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Veterinary centenary

Caring for creatures great and small

München, 09/12/2014

LMU’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine celebrates its 100th birthday next month. Its incorporation was the culmination of a long struggle for academic acceptance.


The humble beginnings of Southern Germany’s only training facility for veterinary surgeons can be traced back to the Thier-Arzney-Schule (School of Animal Health) which was founded in Schwabing in 1790. That institution was designed to accommodate 16 students between the ages of 16 and 30 on enrolment and, although basic literacy was desirable, it not essential for acceptance.

By 1810 – at which time the establishment was known as the Central Veterinary School – entrants were expected to possess at least a primary-school certificate.

Just under a century later, in 1903, a secondary-school certificate was necessary for entry to what was now the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine. A further seven years were to pass before the College adopted formal guidelines governing Habilitation, and soon afterwards it was authorized to grant doctoral degrees. Finally, in 1914, the College was incorporated into LMU, becoming the first Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Imperial Germany.

However, this elevation in status was not immediately welcomed by all members of the older Faculties, some of whom found it difficult to acknowledge “horse doctors” as equals. “The philosophers were not exactly overjoyed by the decision to set up a Faculty of Veterinary Medicine,” says its current Dean, Professor Joachim Braun. Indeed the Faculty of Philosophy not only suggested that there would (or perhaps could) be no academic interaction between the newcomers and members of the other Faculties, they also expressed grave reservations at the prospect that: “Men who, for the most part, have not grown up in an academic milieu should be accorded the same degree of influence as other members of the University.”

Professor Melchior Westhues examines a hoof. Westhues served as Rector of LMU in 1955-56 and, together with Reinhard Demoll, Ludwig Kotter und Peter Walter, he was one of four veterinary surgeons to hold the office. (Source: C. Gall)

These fears were soon laid to rest, as the veterinarians at LMU set out to demonstrate that their specialty demanded the levels of intellectual rigor and practical ingenuity equivalent to those required of practitioners of Medicine ­– after all, both disciplines are concerned with the same spectrum of organs and tissues. Since then, the study of, and research in, the fields of Animal Hygiene, Microbiology, Parasitology, Physiology, Anatomy or Pharmacology etc. have provided abundant proof of Veterinary Medicine’s claim to a place in the academic curriculum. Nowadays, the Faculty is not only an essential part of the University but a highly integrated, interdisciplinary network that has become center of scientific progress, combining state-of-the-art research in animal health with the application of the very latest methods of treatment. – And the care of sick animals, together with teaching and research in the area of Animal Health, is only one aspect of the services provided by the Faculty. “The production of healthy foods such as milk and meat, the safeguarding of animal welfare, but also the protection of humans from zoonoses, i.e. illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans, are among the issues to which our researchers contribute,” as Professor Braun points out. In addition, by developing and studying animal models of human disease, veterinarians also provide essential support for their colleagues in Clinical Medicine.

Promoting animal welfare
LMU’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has also acquired an enviable international reputation as a clinical service provider. It is no secret that sick animals receive the very best of treatments here. That is one reason why, in spite of its deep historical roots in Schwabing, the Faculty is pleased that the long-drawn-out move to new quarters in Oberschleissheim will be progressively completed over the next few years. The site adjacent to the English Garden was already bursting at the seams years ago, and the Faculty’s other facilities are currently dispersed throughout the city. Life will therefore be easier for budding veterinarians once all its clinics and institutes have been relocated to form a single complex. At present the Faculty teaches around 1500 students, and about 250 qualify as veterinary surgeons each year.

Strikingly, the fraction of women among students of veterinary medicine reached 80% quite some time ago, and now comfortably exceeds that level. Women were allowed to attend lectures in the subject for the first time in 1903, and even then they needed permission from the Ministry of Culture – and this was forthcoming only in “exceptional cases”. The first woman to enrol in the degree course in Veterinary Medicine at LMU was admitted all of 20 years later – as the third of her sex in Germany.

These days women are represented at all levels in both teaching and research, and in this respect the veterinarians have set an example that other Faculties would do well to follow.

An eventful history
The history of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, like that of LMU as a whole, is marked by sudden upheavals and discontinuities. The Second World War brought perhaps the most disruptive of them all. For, in contrast to the case at other German universities, there were no lectures in the subject at LMU during the course of the conflict. Why this was so remains unclear to this day. Worse still, by the end of the war over 90% of the Faculty’s buildings had been destroyed. The immediate post-war period was therefore a time of reconstruction and improvization – and for a while lectures and courses were held in the open on the Oberwiesenfeld. Regular teaching activities resumed in 1950, and the rebuilding program initiated in the 1950s would continue into the next decade.

A new Institute of Infection Medicine and Zoonoses (Microbiology) will be built on the new campus in Oberschleissheim over the next few years. (Source: Landherr Architekten/Ralf Wehrhahn)

Now the Faculty has run out of space again, although the current shortage is less dramatic than it was immediately after World War II. The site near the English Garden provides no room for expansion, and in the 1990s the first facilities were relocated to Oberschleissheim. The pioneer was the Clinic for Birds, Reptiles, Amphibia and Tropical Fish, and it was followed by the Clinics für Swine and for Ruminants. Construction of a new Lecture Hall and Cafeteria will get underway in Oberschleissheim before the end of the year, and plans are in train for the Institute of Infection Medicine and Zoonoses (Microbiology). So in 2040, when the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine gets round to celebrating the 250th anniversary of its true beginnings, it will assuredly do so in Oberschleissheim. cg