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Otis A. Singletary Oral History Project  

This guide will help you find primary source oral history interviews pertaining to former University of Kentucky President Otis A. Singletary.
Last Updated: Aug 28, 2013 URL: http://libguides.uky.edu/SCOHSingletary Print Guide Email Alerts

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Annotated Guide to the Otis A. Singletary Oral History Project: Part I

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. Contact Sara Abdmishani Price, 

 

Guide Compiled by Tessa Li Powell

 Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek and Suzanne Maggard

2006

87OH255 OAS 01

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  November 19, 1987

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  2 hours 15 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Fair

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

 Dr. Otis Singletary, former president of the University of Kentucky, discusses his early life.  He talks about his experiences living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and how this shaped his life.  After his parents divorced, his grandfather, who worked for the Waterman Steamship Line, became a great influence.  Singletary was not interested in academia from a young age, but his passion for learning grew while he was in high school.  His father was more intrigued by nature than academia, but his mother had a great role in Singletary’s decision to go to college.  She introduced him to music and the piano and nurtured his ambitious spirit.

Singletary recalls growing up during the Great Depression and his later experiences as a Navy officer during World War Two and the Korean War.  He remembers the financial difficulties which forced him to withdraw from school after his first year of college to work at sea on an oil tanker.  While living in the South, Singletary was constantly confronted with issues of race.  His father was a strong supporter of segregation, though this ideology was not passed to Singletary.  He tells the story of his biracial friend who he invited to Millsaps College, and jokes about being the first to integrate higher learning institutions in the South.

87OH256 OAS 02

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  December 2, 1987

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  2 hours

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this second session, Otis A. Singletary describes his life after graduation from high school.  He focuses on the importance of the fifteen-year span from 1939 to 1954 during which he received his college degree, and served in the navy during World War II and the Korean War. Singletary also met and married his wife, Gloria, and began a family with her during this time.

While in the navy, Singletary went to Midshipmen’s School at Harvard in the spring of 1944.  This experience, as well as his previous college experiences, impressed upon him the importance of education.  Singletary became increasingly aware of his own ignorance in certain areas, namely history, and so began to study vigorously in order to better understand our country.  He touches on his experiences in graduate school and his interest in teaching.

 

87OH257 OAS 03

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  December 17, 1987

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary explains his decision to attend Louisiana State University.  He describes how he began his education there on a trial basis.  In fact, he had to prove himself before he received his first teaching assistantship.  Singletary recalls how influential professor like T. Harry Williams, Eric Vogalin, and Francis Butler Simpkins were to him when he started teaching.

Singletary also talks about his desire to do a thesis on the Negro militia.  He discusses his interest in American history, specifically the history of the South before, during, and after the Civil War.  He provides his opinion on historical figures including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln.  Singletary notes the violent tendencies of the time period.  He finishes by discussing his friendship with fellow historian Charles P. Roland and time spent researching this period of American history.

 

87OH26 OAS 04

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  January 11, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary recalls when he began to establish himself as a professor.   He remembers his first teaching experience as a teaching assistant at Louisiana State University.  Upon completing his Ph.D qualifying examinations in the spring of 1951, he was immediately called back into active duty in the navy to serve in the Korean War.  Afterward, he moved his family to New Jersey where they lived until 1954 when he was offered a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin.

While in Austin, he joined several historical associations and continued his research on the Negro militia by visiting archives in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas.  Singletary begins to discuss the role universities play in society and the significant of money, status, and size.  He also mentions the process of submitting his dissertation for review and having it approved. 

 

88OH42 OAS 05

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  February 3, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  2 hours 15 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript:  No

Restrictions: None

This interview centers on Dr. Singletary's pursuit of tenure at the University of Texas.  He discusses what originally attracted him to Texas, and the faculty community there. At that time there was a demand for professors in higher education, and UT hired him and several other historians at about the same time.  Friendships with other faculty members and administrators became important and later played roles in Singletary’s career decisions. He outlines certain characteristics of being a good teacher, and talks not only about his life on campus, but leisure activities he took part in outside of the classroom.  Singletary was very happy at Texas.  Despite many offers to go elsewhere, he remained in Austin for some time.  He discusses political decisions made regarding the university’s funding and growth.  Though he had a strong opinion on these issues, he said that he never had any interest of becoming involved in the politics of the university.

Dr. Singletary also talks about race issues in Texas.  He states that most racial issues had been resolved before he came to the university, and he only recalls one incident in which race was truly a problem.  While teaching at Texas, Singletary began to revise his dissertation about the Negro militia for publication.  During the revision process, the director of the University of Texas Press asked to see the manuscript and within a week had agreed to publish it.  A good portion of this interview focuses on Singletary’s course in military history.  He discusses the influences that military decisions and organization have on later events.  He specified the importance of the centralization of power during World War I and how this structure influenced President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s organization of the New Deal. Singletary also worked to develop a course in military history for ROTC students.   Singletary concludes recalling the rewards in his academic life.  

