Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994

Multi-College/Interinstitutional Networks: Lessons Learned from the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium

H. Fred Troutt, VMD, PhD
Dr. Troutt is Chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine
College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801.

This paper will build a case for the construction and utilization of consortia within academic veterinary medicine. The challenges we face within the profession are many, especially as they relate to issues confronting higher education, including relevant societal needs, provide opportunities for unique INTERINSTITUTIONAL cooperation and collaboration; and as Baus(1) has amplified "collaboration that involves flexible mixes of colleges, universities, and other nonprofit and for profit organizations."

The provocative and seminal Future Directions for Veterinary Medicine(2) published five years ago, detailed the dynamically changing internal and external factors impacting the profession, in general, and veterinary medical education, in particular. Those factors have not disappeared and, indeed, in many areas have become more important.

Consortia: General Comments

Essentially, a consortium is a partnership arranged to accomplish fundamental goals beneficial to constituent members. Neal (3) has emphasized that contemporary "challenges to colleges and universities bring with them new opportunities for cooperation" and that interdependency "has become the hallmark of higher education." They believe that "by harnessing INTERINSTITUTIONAL cooperation," the consortium provides an essential tool for "achieving greater institutional effectiveness." Thus, cooperation and a desire to achieve are defining characteristics of a consortium. Fritz Gruppe (4) points out that "colleges and universities do not work together to cooperate," rather, "they cooperate to compete." This competitiveness therefore introduces the concept of a consortium as a strategic partnership. Gruppe maintains that in higher education the drive for INTERINSTITUTIONAL programs comes from individuals who believe that by "combining their efforts, they will achieve goals of importance to them, their students, their university, to the educational system, or to society." He maintains that consortia do not come about due to institutional crisis. If an institution is plagued with insufficient financial or other resources, ineffective programs, or poor leadership, other institutions will not want to join it. There isn't a typical consortium. Consortia differ because of a wide variety of institutional, personnel, financial, geographic, and programmatic factors (5). The impetus for institutional cooperation undoubtedly varies just as widely, but has been categorized (6) as:

  • "Emergence of new social, scientific, and technical needs which result in changes in curriculum, facilities and personnel.
  • Demands for specialization, research, and job-oriented education which require cooperation of a complex nature beyond institutional boundaries.
  • The compulsion to innovate, experiment, apply modern technology, serve society more directly, and effect social, political, and economic change.
  • Mounting costs required to support institutions and increasing competition for public and private funds, resulting in financial uncertainty (6).

Within these confines are the foundations for the development of most consortia. Baus (1)argues that arguments for consortia cannot be based simply on "academic or economic agreements." He, however, does not dismiss the need for INTERINSTITUTIONAL cooperation. Quite the contrary, Baus (1) develops a number of principles to justify that cooperation. Two of those are "bottom line."

  • "The primary motivation for institutional cooperation is enlightened self- interest. Cooperation for the sake of cooperating provides insufficient justification for a consortium to be created or sustained. Cooperation must be developed out of a sense of strength and gain.
  • The existence and effectiveness of any consortium is dependent on two conditions; each institution in the consortium must know and accept its limitations as an institution, and each must recognize the value of exceeding those limits by entering into a consensus-forming process with other institutions. If the possibility exists, real or perceived, that an institution acting alone can exceed or expand its limits to seize an opportunity or to resolve a problem, then the consortium alternative is not a 'live' option." (1)

Gruppe (4) has essentially written a primer on the development of consortia and he lists the following characteristics of "quality consortium operations."

  • "They are creative," establishing not only an originality, but also imparting excitement of accomplishment with new avenues of directions to the solutions of problems and the resolution of issues.
  • "They are programmatic," and they should fall within the disciplines taught and into thrusts that the institutional "researchers are using to stay on the forefront of their knowledge in their disciplines.
  • "They are expert" and have the capabilities to accomplish the associated missions.
  • "They are academic on orientations" and academic programs--teaching, research, and service are program areas that will help the interinstitutional effort flourish.
  • "They are 'high risk'." Consortia are invariably new ventures and with that designation there is the associated risk of losing.
  • "They are of importance to the institutions." The consortium must be designed to help each of the members accomplish respective goals that it could not do without the aid of the consortium.
  • "They are open ended," permitting flexibility to take advantage of opportunities for the accomplishment of objectives.
  • "They have a tangible impact." The accomplishments must not be simply gloss, but rather the demonstration of concrete accomplishments.
  • "They permit broad access by faculty and students."
  • "They reinforce and strengthen existing programs."
Consortial Organization

