Many on campus may be surprised to learn that, before taking the reins of the University budget, Dr. Chris Dalton was a photochemist studying the interaction of light and matter. But it fits, since in his 20 years of overseeing the budget, he has focused a veritable “laser beam” on BGSU’s finances, and has brought all the analytical skills of the chemist to bear on finding the necessary resources and keeping the University in good financial shape.
After nearly 30 years at BGSU, Dalton will step down from his position as senior vice president for finance and administration on May 31, when new CFO Sherri Stoll arrives on campus. He will still be here through midsummer, however, to help her make the transition into the job before his official retirement, and may return to work part time on special projects in the fall.
And then will end years of 70-hour workweeks, of nights and weekends at the office. Over the years, his wife, Ellen, coordinator of budgets in the College of Musical Arts, and daughter, Kathryn, “have been very good about sharing me,” he said, adding, “It’s a good time to retire.”
While he won’t miss the workload, he will miss his co-workers. “The most wonderful part of Bowling Green has been the people,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have had an excellent group of directors. What you have to do is get very good people to work with because you can’t possibly master everything.”
These currently include Linda Hamilton, director of budgeting (who Dalton says “has had to put up with me from my early days on the Faculty Senate Budget Committee”); Jane Schimpf, retired as director of auxiliary services but back part time; Robert Waddle, assistant vice president for capital planning; Gaylyn Finn, University treasurer; William Knight, director of institutional research and planning; Bryan Benner, associate vice president for administration, and Mel Hudson-Nowak, the University’s new internal auditor. “They provide me with an incredible amount of support,” Dalton said.
An analytical leader
Whatever he has done on campus, Dalton has made an impact, according to his friends and colleagues. Although he is naturally reticent and works in the “back office,” as he says, his intellect and strong sense of purpose have provided steady leadership.
“He really wants to do what’s best for the overall University,” said President Sidney Ribeau. “He’s also a harmonizer. In groups, he makes sure that the entire unit works together.”
Particularly in today’s tightened budget situation, “when so much of what we do is based on financial modeling,” Ribeau said, Dalton’s statistical modeling skills have been called upon to assess whether proposed projects are feasible. “He’s very analytical and is a big asset at the Cabinet level in examining and explaining issues,” the president said.
While to most people, analysis of statistical models would be daunting, Dalton thrives on it. “As a physical and organic photochemist, I always liked the analytical aspect,” he said. “I enjoy looking at things from different perspectives and trying to understand what’s happening. It probably has made my weeks longer, though,” he acknowledged about his propensity for “looking at data and reevaluating options.”
Coming to campus
Even as a young photochemist, Dalton had established a reputation, said Dr. Doug Neckers, McMaster Research Professor and executive director of the Center for Photochemical Sciences, who brought Dalton to Bowling Green.
By the time he met Dalton, at the University of Rochester, in the late 1970s, “Chris had more published papers than most full professors (50 from his Ph.D. work alone), and he was very well known,” Neckers said.
“For several years Chris was our colleague,” Neckers said. “He was immediately accepted by his department, immediately promoted to full professor and immediately won over lots of friends because Chris was Chris. Having Chris on board also gave our proposals credibility. We successfully competed for all of the Selective Excellence programs of the early1980s as a result—Program Excellence, Eminent Scholar, Research Challenge and Academic Challenge.
“I liked Chris the first time I met him,” Neckers recalled. “Chris was so genuine and so warm. Rochester was one of the leading chemistry programs in America, and Bowling Green was just emerging from its roots as a teachers college. I was so pleased that he was so nice to one from such a lesser place. But that first meeting formed an indelible impression that has never been altered.”
Neckers recalls that when he invited Dalton to join the department, he said simply, “‘I’ll come.’ It was as simple as that, with his typical enthusiasm.
“I believe succeeding in hiring Chris Dalton in 1977 is the thing that turned Bowling Green’s program in chemistry from just another small, state university program into the world-recognized Center for Photochemical Sciences that it has become.”
