Light on the Hill, Volume II

Miller, Russell


POSSIBLY THE MOST AMBITIOUS of all Mayer's ideas, and the one attracting the most attention, was the establishment of a regional school of veterinary medicine which would provide a variety of important medical and community services, and be the only such facility of its kind in New England. Harvard had operated a veterinary school, opened in 1882, but it had languished and had been closed in 1901. The most recent attempt in New England to operate a veterinary school had been made in the 1940s by Middlesex University in Waltham, Massachusetts. After a struggle to survive, the institution (which was never accredited) had found itself on the verge of bankruptcy and in 1946 had negotiated to find a buyer for its property. Its veterinary school was phased out in 1947 when the campus had been acquired by a Jewish group who renamed the defunct school Brandeis University and opened it in 1948 as a nonsectarian, liberal arts institution.

In the very year that the possibility of a veterinary school at Tufts was being considered, a report was made by a private organization, Planning International, Inc., proposing the establishment of an independent regional veterinary school at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was one of a long series of studies made for more than a decade in an unsuccessful attempt to provide a veterinary school for the New England states.

The need for such a school was obvious, for a shortage of veterinarians had developed which was predicted to reach critical proportions in a short time. It was frequently pointed out that, of the nineteen veterinary schools in the nation in 1975, all but two were publicly supported, and that not one was located in New England. (The University of Pennsylvania is privately controlled, but with some state support. Cornell is part private and part public; its veterinary school is state-supported.) All the New England states were forced to contract elsewhere for student spaces.

Only one applicant in eight was admitted to a veterinary school nationally in 1975, and preference was naturally given to those who were residents of states in which the schools were located. Contract


openings for New England students were limited to a total of only twenty-six in 1976. All but three were at either the University of Pennsylvania or Cornell; all of the admissions at a third veterinary school (Ohio State University) were from New Hampshire. Those students not covered by one of these contracts found admission "practically impossible," and competition for the markedly inadequate number of spaces was fierce. The advantage of having a school based in New England seemed clear, for it would not only provide much-needed facilities for training veterinarians regionally, but would provide valuable agricultural and community services as well as opportunities for research.

A veterinary school as a part of Tufts would be unique in that it would be the first of its kind to be closely related to a medical-health sciences complex rather than to a college or school of agriculture. An important benefit for Tufts would be the opportunity to broaden and to strengthen existing resources in the biological sciences and to explore in depth the interrelationships among the more than 200 diseases common to humans and to the entire animal kingdom. The arrangement with Tufts would permit the sharing of faculty and facilities in the basic sciences among the schools of medicine, dental medicine, and veterinary medicine. The veterinary students would be able to receive an "integrated medical education" and be able "to understand the entire health system" as well as to engage in cooperative research. It was arguments such as these that Mayer drummed home to the trustees as well as to the general public as the possibility of opening a veterinary school became a probability. The previous attempts to establish a regional school of veterinary medicine in New England had proved fruitless, due largely to the great expense involved in starting one, and to the inability (or unwillingness) of the states to cooperate in becoming involved in such a major venture.

In 1972 and again in 1973 the New England Governors' Conference had commissioned an investigation of the feasibility of establishing a regional veterinary college. Reports were prepared for the New England Board of Higher Education, the legally constituted body to assist in interstate cooperation. The most recent study had been published in 1974. During the summer of that year, Governor Francis W. Sargent of Massachusetts signed into law a statute reserving for three years the entire 1,100 acres and facilities of a former state mental hospital in Grafton which had been vacant since 1972.



The purpose had been to establish a veterinary school there. In addition, the governor had signed the 1974 capital outlay budget which authorized a state contribution of $200,000 for planning and site preparation. In order for the plan to become operative, at least three other New England states besides Massachusetts had to participate, with a projected opening date of 1977. The plan called for the accommodation of 792 full-time equivalent (FTE) students and 108 faculty, including administrators. Close association with a school of medicine was the ideal. This would presumably have been the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, five miles from Grafton.

The entire idea of establishing a regionally shared school had collapsed by 1976 because no three of the requisite New England states would join Massachusetts, ostensibly because of fiscal restraints. The plan failed even though the federal government was receptive that year to regional projects and would provide up to 80 percent support.

