In memory: An interview with Dr. Bill Tietz

Dr. Bill Tietz
Former dean Dr. Bill Tietz attended the CSU D.V.M. reunion in 2017. (William A. Cotton/CSU photo)

William J. Tietz, M.S., Ph.D., D.V.M., former dean of the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and President Emeritus of Montana State University, died on June 10, 2020, at the age of 93.

Tietz graduated from CSU with his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1957, and went on to teach at Purdue University. He returned to CSU in 1964 as an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, becoming chairman of the department in 1967. In response to student unrest in 1969, Tietz was appointed vice-president of student and university relations, helping to stabilize a volatile campus atmosphere.

From 1971 to 1977, Tietz was dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. During his tenure, he was instrumental in the expansion of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) program and obtaining state and national funding to construct a new animal hospital – the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. On Aug. 20, 2010, CSU named a street after him. Tietz Drive circles the east side of the hospital near the large-animal services.

The same year as the hospital groundbreaking – 1977 – Tietz resigned his position as dean to accept the presidency of Montana State University, where he served until 1990.

“By any account, he was a transformative President of Montana State University, moving mountains often with little more than his passion, willpower and large personality,” wrote current MSU president Waded Cruzado in a letter to the university community.

In 2017, Tietz visited CSU for Homecoming and sat down for an interview, excerpted here:

Why did you choose veterinary medicine?

I had been a zoologist and spent some of my time in the Arctic. And we were, at that time, studying the heat exchange of the same mammals that lived here the States, in Wisconsin. How was that possible that a little mouse was the same in Wisconsin and in the Arctic where you expected it to be in the minus degrees? Well, just to make a long story short, we discovered that under the snow up in the north country, there was a space that was not apparent from the surface. But under 30 inches of snow, the bottom six inches, it turned into an ice castle, and the climate down there, was about the same as it is in Wisconsin, the only thing that you didn’t have was light. We were in the middle of that kind of a study and I was very, very unhappy with the way the animals were treated. I was working for some pharmaceutical house in the suburbs of Chicago and I had the choice to go into Illinois or coming here. I went to some of the local veterinarians and said, ‘you know, I have this choice.’ They said, ‘go to Colorado.’  One of the greatest moves I ever made in my life. Seeing that animals were treated properly was principal in my mind.

three men smiling
Drs. Nic Booth, Mark Stetter and Bill Tietz share a moment of dean humor at the 2017 reunion. (William A. Cotton/CSU photo)

What did it feel like to become the dean of your alma mater?

It was a real thrill, to be dean of the college. At that time, I think there were only 12 or less veterinary schools in the country. I can remember standing in the student union and thinking, ‘this is the best job that you could ever have, Fort Collins, Colorado, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.’ The world could have ended right then.

What were the top three challenges or opportunities that you addressed during your time as the dean of the college?

In any academic program, you have to admit that the funding – the ability to have the resources to do the job that you’re assigned to do – is the number one priority. Number two would be maintain the quality, whatever the resources are, for the students. And then the third one from a point of view of a professional school, we had just expanded from the main campus here to the south area with anatomy and with microbiology and pathology. And the last challenge would have been creating the clinical facility. We had a good clinical facility, it just wasn’t large enough. The profession was progressing so rapidly that it was almost impossible to keep up, given the space requirements and the physical facilities that we had.

Why was there a need for a new hospital?

There were two issues, one was the space and the other was the technology that went with the space. We had five or six stalls. For animals that had problems standing, we had some slings. We had one little X-ray machine. We originally had the hospital designed by one of the large-animal clinicians. Jim Voss, the same Jim Voss that later on became dean and for which the hospital is named, he and his group reexamined the plans of the veterinary hospital and revamped them. It was very well balanced (the initial proposal was strictly for large animals) and this new proposal covered the whole spectrum. I walked through the hospital yesterday and I wouldn’t have recognized it. I would have thought it was for my mother, not for the dog, because there’s every department.

What would you say was your most important contribution to the college?

That’s a very tough question. I suppose the relationship that the college finally established with the legislature, with the State Board of Agriculture, and with the university. And that the final effort, relative to funding and the resources for the college, was the extraction of the school of veterinary medicine from the budget of the university. The College of Veterinary Medicine was funded separately from the rest of the university. And the university itself benefited because of the basic sciences that we taught in the College of Veterinary Medicine, which would be microbiology, anatomy, and some aspects of physiology.

You were president of Montana State University from 1977 to 1990. What did you learn at CSU that helped you with your presidency there?

People, and the need for providing faculty and students with the proper environment and the proper equipment. I have found in the human population, identical problems that we see in veterinary medicine, like the fear biter. And certainly, there are those in the faculty. And then there’s the opportunist, the equivalent of the cow that’s in a stall and lets you walk by four times, and when you get close enough, lets you have it. That happens too, in the human population. And so, to some extent, expecting the unexpected is probably the biggest thing I picked up.