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Prop. 2 -- The Vote is Yours

October 30, 2008

Editor's note: The following is an op-ed piece that Dean Bennie I. Osburn has sent to a number of California newspapers. It is not clear where it will be published given the volume of comment on ballot measures.

Prop. 2 – The Vote is Yours

On Nov. 4, Californians will not only be electing a new U.S. President, we’ll also be making decisions on a dozen ballot initiatives, including Proposition 2, which addresses the manner in which farm animals are housed.

It is an important initiative that has generated strong convictions on both sides of the issue throughout the state and here at the University of California, Davis.

UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine is privileged to have a talented and diverse group of faculty and staff members who are dedicated to improving animal health and welfare. They often exchange passionate dialogue on a broad range of issues and offer creative approaches to real world problems. And, often, they don’t agree.

The academic process naturally creates a rich environment in which veterinary scientists with differing opinions, expertise and approaches can work together on animal-health problems and societal issues. Their ability to question anything and everything is the essence of academic freedom, and such unfettered inquiry ultimately produces our best work in service to society.

Within the confines of the university, we respect that faculty colleagues, working side by side, have different ideas and approaches. But in the public arena, it is crucial that an individual’s opinion not be presented in such a way that would suggest that he or she is speaking on behalf of other colleagues or of the university as a whole.

It’s a simple ideal, but one that can be extremely difficult to navigate in practice.

In the case of Prop. 2, some members of the School of Veterinary Medicine have taken public, and opposing, positions on the ballot measure, raising the question of where UC Davis and the veterinary school stand on the issue.

In reality, as a public institution representing all Californians, the university does not have a position. Individual faculty members who have publicly supported or opposed the ballot measure are voicing only their personal views, even when they identify themselves by their university titles.

The university allows, and even encourages, our faculty and staff members to actively participate in the political process but requires that any use of their university titles must be for identification purposes only and accompanied by a disclaimer to that affect.

Does that mean that the university moves only in the theoretical realm and is of no use in tackling the difficult practical decisions of life? No, quite the contrary is true.

The School of Veterinary Medicine is part of the nation’s proud tradition of Land Grant Colleges and Universities, dedicated to finding practical solutions for societal problems. We are committed to generating and disseminating science-based information on all issues related to animal welfare, animal health, food safety, and the role of animals in society.  We are intent on creating new research-based knowledge, training the next generation of veterinarians, providing diagnostic testing, and developing new health and welfare strategies.

As the only publicly supported veterinary school in California, our goal is to stand beside consumers, animal advocates, ranchers, poultry and dairy producers, and all who are striving to develop the best, most humane practices in animal agriculture. We will continue to foster discussion and science-based investigations to establish the best animal health care and welfare strategies we can offer.

Bennie I. Osburn
Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California, Davis