Although there is no typical consortium, (5) each must have an organizational structure, which the members are comfortable with, and personnel and financial resources (4, 7) commiserate with accomplishing missions. Swerdlow (7) surveyed 40 higher education consortia in the early 1970s. He found most had 6-10 members and received funding from a variety of sources, including membership dues (largest source), awards from foundations, and grants from the Federal government. Student and faculty programs were the most popular programs. The organizational structure of consortia generally consists of a leader-manager (variously designated as chairperson, executive director, coordinator), a policy- setting-governing board (board of trustees, board of directors, council, etc.), staff and committees (4).

The general duties of the leader-manager, as outlined by Gruppe, (4) "to promote cooperation, to identify areas for probable cooperative program success to recommend and carry out policies, priorities, and programs set by the board, and to administer consortium- sponsored activities and programs."

The board establishes policy, selects the leader-manager, selects and develops program areas; plans, reviews and evaluates programs; and authorizes staffing patterns and fiscal policies (4). The financial operations of a consortium should be as flexible as possible (8). The board, when composed of representatives from the member institutions, provides an essential and critical link between the consortium and the representative member institute. Gruppe (4)points out that the board must constantly work to maintain cooperation between the member institutions and organizational informality and flexibility. As Gruppe (4) emphasizes, "it does not take too many formalities to dampen enthusiasm for projects with uncertain destinies."

Perhaps the most important ingredient within the organizational structure is planning done to accomplish relatively short-term goals, as well as long- range planning that incorporates strategic considerations. Gruppe (4) emphasized the importance of long-range planning by listing three reasons for consortium planning:

  • Facilitates the identification and clarification of institutional goals;
  • Is essential for the creation of viable cooperative programs;
  • Provides faculty, staff, and students with a clearer perception of the perspectives, understandings, and goals around which the consortium is designed.

The Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium

The structural and functional characteristics of the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium (Consortium) is described; however, detailed descriptions of programs is omitted. The Consortium was founded in 1988-89 and consists of the veterinary institutions at the University of California- Davis; the University of Florida; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Kansas State University; Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Consortium began very simply from an idea in a conversation between two of the organizers, an expansion of that idea on the back of an envelope, and then telephone calls to solicit interest and support for the idea. The thrust of the idea was to influence the clinical education of veterinary students in food animal production medicine by providing in-depth clinical experiences, and to conduct research with food animal populations dealing with the multifactorial causes of production inefficiencies. Research was also envisioned dealing with preharvest food safety concerns. The initial organizers immediately widened the circle of institutional involvement to meet a design to provide a variety of quality clinical experiences along a species- specific line. The organizers knew one another and had previous associations; all shared very similar educational philosophies and goals, as well as a vision for production medicine and associated researchable problems. Each had a leadership role in their respective institutions. Each of the institutions involved had strengths that complemented weaknesses of other institutions and quality relevant clinical program already in place. However, each, for a variety of reasons, could not provide the clinical experiences in some food animal species to satisfy the criteria of an in-depth clinical program.

The deans of each institution were involved from the beginning, and some participated in the detailed planning phrases. Institutional cooperation and sanction were obtained through the strategic planning process that was then underway at each college of veterinary medicine as part of the Pew National Veterinary Education Program.

For the infant Consortium, well over half of 1989 was spent in building both intrainstitutional and INTERINSTITUTIONAL cooperation; in actively planning the clinical (core-cooperator herd concept) and associated programs; in planning how to have students involved; and in devising strategies on how to successfully compete for a PNVEP interinstitutional grant. This period was characterized by a high order of communications activity, by dynamic activity and dialogue, which established the format for how the Consortium conducts its business today, including daily telephone calls and fax messages; teleconferences and meetings held at schools, meetings, and central locations. The meetings were used to brainstorm a concept or proposal and to move ideas to plans. We literally "papered the walls of rooms" with flip-chart paper. We formed writing subcommittees, and draft copies of paragraphs and entire sections of a proposal were exchanged by fax." During this period, the PNVEP proposal was being structured and we learned to plan and to work together. We informed the campus administration at each of our institutions about what we were attempting to do and received their support. We developed an organizational structure and jointly executed a modest "Memorandum of Understanding." Our proposal to the PNVEP was titled, "An Interinstitutional Species-Specific Food Animal Production Medicine Instruction, Research, and Service Program."

