House Agriculture

February 2, 2023

Rep Fortner: Call this meeting of the House Ag Committee to order. Today we are blessed to have with us our friends from Louisiana, and they’re led by Dr. Garden. Would you introduce yourself for the record and your staff, please? 




BLR Staff: You need to tell him to turn on his mic.


Rep Fortner: Punch the little button to make it red. Now it is.


Garden (LSU): Is that better? 


Rep Fortner: Yeah. 


Garden (LSU): Okay, so everyone can here, good. It’s a joy to be here, thank you very much for having us. We’re really appreciative for your time especially given the weather. I’m the Dean of the school, I’ve been at LSU Vet Med since August of 2021. I’m very proud to be there, it is a great institution, and it has served this fine this fine state for 45 years no less. Sitting to my left is Senior Associate Dean for Student Success, Dr. Bonnie Boudreaux; I’ll let her introduce herself. 


Boudreaux (LSU): Hi, my name is Bonnie — Oh, the button. My name is Bonnie Boudreaux, I’ve been at LSU Vet Med for 13 years. I’m a Veterinary Oncologist by training, and I’ve been the Senior Associate Dean for Student Success for almost three years now. 


Garden (LSU): And to my immediate right is Gretchen Morgan. She is Senior Director of Alumni Relations and Communications. Do you want to say a few words, Gretchen? 


Morgan (LSU): Hi, I really appreciate all of y’all being here today. And I’ve been with the school now for 20 years in a wide variety of things. And Arkansas has been one of my favorite places to come to, we come every year to visit our alumni.


Garden (LSU): And to her right, to your left is Clayton Forbes, who is Director of Development. I’ll leave him to introduce himself. 


Forbes (LSU):  Hi, I’m Clayton Forbes. I’ve been the Director of Development at LSU for about nine years. And I’m fortunate to get to come visit a lot of our Arkansas alumni who are very dear — near and dear to my heart and passionate about the University of Arkansas, but also about LSU Vet Med, because that’s where they received their professional degrees from. So, I feel fortunate to be here and blessed to have you guys. And despite the weather, the opportunity to talk to you today.


Garden (LSU): So, thank  you very much for having us. A few words about me. As you can tell from my accent I’m not from Louisiana, but it is where I call home now. I am a graduate from the Royal Vet College in London, graduated 30 years ago. I spent some time there, and then came across the pond for the first time, worked in south Carolina, did a residency at Cornell in upstate New York. 


And then, went back across the pond and spent the next, well, about almost 20 years in London at Imperial College Medical School, and then at my alma mater the Royal Vet College. But then happily in 2016 I came back across the pond and was at Penn Vet, the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Pennsylvania for five years as the Chair of their Clinical Department in Philadelphia, but I’m really happy to be south and in Baton Rouge. 


We have always had a great relationship with the State of Arkansas. And one of the things that struck me, actually in my first month of the job was how passionate our Arkansan alumni are about having been at LSU Vet Med, and of course their roots in Arkansas. They really are big advocates of the school and of this state. And it is true that many of them, many of the Arkansan students that we have, most of them come back to the State of Arkansas. So, as the title says, this is a longstanding relationship 45 years long, based on trust, respect, and collaboration. And it has stood the test of time, and we at LSU Vet Med would like it to continue forever, but certainly many more years. We at the school have four key missions. I’m just going to give you a snapshot of each of them, I don’t want to take too long, but just to give you some background on the fine school that is serving your students who want to be veterinarians. 


We teach and that’s why we exist. Our teaching mission is central to everything that we do. And obviously, some of the students that we teach are from here, from Arkansas. We also have great clinics, both large and small. And indeed wildlife exotic animal zoo meds, and we heal. We discover. We have about $75 million in active funding, and that’s spread across various disciplines that I’ll tell you about, all relevant to animal health, but also relevant to human health, in fact, 50/50 almost. 


And we’re very proud of the fact that we are into One Health, the inextricable link between animal, human, and environmental health. And then we protect. We have a state diagnostic lab that runs 767 services. It does surveillance programs for disease causing agents that are serious. Chronic wasting disease prion, the prion that causes chronic wasting disease is one on of them. SARS-CoV-2 for COVID-19. And transboundary diseases like highly pathogenic avian influenza, African swine fever, et cetera. So, we do it all, we also have antimicrobial susceptibility testing and resistance monitoring, as well as other schemes like the Poultry Improvement Plan. 


So, let’s dive straight in and say that we do impact Arkansas in a very major way. We’re very proud of that. We have no fewer than 586 state-sponsored students. These are the ones for whom you pay the difference between resident versus non-resident fees that enables them to be considered like our own resident Louisianan students. There are more that want one to come and simply pay the out-of-state fees. They want to come to us, and if they don’t make it on the contract seats, then they’ll just pay. For example, the class of 2026 we have originally nine, and originally eight, one decided they didn’t want to be a veterinarian, but nine, and now seven. Nine in the contract seats and seven who’ve just said, You know what, I want to be at LSU Vet Med, I’m going to pay the nonresident fees regardless. And 34% of your own veterinarians are alumni of our school. That’s 1/3, which is a pretty impressive figure, and that amounts to 344 of our graduates. 


And the map at the bottom right shows where they’re located in Arkansas. In other words, all over the state, and in many of the counties that are represented there. Each of those little paws is one veterinarian, they’re all over the place. We have expertise in Equine and Food Animal, I’m very proud of that. We have a very, very large Equine program, Medicine, Surgery, Sports Medicine, Rehabilitation and Critical Care. We’re one of the few schools that has a good cater cohort of clinicians with expertise in each of those areas. Food Animal, we’ve just hired a fifth Food Animal clinician, making it one of the largest Food Animal teams in the nation. And they have expertise in preventive health, in Reproductive Science Theriogenology, in Medicine, in Surgery, Production Health. And we run an ambulatory or field service. 


So, these are all skills and experiences that are unique, fairly unique to us, and that would be of benefit to our Arkansan students. Now it’s true, it’s a sad statistic, I was very surprised, but you have as a state the fewest number of veterinarians “per head of capita.” It’s a 14 per hundred thousand population in the nation, which is a — pretty stark reality. And therefore, there is a distinct need for more veterinarians. This is true across the whole world, across the U.S. across each state, but certainly here where you have the fewest in the nation. And we’re able to help. We have always taken your students, we love them and we’re able to help. And we used to have up to 25 contract sponsored students. In 1989 it was 22, hoovered around there, it’s now nine. If we had the seats we’d take them.


Usually 50 plus students from Arkansas apply and we take, well, nine of them plus others who make it, who just want to pay the out-of-state fees. It’s about 1 in 3 of our applicants get seats at the moment, and we could accommodate more. If we had the sponsorship we could certainly accommodate more. And they represent the largest cohort of out-of-state students of any of the states from which students apply to our school, which is again a distinguishing fact. And we have many, many alumni from Arkansas who are really distinguished, who’ve led distinguished careers. So, Alex Dunlop, for example, was the NASA Chief Veterinarian from 2001 to 2017. Robert Conner who is in Mountain View, he runs a very successful practice. And during COVID started a mask company, believe it or not, manufacturing masks to meet demand, amazing. And then, John Nilz, you’ll be very familiar, he’s your State Veterinarian since last year. He’s an alumnus of ours from 1988. So, a lot of them making big contributions to the state of Arkansas and indeed the nation and world. 


We teach. So, we do teach in a distinctive way. Experiential Learning is key, and your students have exposure to all of the species. We’re one of the very few schools that has expertise in small animals and large animals, in wildlife, in zoo and exotic, they have it all. And we’re also developing collaborations with poultry specialist, knowing that it’s such a big agricultural commodity in the state of Arkansas. So, what you’re seeing there are some models in our new Clinical Skills Facility on the second floor of our new outpatient clinic, where these students will practice on low and high fidelity models, blood sampling, aspiration, all sorts of skills that they will need before they get into the clinics and actually do it on live animals. 


What you see there is blood sampling in horses from the facial nasal sinuses, and also hoof care. And there’s also an intravenous placement, catheter placement in a dog there. And the people who run this are the Associate Dean for Educational Strategy at the top there, Heidi Banse, and then Kate Jackson and Beth Grant at the bottom. Sorry, Beth first and then Kate, who run the Small and Large Animal, respectively, Clinical Skills Lab. 


