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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wilson Bell '39, Connecting Cornell to Virginia-Tech University

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

Cornell’s veterinary class of 1939 was distinctive. Thirty-six men and three women arrived in Ithaca, New York in the depths of the Depression and would form the nucleus of the most diverse classes in the history of veterinary medicine, as well as one of the most cohesive?(1)

I became interested in this class several years ago and interviewed as many of the surviving alumni as possible though they were all well into their 90s at the time.(2)  For those who were deceased, I tried to find out as much about them as possible through second- and third-hand sources.  One of my greatest challenges was to learn of Dr. Wilson Bell, a Virginia native, who had died in 1992.  All I could find out from the Cornell records is that he had entered the class as a freshman in 1935 and graduated on schedule four years later.

Little was remembered about this man by the members of Class of 1939 whom I interviewed, though one recalled that he had worked at Virginia-Tech University. Not surprising, I thought, because he had been from Virginia.. This was corroborated by a letter written to his classmates at the time of their 30th reunion in 1969 that had “director of development” on its Virginia-Tech masthead.

I made several calls to the Blacksburg Virginia-Tech campus at the time, but neither library personnel nor various administrative offices was able to confirm any more than Dr. Bell had worked at the university. One person told me that he had been an administrator in the College of Agriculture.

I did not pursue Dr. Bell’s history any more until a couple of months ago, while reading the centennial book’s history of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association,(3) I stumbled upon several references to him written by Mr. Jeff Douglas who had spent many years working on the Blacksburg campus. I learned that Dr. Bell had been dean of Agriculture for many years, then had moved into central administration in the late 1960s where he was the inaugural development officer for the university.

Dr. Bell’s pre-Cornell history was also intriguing. He had received his undergraduate education in biology from Virginia Tech, followed by a masters in microbiology. He then moved to Ithaca where he accepted an assistantship in bacteriology and pathology.  One of the fringe benefits of being a Cornell faculty member at the time was to take courses at the university, so he enrolled in the DVM program of the veterinary college. Perhaps one of the reasons he was never well known by his classmates is that he was heavily engaged in teaching at the time. He also was the most educated person in the class, as only one year of undergraduate education was required at the time.

Following graduation, Dr. Bell was employed by the University of California until he entered military service in World War II. After the war, he returned to Virginia Tech where he eventually became dean of agriculture and, in 1968, director of development.

Cornell has connections with many of the veterinary colleges that arose in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine is no exception.(4)  However, it is unusual that the shared history goes as far back as the 1930s.  

The author acknowledges the assistance of Mr. Jeff Douglas, contributing author of the centennial history, in preparing this story.

(1) In addition to the three women (the most of any veterinary class to that time), two foreigners (a Canadian and a man from China), an African-American from Tennessee (Cornell’s only Black veterinary graduate of the 1930s), and eight Jewish students were members of the Class of 1939.
(3) Sanford, S. Mason. A Century of Science. The Virginia Veterinary Medical Association. 1894-1994. Gurtner Printing, Salem, Virginia 1994.
(4) One of the founders of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine was Dr. Kent Roberts ‘51, a prominent Virginia veterinarian. The third dean of the college, Dr. Gerhardt Schurig received his PhD from Cornell in 1977.
(5) Douglas, Jeffrey S. Senior, Communications Consultant, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
(6) Sanford, S. Mason. Ibid

Are There More Creative Options for Diversifying Academic Leadership?

Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
With Julie Kumble

During a presentation on Women’s Leadership at the AAVMC meeting last week, we confronted the issue of the slow increase in appointments of women to professorial and senior academic leadership positions over the past three decades despite vigorous affirmative action policies in the academy. “Can we learn some lessons from the successful increase in women’s leadership in places like the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA),” we asked, “or are we going to continue the glacial pace of improvement that characterizes many of our universities?”

As we reported in a posting here last year, the IVMA, led by Dr. Tom Johnson, didn’t just increase the depth of the candidate pool and help people understand and support a broader understanding of gender diversity, they also fostered institutional change. By modifying the very basic parameters of office-holding, they increased the pace of change.(1) “Our leadership profile didn’t just happen,” Johnson told us during our 2013 interview.

Instead, they used a multi-pronged approach. One was familiar to all of us, and involved developing leadership training opportunities for the target audience of women and new graduates. The other initiative was bolder: they made substantive institutional changes in the association. 

Of the several structural changes they instituted, we mention just two. One was to institute term limits, thereby opening up opportunities for more people to have a chance at leadership. Second, they confronted the prevailing dogma that leadership required progressively more challenging appointments, moving sequentially up the ladder one rung at a time to attain the necessary qualifications through experience, rather than a combination of experience AND creative mentoring PLUS targeted educational opportunities.

How has veterinary academia fared in the thirty-plus years since we have seen over 50% women enter our US colleges? In the last five years (2010-2015), the increase in tenure track professorial positions at all levels has only changed from 32% to 34%. The increase in faculty administrators, from 25% to just 34%. The percentage of women in all faculty positions in our 30 colleges ranges from 15% to 49%. Clearly, not what any of us wants.

