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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Veterinary Medicine Central Services stores to close

MARINA OLNEY / AGGIE

Over 1,400 sign petition in protest of planned closures

The university recently announced that the Veterinary Medicine Central Services Life Science Supply Stores in Haring Hall and VM 3B will be closing. Initially, the closure was planned for June 1, 2018. According to a letter from Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter, however, the closure has been postponed for three months.

“The VMCS currently operates at a significant loss each month and has a substantial accumulated deficit,” Hexter’s letter states. “We are grateful that the School of Veterinary Medicine has operated Central Services to the benefit of the entire campus for more than 50 years, but […] it is unreasonable to expect that the School should continue to subsidize this service for the rest of the campus.”

A 159-page petition that protests “the recent decision to close the store” and calls “upon the UC Davis administration to find a way to preserve this important resource” has been circulating among labs and individuals throughout campus and has been signed by over 1,400 UC Davis faculty, staff and students.

“Vet Med is an on-campus store where people can get what they need for research and where they can get office supplies, too,” said Hung Doan, a graduate student researcher pursuing a Ph.D. in the plant pathology department.

The center also performs other services. For example, Tanya Chilcote, a fourth-year environmental toxicology student who works as a lab technician and manager in the plant pathology department, said that she has her pipettes calibrated and cleaned there.

Supporters of the petition say they want to keep the center open for a number of reasons, including the fact that the VMCS is a critical resource for purchasing supplies.

“We buy probably about 40 percent of our lab supplies there and I’m the one who does the purchasing for the lab,” Chilcote said. “I know some people who buy all of their stuff from there, if not most of their stuff. [The center] provides a centralized location. I believe they buy stuff in bulk, and then we can buy smaller amounts of tubes, reagents and everything from office supplies to acid.”

When asked how often they use the center, several individuals said they rely on it daily, particularly because they often run out of supplies they need during experiments.

“One of the nicest thing about [VMCS] is you can get stuff delivered and you can get stuff really fast,” Chilcote said. “If you’re in the middle of a project and all of a sudden you realize that you’re out of 1.7 millimeter tubes, you can’t stop working. You need to keep going because you’ve got time sensitive stuff, so you run over to Vet Med to get them. Otherwise, you’d need to redo your experiment, which could be weeks of work just because you ran out of tubes or all sorts of reagents.”

Tera Pitman, a staff research associate in the plant pathology department, also emphasized the need for items in a time-sensitive manner.

“We have something that runs out that we need right now — and, yes, we could order it online, but we need it right now — so we run over to the stockroom, and we buy it so we can continue our research,” Pitman said. “If you’re in the middle of a cloning reaction, and you don’t have the right enzymes to do that, then you need those to be able to finish your experiment. Otherwise, you would throw everything away, and everything you’ve used up to that point is a complete loss.”

Doan explained that workers in labs often don’t know whether supplies have been used up or not.

“It’s a lab and everyone shares stuff,” Doan said. “When people use stuff, and it’s gone, they don’t really post it up, so no one knows when it is gone. Many times, as a graduate student, if I’m running an experiment, and I don’t have what I need, I can go to Vet Med and they’ll have it.”

Several individuals said they signed the petition because they consider the center to be very important to both them and their research.

“[I signed the petition] because if that place closes and we’re no longer able to use that, it’s going to be an extreme hardship for, I would think, all the labs on the campus, but certainly the ones in our department for a multitude of reasons,” Chilcote said. “If everybody is ordering everything through the purchasing system instead of getting a large percentage of their stuff from Vet Med, that’s going to make everything slow down.”

Chilcote explained that orders from places other than Vet Med would need to be put into a pre-purchasing system and get approved by a number of people.

“If, all of a sudden, everybody is having to switch over all the stuff they get from Vet Med and have to put it in the pre-purchasing system, that’s going to slow that down so much because they’re going to get this glut of orders everyday that they’re not getting right now,” Chiclote said. “All of the supplies are going to have to be delivered to this tiny office, where, right now, it’s already filled up with boxes everyday. It’s going to slow down work without a doubt. That’s just the supplies — there are other services they supply. Where are we going to be getting our lab coats and stuff? It’s hard enough to get people to wear lab coats if I don’t have nice, clean ones that fit them.”

Sandra Vu, a junior specialist in the plant pathology department, said that the closure of the center upset a lot of the workers who use it.

“All of us just relied on this thing to be there, especially in emergencies when we really do need something and we can’t wait a week for it to get here,” Vu said. “We don’t really know why it’s closing, because everyone really uses it.”

Pitman said that the closure was a clear signal to her that the university does not support its researchers.

“I feel like the closure of Vet Med means that the university isn’t supporting us in our research capacities,” Pitman said. “[The center] was one of the things that the university provided space for that is incredibly useful for us on a daily or weekly basis, and that they announced the closure without speaking, it seems like, to anybody who actually does research […] is like pulling the rug out from under us. All of a sudden, we don’t have this thing that we relied on for years.”

Sources say they are confused about the particular reasons the center is closing and have expressed frustration about being left out of the decision to close it.

“They made this decision to close Vet Med without letting any of us know,” Doan said. “It wasn’t open for discussion. It is a university store and people who use it should have some input in it.”

Chilcote also mentioned that she believes there will be a number of problems that will arise if the center does close.

“Hopefully, [the petition] puts an end to this nonsense of closing this place down, because I think that’s really short-sighted,” Chilcote said. “I think that, if they close it down, they’re just opening up a whole lot of problems. There’s also safety issues: now, I’m not just buying one bottle of acid, I’m buying a whole case of them. Where would I store all that stuff? I heard that [the closure] was for financial reasons and it seems to me that if that’s the case, there’s going to be even worse ones down that line from all these problems it’s going to cause.”

Chilcote called for the university to “do whatever needs to be done” to keep the center open. Pitman expressed the same thoughts and also mentioned that the university receives a significant amount of money from the grants researchers bring in.

“Our overhead is pretty high, so I don’t see why the university can’t support it,” Pitman said. “We bring in grant money and the university charges us a percentage of every grant we bring in, and if it’s not a federal grant, [they charge us] 50 to 55 percent. I think the university makes a fair amount of money off of grants, and if they need 5 percent of the operating cost to keep Vet Med afloat, I don’t see why that’s a big deal.”

Hexter announced that a working group will be appointed to find possible solutions.

 

 

Written by: Sabrina Habchi  — campus@theaggie.org

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