Veterinary dean ventures on to greener pastures

by Jake Kapsner

After 12 years at the University, New Zealand native David Thawley is changing locations again.
Thawley, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, accepted a post as dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Nevada-Reno, beginning Sept. 14.
“The bus is rolling,” Thawley mused. “I can’t make the difference (here) that I could in the past because my vision has been enacted.”
In 10 years as dean, he helped faculty members transform curriculum, reshape the University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospitals and expand the college’s research program.
Last year, the veterinary college unveiled a new curriculum that allows students to specialize their course work during the four-year program.
“He’s been a big proponent of curriculum changes,” said Mickey Trent, associate dean of academic affairs.
The program had previously followed the national model — the “cookie cutter” approach, where all students follow the same course plan — and needed more hands-on experience and less class lecture time, Thawley said.
At a time of massive technological change in medicine and agriculture, Thawley has helped the University’s veterinary medicine program stay up-to-date, said John Fetrow, assistant vice-president for the Academic Health Center.
The college’s number of research programs more than doubled during Thawley’s tenure, and investments in molecular and cellular biology opened the door for four new research centers.
“Things changed and we’re keeping up,” Fetrow said.
Changes in the Veterinary Hospitals translated into a 200 percent revenue increase from 1988 to 1998 with a doubled patient load.
“In a decade, we’ve gone from $2 million to $10 million in revenue,” Thawley said.
The change, he explained, “was an issue of survival.”
While the University was once the only source for veterinary specialization in the state, specialists flowed into the metro area in the past 10 years, many as University graduates.
“We made our own competition,” Thawley said.
With no full-time practicing faculty in the teaching hospitals, students completed a working residency in the hospital, then took their close clientele relationships with them, he said.
“It’s a persistent problem all academic health centers have in training,” Fetrow said. “It forces us to raise the bar and better ourselves.”
After adding numerous faculty who work exclusively in the hospital, finding ways to use space more effectively and eliminating some bureaucracy, Thawley said clients compliment the University as being a lot more customer friendly.
An interim dean will be named in August and take over on Sept. 7.