Is it time to consider a bolder approach?

How about the following:

Ø  Term limits for deans, associate and assistant deans, department chairs and directors: four- or five-year terms, renewable no more than once. In addition to ensuring more frequent turnover of people in the most senior administrative offices, it would also allow colleges to prepare two or three years in advance of the appointment, rather than just months in advance. Though most dean searches are conducted over 12-14 months, the actual period of inviting people to become candidates is often a mere four months.(2) By extending opportunities for inquiry, recruitment and extended visits to one year or longer, the potential for active consideration of inspiring candidates could increase exponentially.

Ø  What about changing these job descriptions to accommodate greater flexibility for high quality candidates with diverse portfolios? Do all deans need to be internationally-recognized research scholars? Perhaps we need a less constrained concept of scholarship, one that reflects the future needs of society rather than the traditional needs of the academy. Do all deans need to be expert fundraisers, constantly on the move from meetings a mile away with vice presidents for development, to meetings a continent away with potential donors? Do we ever really assess the investment of international travel on time away from our offices and our families? Do deans really need to spend four hours a week in face-to-face meetings with provosts and vice presidents? Is it time to say “no” to the unending reports that keep deans from the important work of meeting with students and faculty, and from their children? Accountability is important, but so is trust and a lighter hand on university centralization. Is it time for deans to return to becoming academic leaders more, and managers of centralized university units less?

“Can’t be done,” some would argue, “because of federal and state regulations, the tightening university grip, and a myriad of other challenges.” Perhaps. But with an added measure of creativity, open minds, and our collective ability to problem solve, we might be able to make the type of progress that our colleagues in organized veterinary medicine have already been able to accomplish.

And by doing so, we could really increase the richness and diversity of the potential applicant pool. Now, THAT would be affirmative action, and perhaps the graphs would more accurately reflect the face of veterinary medicine in 2020.

(1) Smith, Donald F. and Julie Kumble. Veterinary Leadership in Iowa. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, December 12, 2013.
(2) The additional time is spent for provost to meet with stakeholders, for the search committee to be established, and for the position description to be written and advertised. Following the assembly of a cohort of applicants, the final several months are devoted to interviews, selection, and negotiation.

Dr. Jane Brunt: The Making of a Feline Veterinarian

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
With co-authors Julie Kumble and Melena Hagstrom

Cats are aloof, independent, and capable of dealing with pain on their own. These false assumptions still abound, and contribute to the startling figures: cats, despite being the number one companion animal in the US, are brought to veterinary clinics half as often as dogs. No one is more familiar with this situation than Dr. Jane Brunt, eminent feline expert and cat advocate.
It may come as a surprise that the cat was not the focal point of Dr. Brunt’s first strides in her career as a veterinarian. A Jersey girl-turned-Kansas resident, she completed her undergraduate and DVM degrees at Kansas State University (KSU). The strong agricultural presence at the university and the surrounding state gave Dr. Brunt a thorough background in ruminant medicine, and her initial inclinations after her 1980 graduation were to work with small ruminants, or perhaps go international.

A year later, after doing some dairy work and general small animal medicine, Brunt emerged an independent veterinarian, finding ways to work without direct guidance or constant mentoring. “I know I did things that weren’t necessarily the optimal way each time, but I learned independence.”  As to continuing to do large animal work for a career, she opined, “I could treat a cow with a prolapsed uterus in the middle of the night as well as any new veterinarian. I knew I could do it, farm calls and that lifestyle, but I also knew I didn’t have to.”
So Dr. Brunt changed course, and for the next three years, worked at a five-doctor cat and dog practice in Baltimore.

Then into her life walked the cat!  Feline medicine had been lurking in Dr. Brunt’s mind for a while, a ghost in the form of a cat nutrition sophomore project at the KSU veterinary college under her former professor, Dr. Russ Frey, and a chance experience during fourth-year clinics where she amazed herself by successfully placing an intravenous catheter in a sick cat. “That was a pivotal moment for me,” she says.  “Somebody let me do something and recognized my accomplishment, and I suppose it became a seed that grew.” 

To confirm her new career interest, she visited four veterinarians who owned feline practices: Drs. Marcia Levine in Buffalo, Joanna Gugliemino in Rochester, Sue MacDonough in Philadelphia, and Tom Elston in Boston. Dr. Brunt was inspired by their quiet and calm surroundings, the colleagues’ gentle ways, and their gracious hospitality. With the realization that she could do this as well, and her fascination with the quieter and more mysterious species, she engaged in “shoe-leather market research” and picked a place in Maryland where she felt a practice could thrive.

Here, she founded the Cat Hospital at Towson (CHAT), the first feline-exclusive clinic in the state. As with any practice, there were unexpected setbacks. “My associate fell in love with the contractor of the new practice location and they moved away,” she laughs. But she was successful nonetheless, and eight years later opened the Cat Hospital Eastern Shore (CHES), an hour from the first. (1)

These clinical efforts earned her recognition as a feline expert, and it opened new and interesting doors. Her current interests lie with the non-profit CATalyst Council, (2) formed from grassroots organizations within veterinary medicine, the shelter/animal welfare movement, and related Industry entities such as foundations, Cat Fanciers, the media, and commercial companies. As chair of the CATalyst Summit in 2008 and later her appointment as executive director of the Council, she attempts to further improve feline medicine and address the importance of feline care to the wider public. By virtue of open and inclusive structure of the CATalyst board, and Dr. Brunt’s direction, its associated bodies are able to represent a broad range of diverse stakeholders in feline healthcare and welfare.

