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Research Funding Enables College to Reach Farther, Dream Bigger
At a time when state support is shrinking and university budgets nationwide are on the chopping block, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is quietly embracing a revolution. No longer tied to fickle state dollars, some faculty and staff are paying their own way through entrepreneurial endeavors and a willingness to search new horizons for untapped funding. No longer content to sit and hope everything works out OK, they are creating and shaping their own futures.
"For many years, most faculty members have paid a portion of their salary through grant support," said Dr. Lance Perryman. "We typically have nine-month appointments -- with the exception of clinicians at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital -- so faculty members would write into their grant proposals the remaining three months of salary. What is changing is the number of special faculty and staff, and even tenured faculty, who are now mostly or completely supported by soft money. This gives the College needed flexibility in how it allocates its resources, and enables us to have a more robust program. If we didn't have this type of mechanism, we would be a much smaller college."
Dr. Perryman estimates a total faculty number of 202 for the College, give or take four, with 132 of those being tenured positions. That means that approximately 70 additional positions are funded through grants and awards, including funding from government, industry, and non-profit organizations. Tenured faculty who use soft money for salary may opt to use state dollars to hire special appointment faculty for teaching duties so he or she can focus on research. Others may opt to reduce clinical duties, or expand their support team.
"We have to leverage the resources we have in order to compete more effectively," said Dr. Perryman. "Philosophically, it's not that we choose to have fewer tenured faculty, but that path is being selected for us through budget cuts and reduced funding for higher education."
One example of the shift in funding is Dr. Simon Turner. Dr. Turner, who has been a special appointment faculty member at Colorado State for 12 years, is fully funded by grants from primarily pharmaceutical and orthopaedic companies. In addition, he pays part of the salaries of two assistant professors and one full professor from his industry-funded research programs. He also provides technician salaries, and flexible part-time work and on-the-job-training to undergraduate students who are in the pre-veterinary program.
"I got out of the mindset that the only 'clean money' is government money," said Dr. Turner. "Once you break free of that mold, you can be very creative in the research work you do and the opportunities you are able to create for yourself and those around you."
Dr. Turner has established an animal model - aging female sheep - to study a variety of human-related illnesses and health conditions. These include osteoporosis, conditions of menopause (such as dry eye, hot flashes, and the health of the heart as it relates to menopause), sports medicine injuries (shoulder and knee problems), low back pain, and failed back syndrome. His laboratory has tested new drugs for osteoporosis and is currently testing and developing new implants and surgical techniques (including spine-fusion surgery) as relates to these conditions in people. Dr. Turner notes that there are six health-related products associated with his laboratory currently available on the market.
"Industries are able to subcontract out to private laboratories, but those laboratories can be expensive and they don't have the scholarly association that we are able to offer," said Dr. Turner. "What industry gets from us is a research team that is not only experienced with animal health but is not biased about what it does - we don't have a financial interest in the company - so it can act as an objective outside evaluator. And they certainly would have trouble matching the elaborate facility we have here at CSU. Of course, the work we do is very confidential as much of what we are dealing with is proprietary information. We are, however, still able to pursue scholarly activities, present at conferences, and publish our findings."
Dr. Turner said the situation also is ideal for the students who work in his laboratory.
"We have a lot of pre-veterinary students who are helping us and we couldn't do the research without them," said Dr. Turner. "It's really a win-win situation. They get into the hospital early on in their academic career, become familiar with surgical techniques and, furthermore, get paid to learn. When they get to veterinary school, their classmates are astounded at their abilities."
This year, the College received more than $44 million in research grants and awards, including the industry funds used to support Dr. Turner's laboratory. Those dollars are key to the College's continued growth and success.
"There is no question about it, we simply would not be the number two veterinary school in the country without a robust research program," said Dr. Perryman. "We would not have the facilities, the outstanding faculty, or the ability to attract the best and brightest students. While we appreciate every dollar that we do get from the state, we simply cannot compete nationally and be competitive with that level of funding. Research dollars allow us to bridge this gap, and build newer and stronger bridges to the future."