 

880H50 OAS 06

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  February 26, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

This interview focuses primarily on the years Dr. Singletary spent teaching at the University of Texas at Austin.  He joined the faculty in 1954 and found himself the recipient of many teaching awards.  In addition to teaching a full class load, he also wrote book reviews and served as an editor for Southwest Historical Quarterly.  He discusses his membership in various historical organizations.

Singletary talks about being director of Plan Two, an honors program at Texas.  After a few years he taught a reduced course load and moved into his first administrative position as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences.  He later became Assistant to the President.  He mentions that while working at Texas, two colleagues, on different occasions, told him that he would one day be the president of a university.  The interview concludes with his definitive move from teaching to administration.  Singletary received a Carnegie Grant to travel throughout the country in order to gain different perspectives on how universities are administered.  Upon completing this “research,” Singletary was offered a position as Chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

 

88OH55 OAS 07

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  March 8, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  2 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

This session continues with Dr. Singletary’s experiences after he left the University of Texas and moved into an administrative position as Chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He discusses the problems he had playing the role of administrator as opposed to being a member of the faculty, and he recalls the effectiveness and amiability of certain administrators and their styles.  He touches upon the role of financial and educational resources in a university.  He compares universities such as Texas and North Carolina with other public institutions in the same state.  He tells of his impressions of Greensboro and the work he did there.

In this interview, Singletary mentions his strong support of John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential race and his opinion of both Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  This leads into his recruitment by Sergeant Shriver to serve as Director of the Job Corps.  Singletary brings up certain political ties he had that may have influenced the decision to interview him for the position.  In fact, Mrs. Singletary’s uncle was a senior member of the House of Representatives.    He discusses the work he did as director, as well as relationships he forged with members of the Johnson administration.

 

88OH56 OAS 08

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  April 7, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 40 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary continues his discussion regarding the time he spent with President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration.  He speaks very highly of Lady Bird Johnson and even mentions a time she arranged to let him take a self-guided tour of the entire White House.  He recalls his reactions to certain decisions made during the Johnson administration and how historians have viewed the Johnson years.  He discusses Vietnam and not only what it meant to him personally, but also what it meant to students and higher education.  Singletary also continues explaining his experience with the Job Corps and its effect on his view of students in higher education.

Singletary discusses his political opinion which formed when he was very young, and he recalls his strong support of Roosevelt and Harry Truman.   He returned to the University of North Carolina shortly after his position with the Job Corps ended, but he then accepted a job with American Council on Education in Washington, DC.  Although his wife was not thrilled about moving, Singletary states that they loved living in the nation’s capital.  Singletary discusses the time spent in this job, as well as his move back to University of Texas to be Executive Vice Chancellor. 

 

88OH73 OAS 09

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  May 5, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Otis A. Singletary begins this interview discussing his move back to the University of Texas.  He mentions that he really liked Austin and had a comfortable feeling of going “home” when he went back.  He hesitated taking the job because of the political atmosphere, but finally decided to accept the job.  A good portion of this session is devoted to Singletary’s relationship with Frank Irwin and other administrators at the University of Texas.  The political atmosphere ended up taking its toll on Singletary and, a year later, he decided to accept the presidency at the University of Kentucky.

He discusses the interview process at the university and his first impressions of Lexington, the faculty, and the student body.  He talks about his motivation to come to Kentucky.  He came with the knowledge that there was a divided student body and an impetus toward student movements.  He mentions his opinion of the role of the president of a university.  The John W. Oswald years are discussed.  He brings up the first time he met Kentucky Governor Louie B. Nunn and his final decision to move to Kentucky.

 

88OH92 OAS 10

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  May 25, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary discusses the early years of his presidency at the University of Kentucky in August of 1969. He arrived in the midst of budgetary and student movement problems.  He discusses his decision to eliminate the position of executive vice-president and the steps he took to structure the administration when he first arrived.  Dr. Singletary emphasizes the importance of community colleges and making them feel as though they are part of the university.  During his presidency, he also saw a rise in the number of non-traditional students.

Some of the problems he was not aware of when he took his position at Kentucky included issues in leadership at the medical center, the retirement of Adolph Rupp, and the high number of acting positions on campus.  He talks about the administration of John W. Oswald, as well as that of Albert Kirwin.  He mentions he had a great relationship with the board of trustees and how beneficial that was.  As his family was accustomed to moving, he states that it was a problem leaving Texas and coming to Kentucky.  Maxwell Place, the president's house, had not been lived in for some time, but Singletary says the family enjoyed the time spent there.  During the conclusion of the session, he begins to touch on the idea of a free university and First Amendment rights demanded by students. 

 

88OH117 OAS11

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  July 7, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary explains the environment of campus during his first year (1969-1970) at the University of Kentucky.  During this time, students at Kentucky were just beginning to express their anti-war sentiments in the form of demonstrations and protests. A strong division was made between the administration and the students, making it more difficult to resolve any kind of issues.  After coming to the university, Singletary was very up-front with the faculty regarding the way he operated his administration.  At the time, racial issues were at a high, and he worked to make the University of Kentucky the type of environment in which any student or faculty member would feel comfortable.  He ran into several problems in this area, because as hard as the school may have worked to ensure this on campus, there were difficulties with the community in Lexington.

