C. Oran Little
Dean and Director
University of Kentucky . College of Agriculture
When Oran Little came to the University of Kentucky
in 1960, he was a freshly minted Ph.D. His credentials were impeccable:
valedictorian of his high school class; state vice-president of
the Texas FFA; Marshall Scholarship Foundation recipient; magna
cum laude graduate of the University of Houston; and doctorate
from the Mecca of animal nutrition research, Iowa State University.
The only question that could be asked of the 25-year old was:
could he continue to live up to his “whiz kid” promise?
answer quickly became apparent. Yes! At UK, the lanky Texan would
achieve stellar status as an animal science researcher. And it
didn't take long. He quickly became renowned for his research
in ruminant digestion, publishing as author or co-author 69 research
articles in refereed national publications; 108 abstracts; and
121 Agricultural Experiment Station publications, in his rather
brief career as a researcher. By 1967, Little had achieved full
professor status. He would soon move on to a higher calling within
the ranks of university work.
It wasn't simply that Little and his graduate
students were prolific; rather, it was that his research was both
pioneering and inspired. As a researcher, he developed the multifistula
technique for measuring postruminal digestion. The technique Little
used involved creating surgical “windows” (fistulae) into various
parts of the animal's digestive tract, and then either feeding
or adding into the fistula purified foodstuffs. He then withdrew
the contents at subsequent windows to see how the foodstuffs had
Prior to Little's arrival at Kentucky, research
in the department was characterized as “feed 'em and weigh 'em”
experiments, said Don Ely, one of Little's early graduate students.
(Ely now is professor of animal sciences at University of Kentucky.)
Little's research was different in that it focused on what happened
to feeds in the digestion process: the black box was illuminated.
Little's research techniques ushered in a spate
of nutrition research topics, many that are still being investigated
today, Ely said. And while his research was brilliant science,
“he never forgot the reason for the research— the livestock industry,”
graduate student Dan Loper, now a dairy farmer and dairy consultant
said that Little's teaching was magnificent. “You could tell then
that Oran Little was destined to do great things. He was an outstanding
teacher and an outstanding people person. He was extremely well
trained and was an all-around terrific man,” Loper said.
Loper, who finished his M.S. degree in animal sciences at University
of Kentucky in 1963, later finished a doctorate in dairy nutrition
at Kansas State University before working on the Apollo space
program in feeding systems and waste management. He currently
manages a 1,500 cow dairy near Stephensville, Texas.
In 1969, at the age of 34, Little was chosen to become associate
dean for research in the College of Agriculture, the administrator
in charge of the day-to-day operations of all research conducted
by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. He took the
place of Charles Barnhart, who had been appointed dean upon
the death of William Seay. As associate dean for research with
the College, Little directed research programs in 24 areas.
And during that time, the research program areas increased the
number of faculty assigned to research by 21 percent, and saw
appropriated funds increase from $4.9 million to $14 million.
Extramural funds increased from less than $1 million to more
than $8.5 million annually.
Also, while Little was the associate dean for research, the
College increased the number of graduate students each year
from 159 in 1969 to 348 in 1985, the year he left the position
to become vice chancellor for research at the Louisiana State
University Agricultural Center and director of the Louisiana
Agricultural Experiment Station. When Little vacated his University
of Kentucky position, College of Agriculture graduates accounted
for between 25 and 30 percent of all doctorates granted by the
University each year.
When Dean Charles Barnhart retired from the dean's
position in 1988, Little was selected as his replacement. As dean,
Little worked diligently and effectively to increase the cooperation
among commodity groups in Kentucky. Through Ag Project 2000, Little
united the agricultural commodity groups into a plan to improve
agricultural receipts in all commodities through improved research,
Extension, and teaching activities and cooperation among commodity
Little, in a 1993 interview, championed agriculture
as the growth machine for Kentucky's economy, noting the potential
for agriculture to lead Kentucky into the next century.“If we
want Kentucky to develop economically, we must make agriculture
the centerpiece of our development efforts.”
Bill Sprague, former president of Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation,
who was also instrumental in Ag Project 2000, commented on Little's
importance to the effort.
“Through Oran's efforts, farmers understood the potential of improving
agriculture. Oran was a leader in bringing all commodities to
see their full potential in Kentucky's economy. Kentucky owes
Oran a great deal for elevating agriculture and always being there,
working for every commodity,” Sprague said.