So, really a lot of experiential learning both outside and in the clinics, which gives your students the very best practical skills that they need before they actually get out into the world. And by the way, we are doubling our cohort by 2024, so we’ll be able to take more Arkansan students, as well Louisiana and other state represented students. And we’re in the middle of a curriculum reform redesign, which is going to make us number one in the nation in terms of our curriculum delivery, and that will be rolled out in the fall of this year. We’re undergoing the final voting of that right now. We also heal. So, we have clinics, both small and large We’re very  mindful of the need for Large Animal, Food Animal, and Equine veterinarians. There’s a national shortage of all veterinarians, but particularly the acute in those sectors. 


At the top there is an opening, a grand opening by a dog no less, one of our technicians Jennifer Bridges there here Belgian Malinois. We do things differently at LSU Vet Med. That dog cut the ribbon, not us, and it was opened in June of 2022. And it’s now fully functional for our outpatient services. So, Community Practice, Theriogenology, Reproductive Sciences in dogs. Ophthalmology, Dermatology, and unique again for LSU Vet Med a fully functional integrative Med Center Rehabilitation Clinic. But we also are very proud of other services that we’re able to offer. So, on the bottom left you see our Emergency Service that’s undergone a complete refit with the space that’s become available as services are moved into the new clinic.


We’ve taken receipt of an outreach vehicle for community outreach Petco Love funded, so that will go into underrepresented communities. And we’ll ultimately have one health clinic where we not only address veterinary health, but also human health. The animals come with owners, many of those owners haven’t seen a doctor or a dentist in years. And then, we’re operating and now inaugurating new services, for example, Colleen Embersics there on the right, who is our new neurologist. It’s a Neurology and Neuro Surgery Service, but we have Behavioral, we have Dentistry, and Maxillofacial Surgery, and other besides. We’re also very proud of the fact that we will be undergoing, which will be ready in the fall of this year, a complete refit of our Food Animal Hospital. This is a $3.5 million dollar, state-sponsored renovation of our Large Animal, so beef cattle largely, unit in the hospital. And we’ll then have state-of-the art facilities that are world class for your students very, very soon, and this is a really great development. 


We’ve also, as I said just hired another faculty member in Food Animal Medicine. We take it very seriously at LSU Vet Med. Many schools and colleges have none, we have five. And we’ll be bolstering and augmenting our field services and ambulatory clinics, which is a lot of what your Food Animal Veterinarians need to do to serve the rural parts of your state. Equally we discover. We have a $74 million dollar footprint in federal funding. We, in the last six months accrued $3.5 million dollars in more funding for areas of expertise, which include Equine Health and Sports Performance, Lung Biology and Disease, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer Therapies, and now growing Neurobiology and Neurosciences. For in fact, Human Neuropsychiatric Disorders like Alzheimer’s, like Schizophrenia, and others besides. So, we’re a research powerhouse. We’re among the top there funded per capita of faculty in LSU. And LSU is a pretty distinguished institution, so we’re doing very well, and we want to grow that. 


This is one of the areas that your students have access to. They’re able to get into those labs, see those alternative career pathways in a way that they would not do in the more modern schools that don’t have the infrastructure and the ability to give them those experiences. Finally, we protect. And we have a really excellent state lab, it is the only state lab in Louisiana. And again, your students would rotate through this, for example in their pathology rotations. They would see the sorts of diagnostic tests that are done for detecting chronic wasting disease, which is becoming more of a problem in Louisiana, I know it’s a problem here too. And so, the people who run this, there’s a big team who runs it, of medical technologists, but the director shown at the top left, Udeni Balasuriya, world famous Equine Virologist has recently, for example, given an oral talk in the Sri Lanka Veterinary Association, and at UC Davis at a sponsored program there. 


And Mariano Carossino, shown at the top right, an excellent Anatomic Pathologist, one of the five that we have. Again, one of the largest crew of anatomic pathologists in the nation. These are skills that your graduates need. They need to know how to do a post-mortem exam on a farm, and these are the fit folks who teach them. And they’re doing cutting-edge research, for example, Mariano just got a grant to look at the development of a vaccine for Rotavirus A in horses. And what’s the future? Well, the future is bright. We are growing as a school, we’ve undergone a bold trajectory of growth in our people, programs, and facilities. We’re growing our class size, we’re refashioning multiple of our teaching spaces. We are refashioning our searchable training center to be world class and cutting-edged, as well as, as I say,  our Food Animal Hospital, which is going to be one-of-a -kind, it’s really fantastic. I’m just going to show you in conclusion a video that has several of your students speaking about their experiences. I think this speaks louder than anything I can say, so here we go.




Garden (LSU): Hello, this is Oliver, the Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine here at LSU. We could not be more grateful for our wonderful students from the State of Arkansas. We’ve had a long association with Arkansas that spans back since 1977. Your students have always brought wonderful contributions to our school. Their culture, their energy, their enthusiasm and their talent are much appreciated in everything that we do. From the preclinical to the clinical years they play a large role. We love their enthusiasm. We love their passion, and we love their academic rigor. Long may this association continue. You are warmly welcomed here at LSU Vet Med, and we are very pleased that you’ve chosen us as your educational destination of choice. So, from me to you, a heartfelt thanks and an invitation to continue this wonderful collaboration for many years to come Welcome to LSU Vet Med, Arkansas.


Brashears (LSU): What attracted me to LSU was the ability to have the out-of-state tuition waived from the state of Arkansas. And that’s really important reason for me to be able to pursue my career in veterinarian medicine at a reasonable cost. And to know that when I go out to practice that when I do graduate that, that burden will be much less because I was able to get in-state tuition. 


Black-Ocken (LSU): As I was going through undergrad, once I decided on veterinary medicine, being from Arkansas, there’s always been that connection, and knowing doctors from Arkansas that went to LSU. After visiting for sure and exploring  all my other options, I knew that this was the place that I was most attracted to. It’s the community that’s here, the people — that I spoke to while visiting, alumni that I have known from here, and just the people in the Baton Rouge community as well. Everything about the people here is really what drew me here. 


Wise (LSU): I decided on LSU for the sense of community. I found especially through my, this is my third year, our class has really been together and I don’t think I would be where I am without them. And I’m very glad that I chose LSU, and think it would have been very different anywhere else I would have gone. 


Gregg (LSU): LSU gives a lot of opportunities to Arkansas students by having nine seats, the most in the country. And I think that’s really attractive because they’re used to working with other states, and they really like working with other states. So, they care about not only their Louisiana students, but they also care about students from all over the country. So, it really helps build in that family value that LSU has here. 


Hill (LSU): My LSU experience here has been great. It really is a family community here. I made lifelong and lasting memories of my classmates and my classmates above me and below me. And it really has just been an amazing experience.


Brashears (LSU):  I’ve really enjoyed my time here at LSU. I’ve enjoyed the club experiences, the relationships I’ve made with both my classmates and my professors, and the administration. It’s been a really welcoming environment. And I’m excited that I spent this much time here and I’m looking forward to the last year and a half. 


Black-Ocken (LSU): I’ve really enjoyed my LSU experience so far. What I think I’ve enjoyed most is the community that has been brought to light here, from fellow students to administrative members, to clinicians, faculty, other instructors. It’s been super constructive and an awesome experience. Everyone is willing to push you to be the best veterinarian you can be and they’re willing to support you. And I’ve really felt that in my time here. I’ve definitely enjoyed that the most. 


Gregg (LSU): I grew up in Northwest Arkansas my entire life. I was in 4-H and FFA and did things all over the state, and all over the country really with the opportunities that Arkansas gave me. So, it just really feels nice to be able to finally be almost to a position where I can give back to the people who gave so much to me in this state and made me who I am today.


Brashears (LSU): My long-term plans for graduation, I would like to go back into a smaller town or a mixed animal practice. My husband and I we’re both from Arkadelphia, which is a smaller town. And we really appreciate the vibe that that gives. 


