History of the College

Throughout its proud history, the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine has been grounded in science and inquiry into the workings of the body, committed to improving the health and welfare of animals and people, and united as a caring community.

Veterinary Education and Service before 1948

[Historical photo of men in suits outside with horse]

In the late 1800s weekly “horse clinics” were offered on the University of Illinois campus.

Veterinary service and education at the University of Illinois date to the early years of the university’s existence. A course in veterinary medicine and surgery was first offered in 1870, and weekly “horse clinics” became a staple of care for local owners in the late 1800s. In the early 20th century a busy veterinary diagnostic laboratory on the university campus met crucial needs in the state’s agricultural industries, along with livestock disease eradication programs led by university personnel.

Although a College of Veterinary Medicine was authorized by the state General Assembly in 1919, it was not until 1944, in response to growing demand from farmers and veterinarians, that the Board of Trustees formally established the college. The following year, in 1945, the Illinois legislature authorized funding to construct a basic science laboratory for the college, though the building was not completed until 1952.

Establishment of the College

[Members of the first class and their bacteriology instructor, Dr. Harold Bryan]

The first veterinary class at Illinois received instruction in a former sorority house on Pennsylvania Avenue in Urbana.

When the first class—twenty-four men, all of whom were World War II veterans—enrolled in 1948, lectures and labs took place in an old sorority house while kennels, large animal stalls, and surgeries were located together in a remodeled beef barn. When the basic science building on Peabody Drive opened in 1952, it included an annex for diagnostic and research activities. In 1952, when the first class graduated, the college’s first PhD degree was also awarded. The following year, Dr. Lyle Hanson, who later joined the faculty, became the first to earn a master’s degree from the college. By 1955, a Large Animal Clinic was completed on Maryland Avenue, while the Small Animal Clinic continued to operate from the old beef barn. Also in 1955, Dr. Dorothy Safanie became the first woman to earn a DVM from the college.

A New Veterinary Campus

[Sen Charles Percy and Dean Richard Dierks help drive the ox-drawn plow at the groundbreaking ceremony]

In recognition of the college’s origins in the state’s agricultural industry, an ox-drawn plow was used at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Basic Sciences Building.

By 1962 the growing college recognized the need for larger facilities. A year later the current 40-acre site at the southeast corner of the Urbana campus, bounded by Lincoln Avenue, Hazelwood Drive, and St. Mary’s Road, was identified for new construction and relocation of the college. In 1971 the Small Animal Clinic and Surgical-Obstetrical Laboratory (now known as the Clinical Skills Learning Center) opened. The Large Animal Clinic was completed in 1976. The college’s first endowed scholarship, the Anna M. Gulick Scholarship, was established in 1964.

State funding for the current Basic Sciences Building—as well as new facilities for the campus’s College of Agriculture—was provided through the Food For Century III initiative, aimed at strengthening the research and educational underpinnings of the food and agricultural industries. When the $24 million facility was dedicated in April 1983, it united the college’s facilities in one location for the first time.

Leadership in Veterinary Research and Teaching

[Dr. Erwin Small]

Dr. Erwin Small devoted more than 50 of his 85 years to serving the College of Veterinary Medicine and the veterinary profession worldwide. The professor emeritus and former associate dean for alumni and public affairs died in 2009.

Luminaries in veterinary research and education helped establish a strong reputation for the College of Veterinary Medicine in its early years. Dr. Lloyd Davis pioneered the field of veterinary pharmacology, and Dr. Norman Levine was internationally known for his research on Protozoa and other parasitic organisms that cause diseases, such as malaria and toxoplasmosis, in animals and humans. Dr. Erwin Small, who spent more than 50 years at the college, was a national leader for organized veterinary medicine and the advancement of the profession. Toward the end of the 20th century, Illinois broke ground in pedagogical research into the use of simulations and models to enhance mastery of veterinary clinical skills while conserving animal resources.

With its Center for Zoonosis Research, established in 1960, the college was an early advocate of interdisciplinary research collaborations aimed at improving human and animal health. Both infectious disease and environmental toxicology were prominent areas of research for the college in the second half of the 20th century. In 2004 an NIH grant for facilities renovation expanded and updated biomedical laboratory space in the basic sciences building. With the advent of genomic research and molecular biology, the concept of “one medicine” took on greater meaning: not only are the health and well-being of humans, animals, and the environment intimately linked, but at the most basic levels many biological functions are shared. The College of Veterinary Medicine emerged as strong proponent of translational biomedical research—discoveries at the genomic, molecular, and cellular levels that had applications for improving human and animal health. The college’s two basic sciences departments adopted new names during this period to reflect the fact that they engage in biomedical discovery that is not limited to veterinary applications.

Recent Advances, Future Directions

[Student and coach with canine intubation model]

The Clinical Skills Learning Center, which opened in 2009, is one of the nation’s most comprehensive facilities and continues to expand each year.

In 2006 the college adopted a bold strategic plan that led to remarkable advancements over the following three years. By 2009, the faculty had conceived and implemented an innovative veterinary curriculum that integrated clinical competency throughout the four-year degree program; had built the nation’s most comprehensive clinical skills learning facility; had established a clinical presence in Chicago to support the teaching and outreach mission of the college; had launched the Center for One Health Illinois; and had successfully met and exceeded its fund-raising goal for the Brilliant Futures campaign, bringing in a total of $51 million.

With its three academic departments—Comparative Biosciences, Pathobiology, and Veterinary Clinical Medicine—and three service units—the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital—Illinois claims many strengths that provide a firm foundation for growth: historic ties to the agricultural industries in the state; location within a world-class university; international recognition for the newly introduced veterinary curriculum and the Clinical Skills Learning Center; research faculty with NIH-funded programs; veterinary specialists who are leaders in their fields; access to the state’s population center; a prominent and supportive alumni and donor base; and expertise that is highly relevant to a host of societal needs, from basic biology to public health, emerging infectious disease, food safety, food productivity, environmental toxicology, specialized medicine, and the human-animal bond.

