funding. Our research projects are aimed at solving critical problems facing animal and human health all over the world such as preventing the spread of infectious disease, understanding how diseases are transmitted from animals to humans (critically important given the current situation), drug toxicities in companion animals, the effects of environmental toxins on reproduction, drug addiction, antibiotic resistance, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases, and improving livestock production, to name a few.
As you may know, student debt is a huge problem facing the veterinary profession. We take pride in that our DVM graduates have the third lowest debt load in the country—nearly $55,000 less than the national average. Our innovative educational programs, growing clinical experiences, and highly committed clinicians, teachers, and staff, make us a great value in high quality education. While our graduates carry less debt than most, they still face significant financial challenges, and growing our scholarship programs to ease tuition burden will continue to be a high priority.
One of the last big conferences I attended before COVID-19 shut everything down was the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas back at the end of February. We had a great turn out for our alumni reception, and it was amazing to experience the excitement and energy our alumni have for the profession and for WSU. Of course, I was not surprised—this has been the case at every college event I have attended as interim dean. I am so very honored to have had the privilege of serving the college in this role, and to have helped guide it through some very strange times. Importantly, I look forward to the next phase and all the exciting times ahead!