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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tuskegee and Cornell: A Shared Legacy in PhD Education for African-American Veterinarians

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted September 22, 2012

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

While visiting Tuskegee University this week to present a paper on One Health, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Eugene W. Adams, one of the college's pioneers and most distinguished faculty.

Now in his 90s, the youthful-appearing Dr. Adams regaled me with stories of his days at Cornell, where he received his PhD in pathology in 1961. He was one of three Tuskegee faculty who received PhDs at Cornell in that era, the other two being Dr. W. C. Bowie (physiology, 1960) and Dr. R. C. Williams (anatomy, 1961).  All three men became major leaders of the college. Dr. Bowie served as dean for 18 years.

Professor Emeritus Eugene W. Adams, DVM, MS, PhD
Tuskegee University
Photo by Author, 2012

In the early 1930s another Tuskegee veterinarian, Frederick Douglass Patterson, did graduate studies at Cornell in poultry pathology. He was the first faculty member at Tuskegee to receive the PhD and soon thereafter became the third president of the university. He founded the veterinary college in 1945, and also was the lead architect in establishing the United Negro College Fund (1946) as well as the Tuskegee airmen program during World War II.

Dr. Adams credits the warm relationship between Cornell's Dean William A. Hagan and Tuskegee's Dean T. S. Williams for paving the way for Tuskegee faculty to go to Cornell in the 1950s for graduate training (there were several others who followed in the 1960s and 1970s). The two men had much in common. Both Hagan and Williams had received their DVM degrees from Kansas State University, and Hagan had been the chairman of the AVMA's first institutional review team that eventually recommended the full accreditation of Tuskegee in 1954.

Dr. Adams recalled his days at Cornell very fondly. He studied for his PhD alongside future Cornell professors Drs. John King and Dan Tapper and never recalls hearing a racial slur nor a negative comment from anyone at the university. That was unlike some other universities at the time, and he attributes Cornell's welcoming atmosphere to the leadership of Dean Hagan. Dr. Adams also received a research stipend from the college that equaled his fellowship from Tuskegee.  Together, they gave him a salary equivalent to what he had as a full faculty member before his educational leave.

During his first year in Ithaca, Dr. Adams rented a room on Linden Avenue, then later when his family joined him, they stayed in Cascadilla Hall..

Several veterinary colleges, notably Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State and the University of Pennsylvania (as well as Cornell), were instrumental in enrolling African-American students into their DVM programs prior to the opening of Tuskegee in 1945. However, the Tuskegee-Cornell partnership for PhD education in the early years of the institution stands alone and highlights the role that committed leadership --- in this case, Deans Williams and Hagan --- made in establishing and advancing the reputation of the new college.

Dr. Smith invites comments at