In charting the college’s future course for addressing the needs of society and advancing veterinary science, the faculty draw on these assets and on their own proven track record of successful innovation.


College Leaders

  • Dean Graham – 1945-1956


    Dean Robert K. Graham

    Dean Robert K. Graham

    Robert K. Graham came to the University of Illinois in 1917, joining the Department of Animal Husbandry. He pursued his vision for a strong Extension program and diagnostic service to aid the livestock industry and protect public health. He also lobbied tirelessly for the creation of the College of Veterinary Medicine and in 1945, he became its first dean. A Large Animal Clinic was built in 1955, while the Small Animal Clinic continued to operate in a former beef barn. Dean Graham earned a veterinary degree from Iowa State College and a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky. He served in the Veterinary Corps of the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1924 and developed the first antitoxin for botulinus poisoning in man.

  • Dean Brandly – 1956-1968


    Dean Carl A. Brandly

    Dean Carl A. Brandly

    Carl A. Brandly spearheaded the creation of the Center for Zoonoses Research, which was established in 1960. He was credited for his devotion to professional and graduate education. His worldwide service for the veterinary profession was recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 12th International Congress Prize. Dean Brandly earned a veterinary degree and a master’s degree from Kansas State University. During World War II he served as director of the Huntington War Research Program on Exotic Diseases at Harvard University Medical School.

  • Dean Jones – 1968-1976


    Dean L. Meyer Jones

    Dean L. Meyer Jones

    During the tenure of Dean L. Meyer Jones, the two current hospital buildings were built—the Small Animal Clinic in 1971 and the Large Animal Clinic in 1976—and the college began its innovative use of computer-aided instruction with PLATO. Near the end of his deanship the college joined forces with the then-College of Agriculture to promote Food for Century III, a program that sought state dollars to help increase the contributions of the University of Illinois to the state’s food production industry through teaching, research, and Extension programs. Dean Jones received his veterinary and master’s degrees from Iowa State University and a PhD from the University of Minnesota Medical School. He was the author of an internationally known textbook, Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Before becoming the dean at Illinois, he had led the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia and served for five years as director of scientific activities at the American Veterinary Medical Association.

  • Dean Dierks – 1976-1989


    Dean Richard E. Dierks

    Dean Richard E. Dierks

    Among the many milestones achieved during the tenure of Dean Richard E. Dierks, the college’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory gained greater prominence within the state diagnostic laboratory system. The Animal Poison Information Center originated as a service program at the college in 1978, and operated here for nearly 20 years before becoming part of the ASPCA. During the 1980s the college awarded 760 DVM degrees, 93 master’s degrees, and 61 PhD degrees. The college’s first endowed graduate student award, the Mariangela and Diego Segre Research Award, was also established then. Dean Dierks earned a DVM, a master’s, and a PhD degree at the University of Minnesota and was considered an expert in microbiology. He was a renowned veterinary statesman who held prominent service leadership positions in organized veterinary medicine and with the US Department of Agriculture.

  • Dean Valli – 1989-2001


    Dea Victor E.O. Valli

    Dean Victor E.O. Valli

    Under Dean Victor E.O. “Ted” Valli’s leadership, the college benefited from nearly $6 million in state funding through a new Venture Technology program. Both the Medical Scholars joint degree program and the clinical medicine PhD degree were established. In 1996 the veterinary class size was increased to 100 students. By the late 1990s, the rising proportion of women veterinary students stabilized at about 75 percent. Dean Valli fostered strong connections with the professional students by hosting welcome and graduation events in his home and by lecturing in histology. In 1995, the college’s first class endowment was created by the Class of 1962 to support a speaker at the Annual Fall Conference for Veterinarians. Dean Valli received a DVM degree from the University of Toronto as well as master’s and PhD degrees from Ontario Veterinary College, where he also chaired the Department of Pathology and served as associate dean of research before coming to Illinois. He served in the South Alberta Regiment from 1945 to 1954.

  • Dean Whiteley – 2001-2013


    Dean Herbert E. Whiteley

    Dean Herbert E. Whiteley

    Dean Herbert E. Whiteley led the college through a period of tremendous innovation despite budgetary constraints. During his tenure the college introduced the Illinois model of veterinary education, which greatly expanded students’ clinical exposure and hands-on experiences while integrating basic science education to emphasize clinical relevance. The Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine was established to expand the college’s reach in clinical service and student recruiting. Dean Whiteley led a campus initiative to foster multidisciplinary collaborations in translational biomedical research—translating discoveries in the basic sciences into relevant medical applications. The college gained its first endowed chair and increased the number of scholarship endowments and class endowments under Dean Whiteley. Dean Whiteley earned a veterinary degree from Purdue University and a PhD from Colorado State University. He is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathology, with an emphasis in ocular disease. After serving on the faculty at Illinois for more than 10 years, he spent six years heading the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science at the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory before returning to Illinois as dean.

  • Dean Constable – 2014 –


    Dean Peter D. Constable

    Dean Peter D. Constable

    Dean Peter D. Constable took the helm with a focus on expanding the college’s leadership in innovative veterinary education, excellent patient care, and vital biomedical research. He began his academic career at Illinois in 1993 as an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, and returned as dean after having served as head of the veterinary clinical sciences department at Purdue University from 2006 to 2013. Dean Constable earned his veterinary degree from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and practiced in Australia and England before joining The Ohio State University for an ambulatory internship and a food animal medicine and surgery residency, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in cardiovascular physiology. He is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and is widely published. He is a coauthor of the tenth edition of Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats.

    Learn More