NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine consistently ranks as one of the top programs of its kind in the country. But it was a program not without controversy when educational leaders from around the state argued for its establishment 45 years ago. When the dust settled, on this day in 1981, the inaugural class of 40 students took the first veterinary medicine classes ever held on NC State’s campus.
Alice Elizabeth Reagan writes in her North Carolina State University: A Narrative History that leaders first explored the establishment of a vet school in the late 1960s, when the Southern Regional Education Board’s regional programs in veterinary medicine said it lacked enough room for its own students. Until that point, the SREB allowed North Carolina veterinary students to attend the University of Georgia, Auburn University and Oklahoma State University. With those students needing somewhere else to go, the N.C. Veterinary Association made a formal request to establish a school at NC State, which, in turn, established an advisory committee in 1970.
Governor Bob Scott also appointed a committee, and in 1971 it echoed the support for a vet school at NC State. The General Assembly and the Board of Governors both supported NC State as the site in 1973. Reagan writes that it was at this point that N.C. A&T State University threw its name in the hat for the location of the new vet school at its campus in Greensboro, N.C. Outside consultants identified NC State as the better option, and officials from N.C. A&T charged discrimination and sought help from what was then called the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). “HEW responded by proclaiming that the University of North Carolina was at fault for not taking into consideration the racial impact of the veterinary school decision,” Reagan writes, adding that UNC system president William “Bill” Friday ’41 argued against the A&T location. The controversy then reached its most tenuous moment when HEW officials said they would halt federal dollars from coming into the UNC system if the vet school found its home at NC State. Friday finally went to Washington, D.C., to reach a resolution and “in October, 1975, HEW officials reluctantly withdrew their objection.”
After a U.S. District Court judge denied an injunction that N.C. A&T alumni had sought to stop the school, the General Assembly appropriated $2.5 million for the new school in 1977. And then the ball was rolling at NC State. Reagan writes that faculty recruitment and the construction of the school by the fairgrounds began in 1978. Four departments were created in 1980 (Anatomy, Physiology, and Radiology; Companion Animal and Special Species Medicine; Microbiology, Pathology and Parasitology; and Food Animal and Equine Medicine). And in the fall of 1981, the school’s first class took to the labs for the very first time.