Undergraduate degree programs also prospered
under Little's administration. Sensing that agriculture was undergoing
very rapid change— the industry shifting from a heavy, almost
exclusive, dependence on physical technology, such as machines
and new crop varieties, to one that included an increasing dependence
on social technologies, including global marketing, communications,
and financial management— Little set the College's instructional
program on a course he described as preparing society-ready graduates.
Little offered the rationale behind the society-ready concept
in a 1999 interview: “In the next century, an educated person
must function effectively in a global environment. Teaching just
the facts won't do anymore. We must equip our students with the
ability to gather and analyze data, challenge conventional thought,
and fulfill their individual potential.”
The society-ready rubric included common courses
for all agricultural students which addressed important issues
facing agriculture at the state, national, and international levels.
Also included in the enhanced instructional programs were opportunities
for students to experience the global dimensions of agriculture
first hand— through exchanges and tours in France, China, Israel,
during Little's administration, was invigorated through a broadened
scope of topics and techniques to be investigated. Little's administration
strengthened research into molecular genetic techniques in both
plant and animal systems, increased research activity in the area
of agriculture and the environment, and responded to the issue
of tobacco-in-jeopardy by shoring up research into new and better
crops that might supplement lost tobacco income. All of these
research streams will advance Kentucky agriculture into the next
During his tenure, researchers in the College
embarked on an ambitious program to increase extramural funding
of research through grants and contracts. During the past five
years of his administration, extramural funding for research increased
by 40 percent.
With agriculture changing rapidly during the last decades of the
century, Little encouraged researchers not only to broaden their
research topics and techniques, but also to reconsider how research
Until Little's administration, the standard for
research was primarily single approach research— a researcher
and perhaps a graduate student or two conducting a rather narrow-gauged
research project. Little helped usher in a different method, a
new norm: research teams from several disciplines working jointly
on a research project. This multidisciplinary research yielded
more robust findings, since a variety of perspectives were involved.
Extension programs under Little continued to
respond to local needs for information and education, but became
modernized. Extension agents responsible for programming were
able to use a host of new state-of-the-art communications devices
to provide a “window” to the world for their constituents.
While computerization both on campus and in
county offices was initiated during the early and middle-1980s,
it was under Little that full electronic communications within
the College was realized. All county offices were connected to
the world via Internet access, and distance learning programs
initiated in the College won national and international awards.
With the emphasis on modernizing Extension came
the need for better, more accessible county Extension offices.
During Little's administration 55 county programs built new, modern
offices to accommodate clients. Little also organized the Kentucky
Ag Advancement Council, made up of representatives from various
commodity groups, to help keep the College informed of needs for
research and Extension programs.
Endowments and gifts to the College of Agriculture
continued to increase under Little's leadership. From 1988, when
Little became dean of the College, endowments and gifts totaled
more than $51 million. Little was instrumental in procuring funding
for several new facilities including a $12 million agricultural
engineering building; a $4 million regulatory services building;
a $3.75 million animal disease diagnostic center; an $11.5 million
new farm purchase; $12.6 million Phase I animal research center;
and $18 million for the first phase of the Plant Science Building.
two newest of these facilities— the Animal Research Center (ARC)
in Woodford County (top) and the Plant Science Building (right)—
will serve the Commonwealth for the next generation. The modern
research facilities of the first phase of the ARC incorporate
standard facilities for livestock management, as well as an innovative
research system that will allow scientists to better understand
nutrient management. The farm will retrieve all nutrients from
animal waste and recycle them within the confines of the farm.
And the Plant Science Building will feature state-of-the-art laboratories
so that College of Agriculture scientists will be able to conduct
plant science research that involves genetic manipulation of plant
Oran Little leaves the post of Dean of the College
of Agriculture as the seventh dean in the College's history. His
predecessors— Scovell, Kastle, Cooper, Welch, Seay, and Barnhart—
all have names familiar to the agricultural community in Kentucky,
the nation, and the world. And Little leaves a strong College,
as evidenced by the College of Agriculture Review, completed in
Spring 2000. The executive summary reads, “The College of Agriculture
is a recognized leader in the University and Commonwealth and
is held in high respect in the national and international arena.”