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As a result of large-scale state budget cuts, the School of Veterinary Medicine will face significant reductions in funding this year.

According to Vet School Dean Joan Hendricks, this year the school anticipates a cut ranging from 16 to 24 percent of its budget in fiscal year 2009. The school is currently preparing for a 24-percent cut, which would entail reducing its former $42-million budget by an estimated $11 million.

While the appropriations for this fiscal year have yet to be finalized, Penn Vet Chief Financial Officer Maureen Harrigan said the school is planning for a "range of reductions."

In previous years, Commonwealth funds were allocated to two main categories: Veterinary Activities and the Veterinary Center for Infectious Diseases, which was introduced in 2006. Due to insufficient funds, Hendricks said, the Center for Infectious Diseases will be forced to close this year.

Penn Vet has also been compelled to reduce the number of nurses employed at both of the two affiliated hospitals, eliminating dozens of jobs.

The effects of the cutbacks are evident throughout the entire school.

"We did away with our Public Relations department, we've dismissed secretaries, we've cut people's hours in both hospitals and dropped handouts for the students," Hendricks said.

The school has also stopped hiring new employees, granting raises or conducting recruiting visits on college campuses.

Even as it navigates dire financial straits, according to Hendricks, the school continues to prioritize providing the same quality service and treatment to its animal patients ­- although doing so may become harder.

Penn Vet students currently assist farmers with animal care in Lancaster County, undertake statewide field visits and perform routine tests on herds and flocks to guard against disease outbreaks.

However, in light of the budget reduction, these procedures will likely become increasingly difficult to carry out.

"My biggest concern is the economic health of Pennsylvania," Hendricks said. "The state's largest industry is agriculture, most of which is animal agriculture."

She also expressed concern over the state of the veterinary profession overall and speculated that over time there may be progressively fewer in-state veterinarians available to oversee the practice of agriculture.

"Commonwealth money used to reduce [veterinary] student debt but can no longer do so," she explained. "This means once our students graduate, they'll have a hard time working for farmers because the income will not be high enough to repay debts."

Dawn Fiedorczyk, who is in her fourth year at Penn Vet, echoed this sentiment.

Along with two other fourth-year students, she launched a letter-writing campaign in May to raise support for the school and awareness of its current crisis.

"We're concerned for the profession as a whole and where it is going," she said.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Michael Race emphasized that cutting the budget is necessary in light of an economic recession.

"Any cuts are difficult to deal with, but we're dealing with a budget here where cuts have to be made across the board," he said. "It's not an easy situation, but in a difficult budget year you have to make difficult decisions."

Penn President Amy Gutmann said the school is "working diligently in Harrisburg to try to convince legislators there to lessen the cuts," adding that they "will not know what the outcome is until there's a budget in Pennsylvania."

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