Here was a golden opportunity which Tufts could seize. As a private institution it could possibly do what the states apparently could not. On Mayer's initiative, a seven-person committee was appointed in the late summer of 1976, with Thomas W. Murnane, associate dean of the dental school, as chairman. Their task was to make a preliminary study of the feasibility of establishing a veterinary school to be managed by Tufts. It would be a unique experiment in joint public and private cooperation.

The feasibility study was presented first to President Mayer and then to the trustee executive committee in the fall of 1976 and to the full board early in 1977. As projected, the school, in order to meet both national and regional needs, would not only offer the traditional veterinary curriculum, but would also specialize in nutrition, public health, marine medicine (including aquaculture), equine research, and laboratory animal medicine. Continuing education for New England veterinarians, and diagnostic and treatment facilities were to be included in such a school. It would be "an integral part of Tufts" which would establish the standards and grant the appropriate degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) after the students completed a four-year curriculum.

The feasibility study recommended that the central base of the school would be at the Tufts campus in Boston, where the first year or two of the basic sciences could be taught, including small-animal instruction. Existing faculty in the medical and dental schools would be used to the maximum, together with veterinary teaching resources. Research laboratories, small-animal facilities, and a basic library


collection would also be located in Boston. As first outlined, a "clinical campus" was to have been located in each of the cooperating states, presumably at land-grant (public) universities, each with one or more specialities appropriate to the state in which each institution was located. The students, in their last two years, would rotate through each campus. However, the advantages of a single major large-animal clinical facility were readily acknowledged in the feasibility study. Financing was to come from a combination of federal, state, and private sources. A study made in 1977 indicated that funds provided by private sources alone, and with donors with no previous connection with Tufts, would in no way cover the costs of starting the school. Public (government) support was indispensable. Capital and start-up costs, to be provided largely by the federal government, were estimated at $21 million in 1976. This amount was no more than half of the estimated cost of establishing a completely new school "from the ground up." Operating costs would be paid by way of contracts by each of the cooperating New England states for each of their students, plus tuition payments. The cost of education per student each year was estimated to be between $15,000 and $16,000. Commitment by at least four of the six New England states, including Massachusetts, was considered necessary. If all went well, an opening date might be set as early as the fall of 1979.

For a considerable time prior to President Mayer's establishment of the ad hoc study committee, consideration had been given to the possibility of obtaining the vacant former state mental hospital in Grafton for veterinary school uses. The idea was at first to make it the main research center of the school, in cooperation with state agricultural, veterinary, and health researchers, or to make it one of the state clinical centers envisaged in the preliminary plan. There was also discussion about moving to Grafton the Stockbridge Agricultural School which was operated through the University of Massachusetts.

Support for the establishment of a veterinary school was forthcoming immediately. William F. Gearin of Paxton, Massachusetts, who headed a committee to establish such a school, participated in the exploratory meeting between Tufts and state officials. If the plan were approved, the committee headed by Gearin pledged to launch a six-state fund-raising drive aimed at raising $1 million to assist in starting the school. Local reaction in the Worcester area was predictably favorable to the plan of establishing the school, and various Massachusetts newspapers supported it. During 1977 Mayer met with the governors of all six New England states and explained the plan to them, emphasizing the regional character of the proposed school.


The establishment of the school was endorsed by the New England Governors' Conference, meeting at Rhode Island College in October. Four of the six governors attended in person. The lieutenant governor of Vermont represented that state, and New Hampshire was represented by an individual designated by its governor. The governors had rejected the previous year a proposal for a regional veterinary college to be located at Grafton, the reason given for rejection having been excessive costs.

Developments early in 1977 showed promise for the project. The New England Governors' Conference approved Tufts' request for $100,000 for planning, and both houses of Congress had approved a federal appropriation of $10 million for construction of the school. The New England Governors' Conference approved a second $100,000 grant in December 1977.

There were mixed reactions at first on the part of the Tufts trustees. One responded enthusiastically to such a bold plan, calling it the most exciting idea presented to that body in the last ten years. But many others had serious reservations. The university had never taken on the responsibility for an assignment of this size and complexity, fraught as it was with innumerable risks and uncertainties. What would be the impact of the proposal on the Tufts medical school and the New England Medical Center Hospital which were still in the midst of attempting to work out improved relations? What would be the impact in terms of personnel, facilities, and funding? Would the proposed school divert funds and put an additional and undue strain on already scarce resources? Could satisfactory arrangements be worked out with the public sector?