Hill (LSU):  See, once I graduate, I plan on returning to Arkansas. I’m only a second-year now, so there’s a lot of doors that’d be opened. And I would say — I grew up on a farm like with Production Medicine and we grew, we raised swine and all that. I would like to do Large Animal, I can also see myself doing Production Animal as well. 


Black-Ocken (LSU):  As of right now my postgraduate plans are to pursue Small Animals Medicine and explore my opportunities for internship and residency. Arkansas is also an attractive place to come back to. Friends, family still remain in Little Rock. 


Wise (LSU): I am thinking I want to return to Arkansas. I have a lot of friends there still and my family’s there. I really hope to do a mixed animal practice there, maybe in Little Rock, maybe right outside Little Rock, maybe Northwest Arkansas. 


Gregg (LSU): I’m still second-year, so there’s still a lot of deciding to do and a lot of experiences to be had. But right now I’m really leaning towards going back to Arkansas, and doing some sort of Production Med maybe with a production company in Northwest Arkansas, that’ where I’m from. So, I’m really looking forward to going back to that location. And just my whole family being there just makes it that much better.


Brashears (LSU): I want to thank the people that make this scholarship possible. It’s been a really great addition to my time here at LSU. It’s made the stress of school a little bit easier to know that there’s less of a financial burden, and allowed me to focus on my studies and the extra opportunities that have come with my education. So, thank you again.


Black-Ocken (LSU): I’d just like to thank — take an opportunity to thank anyone that was part of making this scholarship available. It’s done a tremendous amount of alleviating stress, the financial burden that I know so many of us are aware of at that school. In my case specifically, it’s allowed me to pursue other academic interests. It’s really what’s allowed me to pursue the, not just a Public Health Dual Degree Program here. 


Wise (LSU): I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s donated money so that students can come here and be educated. And I think it’s a great opportunity that Arkansas provides the students that come from their state. And I just  really want to say thank you to everyone who has provided. 


Abbott (LSU): I just want to say thank you. This scholarship has really helped and I’m very grateful and appreciative of it, so thank you.


Gregg (LSU): Thanks so much for believing in us and continuing to offer these scholarships for us. 


Garden (LSU): Okay, there you  have it. I don’t think anyone could say it more powerfully than they can. Let’s keep this going, it’s 45 years old. We love our consort and we want to continue to welcome your students, we’d love to welcome many more of them, maybe get back to the numbers that we had in the 1980s, up to 25 contract seats. But we’re poised and ready to take them, we love them and thank you very, very much for sponsoring them. We really are grateful, and as I say, it’s been a very joyous 45 years, thank you.


Rep Fortner: Thank you, Dr. Garden. And thank you all for coming, I know it took an effort to get here, we do appreciate it. And I want to take a minute to thank the members of the Ag Committee that showed up. I appreciate you all coming and being here. We have just a couple minutes, are you prepared to answer questions? 


Garden (LSU): You bet, absolutely and I’ve got the A-team around me. If I can’t answer them, they can. 


Rep Fortner: Does anybody have a question that you’d like to present to them? Representative?


Rep Brown: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m not a member of this committee, I’m Representative Brown. And I’m not familiar with some of the things you mentioned like what are contract students or contract positions? 


Garden (LSU): Thank you very much, Representative. So, they are, essentially it’s a contract with the State of Arkansas that allows your students to be at our school for resident fees, tuition fees. In other words, the state pays the delta between our resident fees of $27,600 and our nonresident fees of $56,500. So, there’s a big delta there and it enables us to consider — for them to pay in-state tuition fees despite them being out-of-state students.


Rep Brown: Thank you. And there are currently nine positions that we fund, or help fund? 


Garden (LSU): That’s right. In the past you funded up to 25. 


Rep Brown: Thank you very much. 


Garden (LSU): And we do, if I may add to that, have — And I’m going to ask Dr. Boudreaux to speak to this if I may, Mr. Chairman?


Rep Fortner: Sure. 


Garden (LSU): We do have plenty of very well qualified Arkansan students apply. So, if we had more, we’d be able to fill them. 


Rep Brown: Thank you. 