In addition to her feline medicine interests, Dr. Brunt’s career has included her leadership in many aspects of organized veterinary medicine, including the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA), American Animal Hospital Association, and a delegate in the AVMA House of Delegates representing the American Association of Feline Practitioners. In 1996, she founded Animal Relief, Inc., to assist organizations in the healthcare of animals, and cats in particular.
Dr. Brunt’s life with the cat reflects the modern version of such legendary feline veterinarians as Louis Camuti, (3) Jean Holzworth, (4) Fred Scott, (5) and Jim Richards. (6) Though she dismisses those comparisons too quickly, she does know her strength of character.

I know that I’m driven and directive, but my personal core values are of integrity and honesty and a sense of humor.  I believe that everyone has a gift.  That’s my basic value and maybe should go on my headstone some day!

Inspired by the aloof creature that is the cat, Dr. Brunt has lifted the veil and made the cat more accessible, personal, and, ultimately, less of a mystery.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dr. Jane Brunt: Her Formative Years

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Co-authors Julie Kumble and Melena Hagstrom

It was a gutsy move. Jane Brunt, an aspiring veterinarian, decided to move from metropolitan New Jersey to agricultural Kansas to attend college. Relocating to the Sunflower State to enroll as biology major at Kansas State University would boost her chances to gaining admittance to the state veterinary college, or so she thought. Little did she know that this radical change in life style and location would also result in a fulfilling journey of personal growth along with her professional success.

Jane Brunt, DVM

Adjusting to the wide-open, wheat-strewn state where people spoke an unfamiliar accent and chewing tobacco, was very different from the populous suburban life to which Brunt was accustomed. It was also difficult, to put it mildly. Support from her family, including her father who had once aspired to become a veterinarian himself before choosing a career in psychiatry, and her own personal ambition and budding independence, were strong areas of support.

Her life began to change.  “I was a pre-vet student majoring in biology, so I had to take the requisite animal science courses to fulfill the veterinary college admission requirements.”(1)

Embracing the strong agricultural presence at KSU, she worked hard during her first year of undergraduate college to prepare a Hereford heifer for participation at the University’s Little American Royal Show. For weeks, she led and groomed, fed and broke the heifer. When the day of the show arrived, her efforts paid off and she and her charge were awarded second place. Her family, who had traveled the 1,400 miles to provide their support, was unimaginably proud. For Jane, it was just the beginning of realizing her potential.

The new way of life in the state that Brunt would embrace for seven years threw a few curveballs. She recalled the story of the cowboy, the mice, and a hay bale. The man, while preparing the arena for the cattle show, unearthed a nest of young mice. Huddled under the bale of hay, Brunt considered the hairless mice to be valued, baby creatures. The cowboy, on the other hand, as he stomped on the mice and mercilessly smothered out their existence, saw them as no more than pesky vermin that spread disease. Although horrified during this incident, she came to admire the work ethic of the farmers, who loved and cared for their livestock, and who were on call for them and their sprawling fields of crops every hour of every day, from sunup to sundown.

After three years of undergraduate work, Brunt did indeed gain admittance to the veterinary college. Friends, mentors, and strong personal and professional relationships were cultivated. Many years later, in retrospection, she remarked:

I sometimes reflect on many of the 'things' that are listed on my Curriculum Vitae. Though they may seem impressive to others, to me they are really quite insignificant compared to the seven years I spent in Manhattan. The education I obtained there, and values I learned; the life friends that I made, and the many wonderful memories that I have: all that just gets one line on my CV. (2)

Today, Dr. Brunt is the executive director of the grassroots initiative called CATalyst Council. She is also owner of CHAT, a very successful feline-only clinic in Towson, Maryland. She enjoys her work as one of the pioneering feline specialists in veterinary medicine. Whether it’s her experience of going to school in a place so different from what she’d known during her formative years, or her natural warm, generous, and driven personality, Dr. Brunt knows how to bring a diverse community together.

During her many years in office at the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, this ability became clear: “I try to be a voice of reason and bring people from different backgrounds together…You have to be persistent and positive, and make everyone see what can happen for the good of the whole.”

Her Type A personality and reflective lifestyle present a winning combination, and even today Dr. Brunt finds lessons for self-improvement. One of her more recent “aha’s” has been to try and be a better listener and be mindful of her tone of voice.

I’ve learned that “tone of thought” matters a lot, and I’ve discovered if I can be mindful and empathetic in my thoughts, it will show up in my words and actions.

This is, indeed, Midwestern kindness at its finest.

(1) Brunt, Jane, telephone interview with Donald F. Smith (Cornell University) and Julie Kumble (consultant, Cornell University), March 3, 2015