Singletary also addresses the discussion of a merger between the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.  While it never materialized, he talks at length about the roles of universities in Kentucky and where opinions differed when it came to the merger.  He mentions the problem of the budget and his interactions with campus, state, and federal government in order to work out the problems.  He finishes by talking about his reorganization of campus and the newly appointed positions.

 

88OH123 OAS12

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  August 9, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary continues with a discussion of the University of Kentucky during the academic year of 1969-1970.  In May of 1970, President Richard M. Nixon ordered U.S. combat troops into Cambodia, and this action led to violent student demonstrations at several universities across the country.  At U.K. students began protesting after four students protesters were killed at Kent State University by Ohio National Guard troops.  Singletary discusses the impact that this had on the students, as well as the environment on campus as tensions grew.

Singletary believes that everyone at U.K. disliked the presence of Kentucky National Guard troops, who were ordered to campus by Governor Louie B. Nunn.  At a board meeting the day after the Kent State Massacre, students came and vented their frustrations.  Singletary discusses an encounter between A.B. “Happy” Chandler, then a board member, and a student.  Singletary gives his reaction to this confrontation, as well as an opinion on the way Chandler was dealing with things.  He discusses the faculty’s broad range of attitudes toward what was occurring on campus.  He mentions briefly the atmosphere on the Transylvania University campus and later discusses the courtroom environment during legal proceedings. 

 

88OH208 OAS13

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  September 1, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary discusses the recovery of the University of Kentucky after the events of May 1970, as well as the following academic year.  He  mentions that this was one of only two times in which he considered leaving academia, but says that what occurred in May 1970 was not indicative of ongoing student behavior, but a somewhat more isolated event.  During the interview, Singletary talks about how important the revision of the student code was during this time.  He recalls Dr. Charles P. Roland decision to come to U.K..  He discusses at length his social and personal life as a university president, as well as the friendships he established with faculty, students, and administrators.  

Dr. Singletary talks at great length about the roles that the administration and faculty play, and that the actual education of the students rests primarily with the faculty.  He mentions the division sometimes felt between faculty and administration, as well as the qualities that make a faculty member successful.  He recalls the seemingly constant criticism he received and his reaction.  The budget is another issue addressed in this interview, along with the establishment of fellowships and foundations, specifically the Bingham Foundation.  He discusses economic development of the university, as well as measures taken by governors Bert T. Combs and Louie B. Nunn to get more money for the state. 

 

88OH209 OAS14

OTIS A.  SINGLETARY

Date: September 27, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 10 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Otis A. Singletary discusses his reaction to Allan Bloom's book Closing of the American Mind: how higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students (1987).  He goes through different points made in the book and gives his opinion based on what he experienced in the time he was university president.  He covers the role of student government and the Student Activities Board, as well as the occurrence of McCarthyism at the University of Kentucky.  He also touches on the meaning of academic freedom and its role at U.K.

The interview looks again at the part that the media plays in the university and across the nation.  Singletary talks about the bias presented in the media (he specifically mentions Dan Rather and George H.W. Bush).  He talks about how important he felt it was to have a campus newspaper like the Kernel, and how the university dealt with phasing out financial support from the institution.  Singletary touches briefly on the Penn Central Investment and the ramifications for the university.  Finally, he argues for the university switch to selective admissions and explains its importance. 

 

88OH210 OAS15

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  October 20, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary addresses the research mission of the University of Kentucky.  They talk about Dr. Wimberly Royster’s role in research, as well as moves made by the cancer center and the equine facility at the university.  The work of the College of Agriculture is also discussed.  

The bulk of this interview had to do with intercollegiate sports at the university.  He talks about the retirement of Adolph Rupp after the 1972 season and public reaction to the news.  It was during this time that the University of Kentucky received the funds to build Commonwealth Stadium, with the help of Governor Wendell H. Ford.  During this time, campus road construction was also initiated to accommodate the increased traffic in the area.  Singletary says that the Seaton Center and Lancaster Aquatic Center are important resources to provide for the students at a university.  As a final point, he stresses the importance of integrity in intercollegiate athletics.  The problems of cheating and low academic standards for the university’s athletes concern him. 

 

88OH211 OAS16

OTIS A. SINGLETARY

Date:  December 1, 1988

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Terry L. Birdwhistell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:  First Draft

Restrictions: None

Dr. Singletary discusses the “honeymoon period” both in his administration and that of his successor.  He addresses the value that Kentucky puts on education (specifically higher education).  He argues that a state should focus on promoting one university as a high quality institution, and talks about how regionalism in Kentucky has broken down that type of system.  Kentucky State University and its relationship with the University of Kentucky are discussed.  Dr. Singletary also talks about the U.K. Board of Trustees at length, as well as support from Kentucky governors Bert T. Combs, Edward T. Breathitt, Louie B. Nunn, and Wendell H. Ford.  

Dr. Singletary addresses two very controversial issues that he confronted in 1972.  During the commencement address in May, he openly called for an end to the Vietnam War which drew much criticism, but he states that the most heated debate at this time was over the recognition of the Gay Liberation Organization on campus.  He discusses his first reactions as well as the development of the case as it went to trial.  

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