Boudreaux (LSU): Yes, certainly as Dean Garden said, some of our top students do come from the State of Arkansas, because of the relationship that we have had for the last 45 years with students from the state of Arkansas. So, we do have — especially as we expand class size there will be lots of opportunities for the students — for us to take more students from the State of Arkansas as well. Which is important because a lot of them do come back to Arkansas and contribute back to the community here. One of the biggest factors that the students do look at — excuse me. When deciding where to go after graduation is the debt that they have. So, debt plays an important role in a lot of the decision making. And so, if we can minimize the student debt, it’s a tremendous impact, and allows them to come back home, and maybe go to smaller towns, rural practices where they may not be able to be afford if they had to pay the full out-of-state tuition for the four years.


Rep Fortner: Okay, thank you. Representative Watson.


Rep Watson: Yes, thank you for the collaboration, Louisiana and Arkansas that’s wonderful. Refresh memory, how many more veterinary programs do we have in the State of Louisiana from the different colleges and universities? I’ve been away too long. How many are there still in Louisiana?


Garden (LSU): So, there’s only one veterinary school or college in Louisiana and that’s us. Nationwide there are 33 with about five now in various stages of development. And  you’ll be very familiar with two actually,  you know, being proposed here in Arkansas, one private, one not. And there are others elsewhere, University of Maryland, Rowan University, et cetera. There are several that are sprouting up. The difference being that to create a vet school as we have would require an inordinate amount of money. And many, not all, but many of the new schools are privately funded as a company that owns Ross Medical School and Veterinary School add to them. And typically their students have debts of $200,000 plus, a lot higher than many, some up to $300,000 or more. And they operate a distributive model of clinical education, whereby, they go out to partner practices to see their clinical experiences,  you know, whether it’s small or large. 


Now, I don’t want to knock that model, but I would just pause for a consideration of what we offer, which is experts in house in every discipline you could imagine including Food Animals and Equine. And these are people who are professional educators using state of the art equipment, and they’ve been in the field, you know. We’re able to offer a depth and a breadth that most entities would not.


Rep Watson: Follow up?


Rep Fortner: Yes. 


Rep Watson: Thus the big need, the big shortage of vets, not only Arkansas and Louisiana but across the United States. So, hopefully this will help fill some of the void. 


Garden (LSU): We hope so, and the estimate is that if we did nothing, by 2030 there would be at least 15,000 too few vets in the U.S. alone. Some have an estimated in excess of 40,000. Now, you know, one argument would be, well, who cares? You know, we have a few — we have then too few vets to deal with Fluffy, and you know, whatever. No. When you realize that there are literally areas of the country with no vets for hundreds of miles, and when you realize the breadth of professions that our graduates go to, not only Small Animal Practice, but crucially Food Animal Practice and supporting animal agriculture and food security. When you realize that they go into biomedical research, to government relations, to One Health advocacy, you name it, they’re present, then you appreciate the impact that that has. It is all about supporting us as a nation, being able to feed ourselves, being able to advance biomedical research in a way that only veterinarians can with a more broad view of the world. It’s not just one species, but multiple, and how they interact. Then that reality dawns, it’s a dire reality. And so, we amongst other schools, are increasing our class size. At LSU Vet Med we have the boldest plan in the nation. We will increase our class size by 100, that’s almost double. A hundred and twenty to 200, which allows us because of  the 10% leeway, to go up to 220. And we’d like there to be more students from Arkansas. If we get there, which we will, in 2024 and beyond we’ll be the largest veterinary school in the nation. 


Rep Lynch: Question.


Rep Fortner: Representative Lynch. 


Rep Lynch: I was trying to run the math real quick. On the contract students is that about a $30,000 a year delta between the in-state and out-of-state tuition? 


Garden (LSU): Yes, it is, sir. Yes. 


Rep Lynch: So, for 30 students we’re looking at a million dollars line item then?


Garden (LSU): That’s right. 


Rep Lynch: Something like that? 


Garden (LSU): Yes. 


Rep Lynch: Okay, thanks. 


Rep Fortner: Okay, well, seeing no other questions. I thank you again for coming. We really do appreciate it and we look forward to working with you in the future. And seeing no other business before the Committee we’ll stand adjourned.


Garden (LSU): Thank you very much, Representative Fortner. We’re very pleased to be here. Thank you.