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Veterinary school dean Bennie Osburn to retire

By Pat Bailey on October 1, 2010 in

Bennie Osburn, dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and a national leader in veterinary education, has announced that he will retire in the summer of 2011, when he completes his third term as dean.

Osburn has served 14 years as dean of the veterinary school, which is consistently ranked at the top of the nation’s 28 veterinary schools. A national search for his successor will be initiated during the next few months, according to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Enrique Lavernia.

“Dean Osburn’s accomplishments and his vision for veterinary medicine and education reach far beyond UC Davis,” Lavernia said. “He is one of the longest-serving veterinary school deans in the nation and has been a tireless advocate for the profession and for veterinary education, as well as an outstanding colleague.

“California and the nation have benefited from his steady leadership and his resolute commitment to effecting positive change for the school in everything from facilities to research support to curriculum,” Lavernia said.

Osburn became dean in 1996 as the school was approaching its 50th anniversary. He oversaw a successful $50 million fundraising campaign and was the guiding force behind a $354 million long-range facilities plan, which will be nearing completion as he leaves the dean’s office next summer.

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is the only public veterinary school in California authorized to confer the doctor of veterinary medicine degree. It has 700 students in professional, master's and doctoral programs, as well as 90 veterinarians in a world-renowned residency program. As dean, Osburn presides over the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System, and the Veterinary Medicine Extension program, all at UC Davis.

"It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve as dean," Osburn told faculty, staff and students this week. "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."

He noted that he plans to continue to advocate for the school to maintain its position at the forefront of veterinary education and to broaden public perception of veterinary medicine's essential role in animal, public and environmental health.

"As the next chapter unfolds, I look forward to new opportunities in my life," he said.

Osburn’s most visible legacy is the total physical transformation of the school’s classrooms, laboratories and surgical facilities.

In 1998, when the American Veterinary Medical Association put the veterinary school on “limited accreditation,” due to facilities deficiencies, Osburn and his leadership team quickly rallied the support of elected officials, private donors and the University of California system. In the following years, he led the planning and construction of new buildings, as part of a facilities plan of unprecedented size and scope in UC history.

The school’s full accreditation was restored in 2004. The last of the renovation project’s eight buildings, known as Veterinary Medicine 3B, recently broke ground and is scheduled for completion in 2012.

As dean, Osburn also secured a permanent $2.5 million annual state budget augmentation, increased annual research funding from $46 million in 1996 to $109 million in 2010, and raised more than $200 million in private support. He recruited 90 new faculty and more than 150 adjunct faculty, scientists and lecturers. He enlarged the doctor of veterinary medicine degree program from 108 students to 131 students per class each year, to help California address workforce shortages in several sectors of the veterinary profession.

Osburn expanded the reach of the veterinary school by launching a number of joint ventures. These include the UC Veterinary Medical Center - San Diego in Southern California and campus-based collaborative efforts such as the Center for Comparative Medicine, the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Western Center for Food Safety. He also helped to launch the UC Davis master of public health degree program and establish centers of excellence within the school in the areas of wildlife health, vectorborne diseases, food-animal health, shelter medicine, animal welfare, stem-cell medicine and more.

Osburn joined the UC Davis faculty in 1970. Prior to that, he earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree at Kansas State University in 1961, received his doctorate in comparative pathology from UC Davis in 1965 and served as a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University. During the early years of his research career, he made key discoveries about food safety and food-animal viruses, notably the bluetongue virus in livestock. His research resulted in more than 280 peer-reviewed publications.

Osburn noted that he takes particular pride and finds great satisfaction in having mentored 49 Ph.D. students during his career.

In addition to his teaching and research activities, he also served as the veterinary school’s associate dean for research and graduate education for 20 years and as interim director of the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare, Calif., from 1996 until 2000.

He has been active internationally, traveling to more than 48 countries to facilitate research and teaching initiatives, including the rebuilding of veterinary programs in Iraq and Afghanistan; development of food-animal medicine programs in China; and coordination of international discoveries about bluetongue disease and its prevention.

He is a member of the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; distinguished member of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists; distinguished veterinary immunologist of the American Association of Veterinary Immunologists; and distinguished practitioner in the National Academy of Practice in Veterinary Medicine.

In recognition of Osburn’s contributions to the advancement of veterinary medical education, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges in 2009 awarded Osburn the Melcher Leadership in Public Policy Award. That same year, the California Cattlemen's Association presented him with the Gordon K. Van Vleck Memorial Award.

More information about Osburn’s accomplishments is available at:

Media contact(s)

Pat Bailey, Research news (emphasis: agricultural and nutritional sciences, and veterinary medicine), 530-219-9640,

Lynn Narlesky, Veterinary Medicine dean's office, (530) 752-5257,