President Mayer, using to the utmost his considerable persuasive powers, assured those trustees who doubted the workability of the entire scheme, that it would not be a financial burden to Tufts, would enhance the visibility of the institution and brighten its image, and would assist it in acquiring new resources that could be used to build up and improve many areas in the sciences that needed strengthening. He argued vigorously that this strengthening would in no way weaken or detract from support for other programs but, on the contrary, would bring in funds not otherwise available. After the trustees had approved in principle the idea of establishing the school, Richard B. Talbot, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, was employed on a part-time basis for one year as the principal consultant in March 1977, with the title of interim dean. Plans were made in the fall for Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Jamaica Plain (Boston) to provide small-animal clinical facilities and at the same time the former


mental hospital at Grafton was selected as the site for equine research and a large-animal hospital. These facilities had to be provided in order to obtain a "certificate of reasonable assurance" from the American Veterinary Medical Association in the spring of 1977, as the first preliminary step in accreditation. The school received temporary accreditation in the fall of 1979 by the Council of Education of the American Veterinary Association. This was followed by "provisional accreditation" in the fall of 1981. Full accreditation, granted in 1983, had to await the graduation of the first class that year.

After being reassured by President Mayer that the burden of financing the proposed school would not fall on Tufts, the trustees formally approved the establishment of the school on 29 April 1978 at an all-day special meeting. At the same meeting the trustees created an ad hoc Health Sciences Development Committee to serve as a consultant and liaison body with the full board. One purpose was to carry out Mayer's conception of an integrated "one medicine" program embracing the totality of medical, dental, veterinary, and nutrition education.

Events associated with the planning for the veterinary school continued to take place at a breathtaking pace. Albert M. Jonas, director of the Division of Animal Care and Professor of Comparative Medicine and Pathology at the Yale medical school, and for several years engaged in private small-animal veterinary practice, was appointed as the first dean in the summer of 1978, succeeding Talbot. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts transferred to Tufts in September 1978, 634 acres at the Grafton site, for the nominal sum of $1. It was valued at $8 million, and three existing buildings were immediately incorporated into the development plan.

Jonas soon perceived that start-up costs, estimated at $6 million, were excessive, and he rigorously pared them, modifying the plans voted in April and sharply reducing the total expenditure. He set the minimum needed in private donations at $4 million, with no expenditure to involve the use of other Tufts funds. In order to cut costs, he recommended that the entering class be reduced from a maximum of sixty to thirty-five. The research facilities planned for the Grafton campus were to be postponed, and guaranteed student places were to be given preference only to those states contributing their share of start-up costs. Projected per student expenses were estimated at $15,000 a year, with $9,000 in capitation fees from the contributing states and $6,000 from tuition. Tuition and fees for each member of the first class were actually $17,364.

The Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine opened its doors on the Boston campus on 2 October 1979. Only a month


earlier, a fund-raising campaign had been formally begun for the school, with a goal of $9 million. The Class of 1983, comprising forty-one individuals (twenty-five men and sixteen women) from nine states, was slightly larger than the scaled-down enrollment anticipated by Dean Jonas. The students were selected from 498 applicants; 36 of those accepted were from the five contracting states. (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and New Mexico. New Hampshire and Vermont did not participate.) Simultaneously with the opening of the new school, announcement was made of a $2 million gift, the largest private donation yet made to the school. The donor was the Mabel Pew Myrin Trust of Philadelphia.

While the entering students were beginning their studies in the basic sciences in the fall of 1979, a two-phase construction program was being planned for both the Boston and Grafton campuses, the first phase totalling $16.5 million. Meanwhile, negotiations were continued to provide permanent small-animal clinical facilities at Angell Memorial Hospital and additional facilities at the South Shore Veterinary Associates in Weymouth. Space was also leased from the state laboratory in Forest Hills (Jamaica Plain). A staff of eleven administrative officials, eleven teachers in the basic sciences, and thirteen individuals in clinical programs had been assembled by the time the school opened, after a summer of concentrated planning and recruitment for which the dean was basically responsible. The clinical faculty were not eligible for tenure but for continuous term appointments up to five years, subject to renewal, the number of years of each contract depending on academic rank.

