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Guest Column: Revenue sources needed for lab

Dean, COLSA

Published: Monday, February 27, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02

Jon Wraith is the dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture as well as the director of the N.H. Agricultural Experiment Station.

Many of you have expressed concern about the possible closing of the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the impact such a decision would have on veterinary services in the state, and most particularly on the education received by students in our pre-veterinary program. I am writing to provide background and an understanding of our efforts to find a viable solution. Most importantly, I want to assure you the needs of our students are and will continue to be foremost in our planning. 

Even in the worst-case scenario—in which the lab would be forced to close at the end of this academic year—our students' academic experiences would remain substantially the same. They would retain access to the livestock, to our equine and dairy facilities, and to the high-quality teaching and advising that has been at the core of their education here. Contrary to the inference in recent news stories, whatever happens the university will continue to remain in full compliance with animal welfare and all related regulations and policies pursuant to our maintaining equine and dairy livestock. The degree programs will not be affected in any way.

The laboratory is a partnership between the state, the public and the university, and is housed on the UNH campus. Its diagnostic services serve crucial animal and public health needs of the state, veterinary and livestock businesses and organizations, and others. Having them located here allows us to integrate the lab's veterinarians and staff members into our excellent pre-veterinary academic program, and we provide partial salary support to secure instructional and advising services. They are dedicated and highly professional employees.

Make no mistake: We firmly believe that the lab is an important asset to us and to the state. That is why we provide over $400,000 in annual funding, plus administrative and other non-financial support, to sustain it. We have been covering over a third of total costs for the lab, based on three- and 10-year averages. In fact, the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture sustained its monetary commitment to the lab even after the state cut its appropriation to UNH by 48 percent. However, funding the lab is a partnership with the state of New Hampshire through its Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and with veterinarians and private citizens who pay fees for diagnostic services. This year the Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food's budget was also reduced by the state, including its contribution to the operation of the lab. In addition, revenues from diagnostic services are down, due to the depressive effect of the economy on veterinary practices and on federal support to important testing programs. Further, costs to run the lab increase annually due to salary and benefits, needed supplies and equipment, and other factors. UNH simply cannot afford to run a $1.2 million laboratory on its own; nor should we subsidize public and private veterinary and public health services.

In the near term, we will continue to work very hard to develop alternative revenue sources for the lab. We have been working in close partnership with the N.H. Commissioner of Agriculture, the State Veterinarian, and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director and staff since early last summer to find solutions to this problem. These efforts have focused on developing new and existing capabilities to generate additional diagnostic business income from New Hampshire and surrounding states and organizations. While these efforts continue to yield some success, we currently remain far short of revenues to cover the anticipated budget gap of $300,000 for FY13.

Please know that we are doing everything we can to keep the lab open. There has been no decision on its future, though time is growing short. Further, any decision would be made jointly with leadership of the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food. In event of a temporary downsizing or worst case of a closure, we would work to retain or hire a qualified veterinarian as a full-time clinical faculty member to cover the three existing courses and the advising currently provided on a part-time basis by the lab's three clinicians. We would time any transition to occur at the end of the academic year, so as to minimize any effect on our students.

I will keep you posted as we continue to explore funding opportunities that might keep the lab viable. I will also communicate any decision as to the future of the lab as soon as it is made.

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