As Texas Tech University moves forward with plans for a School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, changes in university leadership could help the project to finally become a reality.

Dr. Robert Duncan was ousted as Chancellor and stepped down on Sept. 1, 2018. 

Duncan was instrumental in planning and campaigning for the Amarillo veterinary school. His retirement, which was forced by the Board of Regents, caused some to doubt whether the project would continue.

Then, in early October, the Texas Tech University (TTU) System Regents elected a new Chair and Vice Chair following the resignation of Rick Francis from his Chairman position.

This change came soon after Jerry Hodge, former Mayor of Amarillo, started a campaign to fire Francis, who Hodge said was against the vet school.

Tim Lancaster was named Chairman following Francis’ resignation. Lancaster previously served as Vice Chairman. 

Chris Huckabee was named as the new Vice Chair. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to the board of regents in 2015.

President of the Health Sciences Center, Dr. Tedd Mitchell, who has worked alongside Duncan as an advocate for the vet school, has been named the new Chancellor in Duncan’s stead.

Despite the shakeup, TTU leadership unwaveringly said the vet school will happen.

According to legislators, there have been talks of adding another veterinary school in the State of Texas for at least 25 to 30 years.

“But I think this project really began to get off the ground about three years ago when Robert Duncan, the Chancellor of Texas Tech, made this a priority for the Tech system,” said State Representative John Smithee, R-Amarillo.

TTU has already raised $47.1 million of the $90 million it will cost to build the vet school facilities, according to officials.

“We’re raising money from private individuals and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) to help build this facility and lower the cost of tuition,” William Ware, President of Amarillo National Bank, said. “This helps sell the project to the legislature, and it helps show our commitment to Texas Tech and these students.”

Despite previously withdrawing a $10 million proposed gift surrounding actions by former Board of Regents Chair Rick Francis, Jerry Hodge said he is now in talks to donate to the vet school under Tech’s new leadership.

“I’m excited about Tech. I think some good things are happening,” said Hodge. “I think we ought to have somebody from Amarillo or Lubbock, and I really think to board ought to have some female representation.”

Despite Duncan’s departure, legislators and TTU officials are focused on the goal at hand.

“This is going to happen,” said TTU Chancellor Dr. Tedd Mitchell, “not because it’s important to me or Bob Duncan, or regents or anybody else. This is going to happen because the people of this community, the people of this region deserve for this to happen.”

State Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock said, “So the vet school going forward, I think, has no hurdles internally at the regent level, at the state legislature level. We’ve just got to reiterate and educate the actual need, which undeniably there’s a need.” 

“If we stay on course if we stay within our lane, we look at what’s important…I think we’ll end up in a good place and we’ll be able to put a foundation in place for future growth and development, which I think is very important,” State Representative Four Price, R-Amarillo, said.

With the addition of the veterinary school, the TTU Health Sciences Center in Amarillo would be the only campus in the U.S. to boast a pharmacy school, medical school, and veterinary school altogether.

“This would be a historical accomplishment,” TTU President Lawrence Schovanec said. “You’re going to see graduate programs built around the vet school. There’s gonna be research and it’s going to bring in research dollars, sponsored research. This is the perfect location for a vet school.”

We took a look into where the money has come from as TTU continues fundraising.

Dr. Mitchell said support from people in this area is helping to make the project possible.

$2.5 million dollars was donated by Happy State Bank and $1 million was donated by Amarillo National Bank.

Caviness Beef Packers and Cactus Feeders were recognized as trailblazing philanthropic supporters as well, among others.

Funding from several businesses and individuals brings the total to $47.1 million privately raised.

The AEDC has pledged up to $69 million to help subsidize the cost, so the $90 million the facilities will cost to build is technically already accounted for. However, as more funds are raised, the AEDC’s ultimate contribution amount will continue to decrease.

During the next legislative session in January, the TTU system will ask for about $13 million to bridge the gap in operational funding to help get started. 

Legislators will fight to keep the funding in the final Appropriations Bill, but ultimately all necessary approval will have to come from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. 

MyHighPlains Digital Exclusives:

Texas Tech University leadership explain how the School of Veterinary Medicine would be historic and essential in Amarillo.

State legislators talk about the benefits of Amarillo’s future Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Texas Cattle Feeders Association weighs in on the need for a new generation of large animal veterinarians in the Panhandle.