Of the $6.5 million to be raised by Tufts on a matching basis, $1.2 million had been received or pledged by the fall of 1979. It was clear that the entire veterinary school project had to be a deficit operation for several years, and it was planned accordingly, with indebtedness to be amortized at first out of capital funds. Resort had to be made to some mortgage financing, especially in the years from 1980 to 1982, to pay for such projects as the remodelling of buildings at Grafton to provide for staff and student housing and the purchase of animals. The school welcomed such public funds as a $3.3 million grant from the Massachusetts legislature in 1983.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Grafton campus took place on 16 May 1980, with top priority given to providing large-animal (equine) services. A Visiting Committee made its first report in May 1980. To the committee, one of the most striking phenomena about the entire school was the rapid pace at which it had been developed. It was "a source of amazement" to them that so much had been accomplished in such a short time. Admittedly there had been breakdowns


in communication and differences of opinion which were inevitable because of the "tendency to try to do everything at once." The grueling pace continued unabated. A new dean (Franklin M. Loew) assumed his administrative duties on 1 March 1982. Two of the four major clinical teaching facilities had been made operational by the fall of 1981 — the large-animal clinic in Grafton and an ambulatory clinic in Woodstock, Connecticut. The large-animal hospital opened in June 1982. The most urgent continuing need, according to the Visiting Committee, was a hospital for small animals. A preliminary three-year agreement was negotiated with Angell Memorial in 1981. Even its possible acquisition was considered, but no satisfactory arrangement could be worked out, so an affiliation with the South Shore Veterinary Associates was arranged. The decision was finally made that Tufts would provide its own facilities. Largely as the result of a large donation by Henry and Lois Foster, a $3.6 million hospital was provided at Grafton and was officially opened on 20 October 1985. It was intended as a specialized referral service so that it would not compete with the clientele of existing private veterinary practitioners.

Although it had yet to pay its own way in the mid-1980s, the Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center, as the Grafton campus came to be called, was steadily enlarging its teaching, clinical, and research activities. The campus in 1985 comprised, besides administrative offices, residences, and laboratories, a hospital for large


animals, the Amelia Peabody Pavilion (the equine facility), the Cornelius Thibeault Equine Clinic, various large-animal teaching barns, a wildlife clinic, and the Foster Hospital for Small Animals. The large number of buildings bearing the names of various donors bore witness to numerous valuable private contributions.

Student enrollment stood at 206 in 1982-83. The school had graduated its first class (of thirty-six) in 1983 and there were sixty-five entering students in the fall of that year. The original plan was to have a maximum enrollment of 400, to be reached in 1986-87. Plans were already under way in 1979 to acquire a mixed dairy herd, poultry, sheep, and swine to provide experience for students in working out nutrition and management programs as well as developing skills in diagnostic procedures.

Tufts could point proudly to its operation of the twenty-ninth veterinary school in the nation. In an even broader context, as an enthusiastic President Mayer expressed it in 1980, the new school was "a dream come true," for it would "create new opportunities to serve New England's agricultural community" as well as redound to the benefit of Tufts' reputation as a service organization and contributor to the theory and practice of veterinary medicine.


[] See Clarence R. Cole and LaVerne D. Knezek, "A Plan for the New England College of Veterinary Medicine."

  • Light on the Hill, the second volume of the history of Tufts University, was published in 1986, covering the years from 1952 to 1986. This doucument was created from the 1986 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume II.
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 Title Page
1. Setting the Stage for the Second Century
2. Long-Range Planning
3. Bricks and Mortar 1952-1967
4. The End of Theological Education at Tufts
5. Ever-Widening Curricula for Liberal Arts and Engineering
6. Jackson College: A Search for Identity
7. Defining the Role of the College of Special Studies
8. The Arts and Sciences Faculty I
9. The Arts and Sciences Faculty II
10. The Central Library
11. The Changing Character of the Student Body
12. Fraternities and Sororities at Tufts: A Cyclical History
13. A Beehive of Activity: From Trustees to Students
14. From Wessell to Hallowell
15. The Hallowell Administration: Years of Trial and Tribulation
16. The Hallowell Administration: Continued Trial and Tribulation
17. Educational Ventures, Successful and Otherwise
18. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
19. Medical and Dental Education I
20. Medical and Dental Education II
21. Taking Stock of the University in the 1960s and 1970s
22. The Mayer Administration: A Preliminary View
23. The Mayer Administration: Consolidation and Expansion