The American Veterinary Medical Association and its college-accrediting Council on Education have taken steps to eliminate what critics charge are conflicts of interest between the two groups.
The policy changes came during a period in which the U.S. Department of Education is weighing the continued long-term recognition of the Council on Education as the accrediting body for 30 U.S. veterinary colleges and a smaller number of schools in Canada and overseas.
Among the changes enacted in March or April:
- The Council on Education barred AVMA board members from college site visits.
- An AVMA board member will no longer serve as a non-voting liaison to the council.
- The AVMA board of directors approved $10,000 in funding so the council may hire outside legal counsel rather than rely on advice from AVMA lawyers.
- AVMA board members and members of the House of Delegates may not serve on the committee that selects AVMA members to serve on the council. Instead, the three positions will be at-large.
Board chairman Chip Price, DVM, supported the exclusion of AVMA board members from site visits and as liaisons.
“Although the board remains confident that the firewall between the COE and AVMA board of directors is strong and the board does not influence COE discussions or decisions, we agree that the presence of a board member at a COE meeting or on a site visit could be perceived as such,” Dr. Price said in a letter to the council’s chairman, Fred Derksen, DVM, Ph.D.
Price called the funding of outside legal counsel an action that “further ensures the autonomy of the COE in performing its accreditation functions.”
The Council on Education and AVMA have come under fire for their close relationship. Many of the nearly 1,000 comments submitted to the Department of Education as part of the recognition review challenged what the government said could be defined as undue political influence or the inconsistent application of accreditation standards.
The council in recent months held three open meetings with veterinarians and students. The listening sessions were held at the North American Veterinary Community conference in Orlando, Fla., at Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas and at the SAVMA Symposium, which was hosted by the University of Minnesota.
“We’ve listened,” AVMA reported in a statement posted Saturday on the AVMA@Work blog. “AVMA leadership and COE understand that members are concerned about the strength of the firewall between the COE and AVMA board of directors. Both groups felt these actions were necessary to reassure members that although the COE is under the umbrella of the AVMA, its actions and decisions are not influenced by AVMA leadership.”
Texas veterinarian Eden Myers, DVM, who addressed council representatives during the Western Veterinary Conference meeting, was pleased with the changes but said more must be done.
“The AVMA is to be praised for making these moves,” Dr. Myers said. “They are long overdue—absolutely necessary but still insufficient. They are baby steps in the right direction on a million-mile journey that a lot of us started years ago.
“The COE needs to be an autonomous agency whose staffing, composition, policy and administration are completely self-determined.”
Myers said in February that both AVMA and the Council on Education have important roles in the veterinary profession.
“We need the AVMA. The AVMA does really critical things very well for the profession,” she told the council representatives. “We need the COE. They do really critical things very well, but having the COE within the AVMA leads to the situation we have now where neither body can fulfill their mission, because their missions are inherently in conflict.
“The profession is not going to widely accept the COE until the COE is autonomous from the AVMA.”