A Tribute to Dr. Osburn, UC Davis Retiring Dean

The new dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is Michael Lairmore. We will be hearing more about him soon but goodnewsforpets wanted to pay tribute to the retiring dean, Dr. Bennie Osburn, the longest serving dean of a veterinary school. The following article was originally published in the Summer 2011 edition of Veterinary Medicine News from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

As one of the longest-serving veterinary deans in the country, Bennie I. Osburn has led the School of Veterinary Medicine with distinction for 15 years.

An energetic proponent of the profession, Osburn has raised awareness of the broad role of veterinarians in the traditional areas of food animal medicine and food safety as well as the profession’s value in the lesser-known sectors of environmental health and One Health.

Upon his retirement this year, Osburn leaves the school with eight new facilities, new and expanded programs of regional service and international stature , more than 700 students, 300 faculty members, a robust research enterprise, a budget of $150 million and a scholarship endowment of more than $40 million.

Increased Capacity at Veterinary Schools

Osburn’s 41-year scholarly career has been filled with contributions to the land-grant university’s mission of teaching, research and public service.

As an educator, Osburn takes pride in having mentored 50 graduate students. When he became dean in 1996, his dedication broadened to serve all the school’s students and future veterinarians of California.

After leading an assessment by the University of California of the health workforce, Osburn was instrumental in raising the number of DVM students from 108 to 131 students per class to address existing and projected shortages.

Responding to greater demand for veterinary specialists, he helped increase the number of specialty residents in the school from 60 to more than 100 in what is believed to be the largest veterinary residency program in the nation.

Ninety new ladder-rank faculty and more than 150 other scientists and lecturers have been recruited during Osburn’s three terms.

Along with faculty and other friends of the school, Osburn navigated through a rocky period of limited accreditation due to facilities and successfully guided the school back to full accreditation in 2004. He set a precedent for the University of California when he oversaw the planning, fundraising and construction of eight facilities designed to unite faculty and students and to promote research collaborations.

Osburn’s enthusiasm has helped the school secure other new sources of funding, including a $2.5 million permanent state augmentation in 1998 and $200 million in donor funding that set UC Davis records for private giving. He helped the school’s budget grow to $150 million per year.

Osburn was instrumental in starting the combined DVM/PhD degree program, a graduate student support program, and programs to encourage veterinary students to explore food animal medicine and research careers.

While president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges 2003-2005, Osburn launched national initiatives to build capacity at veterinary schools, establish veterinary loan repayment programs and increase federal research funding. His work on a national public health task force, for example, was in part responsible for the increase in the number of public health programs in colleges of veterinary medicine, including the Master of Public Health degree program that he helped found at UC Davis.

Most recently, he has served as chair of the board of the North American Veterinary Medicine Education Consortium, paving the way for the future of veterinary education through nationwide coordination of curricula, resources, testing and licensing.

Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, says, “Dr. Osburn is one of academic veterinary medicine’s most important and influential visionaries. His leadership at AAVMC and tireless advocacy have had tremendous impact on veterinary education and the profession overall.”

Promoting Discovery

Faculty member N. James MacLachlan, a former graduate student, describes Osburn’s research influence in global terms. “Bennie Osburn leaves a remarkable record of research leadership in several areas, most notably bluetongue virus infection of livestock, where he led a substantial effort to characterize the epidemiology of bluetongue in the United States as the infection assumed greater relevance as a trade issue,” MacLachlan states. “He also leaves a remarkable legacy of former graduate students who have risen to the upper echelons of academic institutions, government and the private sector throughout the world.”

Osburn completed his DVM degree at Kansas State University, a PhD in comparative pathology from UC Davis and a research fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. In 1970, he returned to the School of Veterinary Medicine as a faculty member and made key discoveries about food animal viruses " including the bluetongue virus " developmental immunology, congenital infections and food safety. He has published more than 280 peer-reviewed publications about health in sheep, primates, dairy cattle and other species.

Fostering research, Osburn led the infectious diseases unit of the California National Primate Research Center 1974-1980, served as associate dean for Research and Graduate Education 1976-1996 and worked as acting director of the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center 1985-1989.

Under Osburn’s leadership, the school’s research funding rose from $46 million in 1996 to $109 million in 2010. He helped launch joint ventures such as the UC Veterinary Medical Center – San Diego, the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, and the FDA Western Center for Food Safety. Osburn was also instrumental in nurturing centers of excellence such as the Center for Comparative Medicine, the Center for Vectorborne Diseases, the SeaDoc Society and the International Animal Welfare Training Institute. Health programs for regenerative medicine, wildlife, shelter pets, companion animals and horses also blossomed during his tenure.

Expertise and Experience

Osburn has frequently contributed expertise to universities, government agencies and professional organizations. He chaired the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Biotechnology Research Advisory Committee 1988-1991; in 1994 he participated on a USDA panel on sustaining animal health and well-being. He worked for six years on the Legislative Advisory Council of the American Veterinary Medical Association. As research dean and dean of the school, he traveled to the U.S. Capitol regularly to advocate for funding of veterinary research and education.

A seasoned traveler, Osburn has been invited to participate around the world in scientific collaborations, veterinary school planning, strategy development for the prevention and control of infectious livestock diseases, and discussions about how to apply biotechnology in agriculture and veterinary medicine. Among the more than 30 countries he has visited are Italy, Mexico, Brazil, India, Egypt and other African nations, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand. He has also cultivated international cooperation on educational projects in Iraq, Afghanistan and China.

“It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve as dean,” Osburn told faculty, staff and students when he announced his retirement late in 2010. “Leading this school has been one of the most rewarding challenges I have ever experienced, and together we have accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time.”


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