January 21, 2010

State Funding Concerns Could Cause Cornell to Give Up Equine Testing Program

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This story was originally published on Dec. 24, 2009.

The Equine Drug Testing Program, a Cornell-operated New York state initiative that tests samples of horse blood and urine for traces of performance enhancing drugs, could move to another institution after state officials have refused to supply additional funding needed for the program.

“The state hasn’t kept up with what we need them to do,” said Charlie Kruzansky, the director of government affairs at Cornell. “For several years, we’ve been trying to get the state to fix the building or build a new one.”

The state is currently experiencing budget issues that has forced both a cutback in state funding as well as, in some cases, state funding deferments. For instance, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) has withheld $146 million in aid to state schools in December because of low tax collections and bill payments, according to Bloomberg.

This battle over the Equine Drug Testing Program represents one of the first ways in which Cornell has been impacted by the financial troubles in Albany. Kruzansky said that the full impact on other parts of the University will be unclear until the New York state budget is released on Jan. 19.

“We know were going to have some things to deal with, we just don’t know the details,” he said.

Cornell currently has a contract with the state for the testing that expires April 1. According to Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine Michael Kotlikoff, issues with the current off-campus building have prompted employees to raise concerns regarding their health and safety. Additionally, the building’s decaying condition could compromise the integrity of the tests.

“There’s a risk that we could have a lapse in the ability to perform testing,” Kotlikoff said. “I’m supportive of keeping the program at Cornell if it’s done in a way that can meet expectations.”

If the state does not provide funding for the improvement of the building, the College of Veterinary Medicine will not renew its contract, according to Kotlikoff, leaving the state to find another institution to operate the program. Kotlikoff said that these tests are essential for the integrity of the sport of horse racing, Kotlikoff said. Steroids and other performance enhancing drugs have become a prominent issue in horse racing, even prompting thoroughbred racing officials to try to impose a national ban of performance enhancing drug use on horses, according to CBS News.

The search for a potential replacement is complicated by a stipulation in the state law: Only a land-grant institution with a veterinary program, like Cornell, is eligible to operate the program. As a result, any movement of the program would be pending a change in the law by the state legislature that would likely be approved as part of the 2010-2011 state budget effective April 1, according to Kruzansky. Cornell officials will find out if the state will continue to seek another tester for the program rather than provide funding to renovate the existing building on Jan. 19, the date the budget is presented to the legislature for approval.

Morrisville State College in Morrisville, N.Y. is one of the institutions pushing to acquire the equine program. “To do another service to the state would be wonderful,” said Chris Nyberg, dean of the School of Agriculture and Natural Recourses at Morrisville. “I am very hopeful that we will acquire the program, but those discussions are ongoing,”

Nyberg said that Morrisville would be a good fit for the program because of the school’s existing equine program and facilities. The school, if given the program, may lease space in existing commercial buildings to house the lab, he said. Morrisville currently enrolls 350 students in an equine studies program. Nyberg said that the equine drug testing program would help to supplement the curriculum.

George Maylin, director of the drug testing program at Cornell, said that he assumed that he would carry on as the director and expressed concern for the other employees of the program. “It would be sad to see the program leave Cornell,” Maylin stated in an e-mail. “I would be devastated to see 19 loyal Cornell employees, some with over 20 years service, lose their employment and livelihood.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer