Otis A. Singletary became the eighth president of the University of Kentucky in 1969, succeeding the presidency of John W. Oswald and the (interim) presidency of Albert D. Kirwan. Like Kirwan, an historian of national renown (a specialist in the period of the Mexican-American War), he was only the second man of his profession elected chief executive of the institution.
Singletary, born October 31, 1921 in Gulfport, Mississippi, received his B.A from Millsaps College in 1947 and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Louisiana State University in 1949 and 1954, respectively. He was married in 1944 to the former Gloria Walton; three children were born to the union-Bonnie, Scot, and Kendall Ann. Following service as a naval officer during World War II and the Korean Conflict, Singletary held positions as Instructor in Louisiana State University's Extension Division from 1949 to 1951, in the Navy Supply Corps School in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1951 and 1952, and in the Naval ROTC Unit at Princeton University from 1952 to 1954. In 1957, following a three-year instructorship in History, he became in turn Assistant Professor (1957-58), Associate Professor (1959), and Professor (1960) at the University of Texas, all the while serving as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, from 1956 to 1959, and Assistant to the President of the institution during the 1960-61 academic year.
Appointed Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1961 (serving until 1966), Singletary took a leave of absence from October, 1964, until January, 1966, to direct the federal Job Corps during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. From 1966 to 1968 he was Vice President of the American Council on Education, and during 1968 and 1969 served as Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in the University of Texas System
In August, 1969, Singletary became president of the University of Kentucky. Assuming his executive responsibilities during a period of campus turmoil kindled by student protest against the Vietnam War, and culminating on the UK campus in the Kent State demonstrations of May, 1970, the new president's dispassionate yet firm approach to dealing with the conflict, in time effectively restored calm to the campus and prevented a potentially incendiary situation from spinning out of control. Throughout his term Singletary listened attentively to student concerns and encouraged responsible student participation in University affairs. Early in his administration student representation on the Board of Trustees was initiated, and student membership in the University Senate was increased. As a result, many causes of student discontent were eradicated, and a mutuality of trust and respect between students and administrators developed and grew during the Singletary years.
Beginning in 1970 the University of Kentucky received a steadily decreasing proportion of the State budget for higher education (from 62% to 42%), and the ensuing budget cuts for campus programs resulted in a decade-and-a-half of financial stringency. The problem of financing public higher education in Kentucky at this time, moreover, was only exacerbated and compounded by rampant inflation as well as the addition of two new institutions-the University of Louisville and Northern Kentucky University -to the state system. The Singletary administration responded to the financial crisis by instituting a regime of sound financial management, which resulted in limitations on salary increases, recruiting, and new programs and made essential, substantial increases in external funding, which the administration had remarkable success in generating and attracting. During this period private and governmental research grants and contracts increased more than four-fold, and private giving grew dramatically via therelatively new campus development program.
The result was a period of sustained physical and institutional growth, despite the strict budgetary limitations imposed by the situation upon the school. Student enrollment climbed to a record 46,550 by the end of Singletary's term, and the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded reached 3887 by 1985. A vigorous physical expansion program was carried out, embracing buildings such as the Seaton Center, an enlarged Shively Sports Center (with its Nutter Training Facility), Commonwealth Stadium, the south building of the Agricultural Sciences Center, the Tobacco and Health Research Institute, the Hilary Boone Faculty Club, the Warren Wright Medical Plaza complex, the Medical Annex, the College of Nursing and Morgan Biological Sciences buildings, the Student Center Addition, the Singletary Center for the Arts, and the North addition to the Margaret I, King Library. Singletary's tenure witnessed as well significant growth and development in existing programs and institutions, such as the Medical Center and the Community College System, and the establishment of new ones---the Lucille Parker Markey Cancer Center, the Gaines Center for the Humanities, the Maxwell Gluck Equine Research Center, the Institute for Mining and Minerals Research, and the Office of Business Development and Government Services-to name a few. Other Singletary Administration accomplishments worthy of note include the adoption of a selective admissions policy, a major reorganization of the University administration (1982), the establishment of the campus Affirmative Action office, the reorganization of the University Senate, the institution of the Bachelor of General Studies degree, the creation of the Office of Vice President for Minority Affairs, the opening of the Lexington Technical Institute, the reorganization of the College of Arts & Sciences (leading to the establishment of the Colleges of Communications and Fine Arts), the initiation of an employee health insurance program, and the establishment of the Sanders-Brown Research Center on Aging.
Otis Singletary retired June 30, 1987, as President of the University, having served longer in that position than any of his predecessors, save James Kennedy Patterson and Frank McVey. President Emeritus Otis Singletary died September 20, 2003, at his home in Lexington. His funeral was held on Wednesday, September 24 at the Singletary Center for the Arts.