A career change
As he was making strides in photochemical sciences, Dalton was also serving on the Faculty Senate Budget Committee, where he found that he enjoyed the work. He was appointed to the committee in the first year of the Paul Olscamp presidency, and had spent several years as chair when Dick Eakin, then vice president for planning and budgeting, encouraged him to apply to be his assistant vice president. “It was a different set of challenges and I enjoyed my work on the senate budget committee, so I did apply and was accepted for the job,” Dalton said. While Neckers was not happy about losing him, “he was always very gracious about it,” Dalton said.
When Eakin became president of East Carolina University, Dalton was chosen to succeed him, with the backing of Olscamp.
“I had always worked 70 hours a week. Faculty work really hard!” Dalton said, and he continued doing that in the budget office. Over the years, his responsibilities and areas of oversight have changed, as has his title, as the University has been reorganized.
Today, Dalton works extensively with the Faculty Senate and University Budget committees to study budget options and develop recommendations for salaries, tuition and fees, the dining halls and intercollegiate athletics. He deals with campus facilities, capital planning and design and construction, and evaluates property the University might purchase. He also frequently travels to Columbus to study the latest models for the state budget and meet with finance and business people from other institutions.
He meets frequently with BGSU trustees to provide information, present budgets and explain the University’s financial situation. “I have a lot of interaction with the finance, audit and investment committees,” he said. “They’ve been very helpful in trying to attain institutional goals.”
Changing faces on campus
Although Hollis Moore was president when Dalton arrived in the chemistry department, he has only served as vice president for finance under two presidents, Olscamp and Ribeau. They and Neckers, he says, are the three people who have had the most influence on him. “I wouldn’t be in BG if it weren’t for Doug Neckers,” Dalton said.
At the May 8 retirement party for Dr. Chris Dalton, Dr. Donald Nieman (center), dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, points out a photo in a scrapbook of memorabilia from Dalton's career to Akiko Jones (left) and President Sidney Ribeau.
“When you work with them (the presidents) as much as you do as a vice president, they will have an impact on you,” he noted. He said he was pleased to retain his job when Ribeau became president in 1995. “Vice presidents serve at the pleasure of the president. I never gave up tenure, so in theory I could have gone back and haunted the chemistry faculty,” he said jokingly.
But Ribeau recalls that when he came to campus the summer before he officially took office, “It took all of about 15 minutes to see I wanted to keep Chris. He’s bright, committed and a complete team player. He’s also very energetic and has a keen wit.”
Though Dalton enjoys his work and the challenges it poses, the situation in 1992 still holds painful memories. “In 1992-93, we cut $6 million out of the budget. That was difficult. We were trying to protect the core academic purposes while trying to manage the budget challenges,” he said. “Thirty-three classified and administrative staff members were laid off, and we eliminated 150 positions, mostly through attrition. It was a difficult challenge. Most if not all of those laid off were offered jobs as things improved but by then most had already found other employment.”
Since Dalton became vice president, he has seen a big change in University finances, going from two-thirds state support and one-third from student fees to the opposite. Costs of health care and utilities have soared, and it has been harder to be competitive in faculty salaries.
“We’ve had significant budget issues about every 10 years,” he said. “The early part of the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s all were difficult, and it’s taken longer to recover each time.”
Friends and colleagues
Despite the thorny problems he has always dealt with at work, Dalton remains as upbeat as when Neckers first hired him. “Chris then was Chris now,” Neckers said. “He’s enthusiastic, genuine, nice, unpretentious, creative and fun to be around. He is also very dependable—a rock.”
Ribeau said, “He’s one of the most intelligent but also one of the kindest people I have ever met. He always shows concern for everyone and their families.”
The Daltons showed their support for students when they funded a fellowship to allow up to two each year to follow their hearts’ desire and design their own educational experience. “We stole the idea,” Dalton said, from a program they admired at the University of North Carolina, and named it after the late Dr. Stuart Givens, University historian and longtime chair of the history department. (See http://www.bgsu.edu/offices/mc/monitor/09-11-06/page23323.html)
“It’s been very satisfying,” Dalton said. “We got to meet the recipients of the first award this year. We’re really pleased with how this is going.”
As he looks back on his 30 years here, Dalton reiterated that it is the “warmth of feeling members of the BGSU community have toward each other” that makes the campus culture special. “It’s been a wonderful place to work for 30 years.”