Most of our projected outcomes, as well as added new directions, have been achieved. The PNVEP grant has permitted us to learn about "Problems, Issues, and Concerns Affecting Food Animal Agriculture"; to examine "Food Animal Curriculum" (9) and to take a global view of preharvest food safety (11). The grant permitted exchange of faculty and increased our students' understanding of production medicine. Very importantly, the grant has allowed us to communicate with each other and to have faculty extensively involved in the planning and development of cooperative programs.

Organization of the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium

An overview of the organization of the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium shows the following:

  • Council of Deans: The council provides oversight of program areas and works closely with the Board of Directors; participates in an annual meeting with the Board of Directors to review programs and to participate in the planning of program areas and thrusts.
  • Chairman and Board of Directors: The Board provides leadership; develops short-and long-term plans and strategic efforts; establishes and reviews program budgets; develops policies; works to facilitate intrainstitutional and interinstitutional cooperation and communication; reviews and prioritizes program requests; monitors programs and, when necessary, works to adjust them accordingly. The headquarters is at a member institution where the Chairman and Coordinator reside.
  • Faculty and Faculty Task Groups: They plan specific program interventions consistent with the objectives of the Consortium; collectively develop species-specific programs; plan and deliver the educational and research programs and participate in other programs such as workshops.
  • Coordinator: The Coordinator works directly with students and member institutions facilitating student exchanges; facilitates faculty exchanges and review of faculty proposals; coordinates publication of student exchange-program manuals, Consortium brochures, educator workshops and other Consortium meetings. The coordinator works with the Chairman to monitor expenditures and review operating budgets.
  • Preharvest Food Safety Advisory Committee: This committee, composed of representatives from various agencies in USDA and FDA and from commodity organizations, provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and advise on food animal food safety issues.

Consortium Programs

The entire Consortium effort is supported by the institutional infrastructure at each of the six member institutions. Our programs have reached out to include a variety of people involved with food animal production and academic food animal veterinary medicine and have included practicing veterinarians, agricultural economists, agricultural engineers, consumers, animal scientists, producers, public health personnel, legislators, leaders of commodity groups, members of State and Federal regulatory agencies, and information management specialists. The specific program areas are:

  • Student Exchange Program: The exchanges occur during the fourth year of the curriculum and are arranged by the student to meet his/her needs. The receiving institution provides housing. The student can arrange multiple rotations to acquire a breadth of species-specific production medicine experiences. We attempt to keep formality to a minimum and to be as flexible as possible. In year one of the program, 28 student rotations were completed. We anticipate that 74 to 78 student rotations will be completed in academic year 1993-94.
  • Faculty Exchange Program: Faculty were exchanged to provide specific instruction that could not be readily offered at the requesting institution.
  • Faculty Incentive Grants: These were competitive grants for faculty in colleges of agriculture and veterinary medicine within the Consortium institutions. They were designed to develop instructional materials or processes to facilitate the delivery of production medicine programs.
  • Faculty Study Leave Grants: These competitive grants provided the means for faculty to visit other institutions within the Consortium either to acquire information or to provide information on production medicine methodologies and processes.
  • Workshops/Mini-Workshops: Invitational workshops were designed to explore specific issues of concern to food animal agriculture and to the instruction and research associated with food animal production medicine. Also included were mini-workshops that examined highly focused areas of concern such as instruction in food safety, research efforts of preharvest food safety; institutional efforts for daily production medicine, etc.
  • Clinical Instructor Courses: The clinical instructor courses offered by a professional educator, provided information on methods of instruction; attitudes of students; evaluation of instructional programs, etc. The course was given at each of the Consortium institutions and focused on small group clinical settings.


Communications and cooperation are intertwined and central to the way the Consortium conducts its business. Telephone conversations, fax messages--from letters to multiple page documents--and electronic mail messages are daily events. Messages are exchanged between Directors; between a Director and a Chairman; between the Chairman and a Director of Directors and between faculty. Also, there is a high level of telephone contact between Consortium members and extra Consortium institutions and agencies on behalf of Consortium programs. Copies of letters and reports germane to the Consortium are sent to Directors and faculty. At approximately monthly intervals, or more frequently if we are "pushing" a program, the Board holds teleconferences. Rarely we do not decide a course of action. Beside the annual meeting with the Deans, the Directors have held at least biannual in-depth planning sessions. All of our formal meetings, including teleconferences, operate with an agenda and minutes of the meeting are kept and distributed. Additionally, the Deans and Directors meet formally at various professional meetings.

