University leadership ignored warnings of CVM toxic culture, documents show

Over the course of approximately two years, University leaders – including the Board of Regents, the University President and the Provost overseeing the veterinary college – have been repeatedly warned by staff, faculty, alumni and others of a deteriorating toxic work environment at CVM, according to interviews and a review of direct communications with these leaders.  Those warnings have grown increasingly pointed as reports emerge that the College of Veterinary Medicine is in worse shape now than 6 years ago when it was relegated to probationary accreditation by the American Veterinary Medical Association for “major deficiencies.” 

In June of 2022, a letter representing 47 alumni was sent to the Provost, stating concern about the “mass-exodus of qualified and engaged clinical people.” The letter explained that their relationship with the Dean had broken down, having “expressed these concerns to the management with the result being little to no acceptance of responsibility” and “diversion of the subject” in an attempt to “paint a rosy picture” for his superiors and uninformed stakeholders.

This alumni letter also informed the Provost that it had become "obvious to many alumni that the Dean viewed alumni as a necessary evil to deal with” and that he refuses to “seek input from the organized group” who sought to help him.

The Provost was also warned that “over the past three years the relationships with faculty and referring veterinarians has become less than optimal,” in an attempt to explain to University leadership the dangers posed by CVM losing the faith and respect of local veterinarians. The letter further warned that “the diminished relationship with referring veterinarians has resulted in a lowered case load with resultant unavailable cases for instruction” which added “additional stress on clinical faculty” because they are required to provide each student a minimum number of exposure to multiple skills required for graduation.

Finally, the alumni warned the Provost of an emerging “toxic culture in the clinics and perhaps elsewhere which was believed to be related to the management style” of the Dean, in their opinion.

Later that year, a person who had no knowledge of that alumni letter sent an email to the University President and Provost with the subject: “VetMed will lose its accreditation if we don’t change.” This communication warned of many of the same challenges and liabilities identified by the alumni – all of which have worsened due to inaction by University leaders even after they were alerted to challenges. The email, which the Provost did confirm receiving, warned:

  • “a large group of remaining core doctors and staff wish to leave en masse” due to “hostile and inadequate leadership of both the College and the teaching hospital.”
  • “large and growing group of alumni and donors – a list which includes winners of the Distinguished Alumn award – who have a lengthy list of grievances apparently directed mostly at the College’s leadership.”
  • CVM leadership “shuns alumni, dignitaries in our industry who offer not only help but their reputations which we sorely need at OSU, leadership candidates with vast experience in precisely the areas of need at the teaching hospital, and key members of his own staff when he perceives them as stepping out of line with what he wants.”

This communication recommended that the University investigate these issues themselves, to confirm or disconfirm their legitimacy and to understand emerging “liabilities” that could damage the University, stating: “You should survey the team there – not another poll or meeting with the Dean, because there is rampant fear among the team if he is involved. Your office should conduct it.”

As these and other warnings were increasingly being proven true, the Provost and Vice Provost met in December of last year with a small group that included alumni and Teaching Hospital clients. A review of one attendee’s notes of that meeting indicate these same concerns were discussed in depth.  “The Vice Provost told us that replacing the Dean now might impact the College’s upcoming accreditation,” said one attendee, “But that didn’t make any sense to us.  That’s exactly when you make a change, to show the AVMA you’re serious about improving, that you care about the people who work there.”

A scheduled follow-up meeting was canceled by the Provost because, according to one attendee, “she emailed us that she had talked to people who quote ‘had different opinions from us’ and that was the last time we heard much from her.”

Alumni, donors, staff, Teaching Hospital clients and others claim that they’ve made at least three-dozen outreaches by phone and email to senior University leadership just this year to address these issues, and “to try to get an understanding of their plan.”  As one person put it, “If they would just say ‘hey we got it, we understand all this, we’re on it’ we could have some confidence that they’ve got a plan. But they act like none of it is happening, and pat themselves on the back for good NAVLE scores. Like that makes it ok to ignore everything else.”

In April of this year, a group comprised of alumni, donors and former staff addressed the Board of Regents for thirty minutes in an attempt to inform them of issues they were concerned were not fully understood at the highest levels of University governance. “We just felt like the most logical explanation of the inaction was that the senior leaders didn’t have full information yet, even though we’ve tried to offer insights with them over and over again,” said one person who addressed the Board. “We’re continually worried that the information those leaders have is filtered, watered down, explained away by College-level leaders who have a lot to lose if these things become known to the Board.  Someone is responsible for this, these things are happening, and it is hard to contemplate that the Board and even the President would do nothing if they had full information.”

Since that meeting of the Board of Regents, more faculty and staff have left due to the difficult work environment. “The Head of Surgery is leaving.  The Head of Emergency took the job and then quit that role in just a few weeks.  It’s still a mess,” explained someone with knowledge of these issues.

A survey conducted after the Board of Regents meeting reported a toxic, retaliatory and unfair workplace culture, poor relations with alumni and donors, mistrust of College Human Resources, and poor relations with local veterinarians – the exact issues that University leadership were warned about multiple times, and with increasing specificity and concern, over the prior two years.