Early in the development of the Consortiums, we investigated the possible use of satellite technology as a means of implementing some of our programs. At that time we concluded that it was an expensive application for what we were attempting to do. As we investigate new areas of involvement for the Consortium, we will rethink our original position concerning satellite technology, and this fall one of our meetings will discuss the possible use of this technology. Additionally, we will discuss (12) the suitability of computer-based visual teleconferencing to help implement clinical epidemiology instruction within production medicine clinical rotations.


The Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium received funding from PNVEP, pharmaceutical firms, and the USDA-Extension Service (for implementation of a specific educational program dealing with milk and dairy beef residue avoidance).

What Makes the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium Work?

The Directors and PNVEP were asked to independently list the ingredients that make the Consortium work. This is a listing in no special order and edited only to remove redundancy:

Ingredients that Make the Consortium Work

    Mutual trust                Communication--frequently and timely 
    Vision                  Desire to succeed 
    Team plan               Experience with food animals 
    Sharing of workload         Funding 
    Sharing of innovative ideas     Planning 
    Leadership throughout           Good chemistry
    Commitment to concept           Faculty involvement
    Cooperation             Strategic thinking 
    Sharing of resources            Fun
    Encouragement from University administrators

Future Activity

The Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium will continue. We will scale back, but will maintain our student exchange program. We will emphasize preharvest food safety as a research imperative and as a component of a production medicine program. To maintain the Consortium, each member institution will contribute financially to the coordination of the Consortium.

We will maintain our commitment to dynamic planning and activity and prevent inertia (13) from damaging our progress. We know that funding will be difficult, but funding is usually difficult. This year we will continue to vigorously push those ideas and perhaps be even a bit more entrepreneurial. We believe we have both good ideas and the resolve to see them to fruition.


We are very proud of what the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium has accomplished. We believe the Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium is a model of how interinstitutional cooperation can come about and can work. We want to emphasize that consortia can be valuable organizations to deal with complex problems and to prevent crises. These interinstitutional organizations are best constructed by members who have a clear vision of common goals and needs and share a similar vision of the future.

References and Endnotes

1. Baus F: Third-party role. In Consortia and Interinstitutional Cooperation, Neal DC, Ed., New York: American Council on Education and Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988.

2. Pritchard WR: Future Directions for Veterinary Medicine. Durham, NC: Pew National Veterinary Education Program, Institute for Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, Duke University, 1988.

3. Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium. Proceedings of the Workshop: "Problems, Issues & Concerns Affecting Food Animal Agriculture," Lincoln, NE, April 25-27, 1990.

4. Neal DC: Preface. In Consortia and Interinstitutional Cooperation, Neal DC, Ed. New York: American Council in Education and Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988.

5. Gruppe FH: Managing Institutional Change: Consortia in Higher Education, Potsdam, NY: Associated Colleges of the Saint Lawrence Valley, 1975.

6. Neal DC: Introduction: new roles for consortia. In Consortia and Interinstitutional Cooperation, Neal DC, Ed. New York: American Council on Education and Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988.

7. Patterson LD: The Potential of Consortia. Compact 5:19, October 1971 cited by Swerdlow KG. Selected Voluntary Academic Consortia in Higher Education: Academic Programs. Bloomington: Indiana University, doctoral dissertation, 1972.

8. Swedlow KG: Selected Voluntary Academic Consortia in Higher Education: Academic Programs. Bloomington: Indiana University, doctoral dissertation, 1972.

9. Parkinson RD: Selected Voluntary Academic Consortia in Higher Education: Financial Aspects. Bloomington: Indiana University, doctoral dissertation, 1972.

10. Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium. Proceedings of the Workshop: Food Animal Curriculum, Battle Creek, MI, May 1991 (in press).

11. Food Animal Production Medicine Consortium. Proceedings of the Workshop: Providing Safe Food for the Consumer--A Blueprint for Implementing Preharvest Food Safety Internationally. Washington, DC., November 1992.

12. Krute, Linda D, Program Director, Extramural Engineering Courses, College of Engineering.

13. Johnson, Donald A. The Limits of Cooperation. In Consortia and Interinstitutional Cooperation., Neal DC, Ed. New York: American Council in Education and Macmillan Publishing Co, 1988

14. The author thanks Drs. K. Braun, J. Gillespie, E. Mather, B. Osburn, J. Schmitz, and W. Wagner for collaboration.