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Magazine Essays


Minding the Business of Berry
Spring 2003
PDF Version

A college is no more a business than a church or a public hospital. Nevertheless, such institutions should be run in businesslike ways. “Good business sense” is really just another way of describing “good sense.” For a third of Berry College’s history, the person charged with efficient college business operations has been Joseph L. Walton (62C, 76G), who will be retiring June 30, 2003. The inaugural issue of Berry magazine seems an opportune moment to explore the business workings of a 21st century college even as Berry pays tribute to a remarkable person who is concluding 35 years of exceptional service to his alma mater.

The most obvious feature of Berry College is its size. Less obvious perhaps is the complexity of college operations. At 28,000 acres, ours is called the largest campus in the world. We are unusual in maintaining three campuses as well as far-flung timber and cattle operations. Indeed, Berry has three separate herds of cattle, a state-of-the-art research dairy, a flock of sheep and about 50 horses that serve our successful equestrian program, which is complete with stables and a splendid new covered arena. The hundreds of deer seen daily at Berry are visitors and don’t work for us!

Moreover, we maintain four chapels, a functioning grist mill, a stately home and several other historic sites (including the elaborate grounds and gardens at the Oak Hill estate) and a good-sized museum. The college also possesses three gymnasiums that date back some 70 years. We are now working on plans to construct a modern athletic center that will enable us to say we operate a fourth! The number of chapels and gymnasiums, of course, is related to our historic division into three campuses. I should add that we operate our own water system with a large reservoir and a water-purification plant. We maintain as many miles of roads as a small town.

As Berry fills the position from which Joe Walton is retiring, we will seek someone who enjoys staying busy. Under his post as vice president for finance and corporate treasurer at Berry are the bookstore, campus safety and law enforcement, construction and renovation management (including primary contact with architects and engineers), the controller’s office (which includes accounting, accounts payable and receivable, budgeting and payroll), faculty and staff housing administration, food services, investment management (as liaison to our investment team), legal affairs (as liaison to legal firms that represent the college), personnel administration (which includes staff recruiting and fringe benefit administration), physical plant (which includes housekeeping, building maintenance, grounds management and the auto shop), purchasing, real estate and land management, risk management and insurance. Insurance, of course, includes health as well as liability insurance, both increasingly complex in administration and operation during the early days of this new century.

Berry alumni tell me the campus looks better than it has in years. I consider such comments to be tributes to the good work of Joe Walton and those who report to him. Faculty members remark that we have done wonders to improve classrooms and laboratories. That is another tribute to Joe. During the late 1980s under Joe’s leadership, we more than doubled the size of the library. In the last five years alone, we have thoroughly renovated Green Hall and the Cook Building and constructed a wonderful new 130,000-square-foot science building. In addition to those projects, the Ford Buildings and quadrangle are halfway through the process of external renovation and restoration. Moreover, the historic Normandy dairy barns are being remarkably transformed into a splendid new conference center. It was Joe Walton’s idea to approach the Chick-fil-A corporation with this proposal. The new dairy followed as a result of the adaptive reuse of the Normandy buildings.

We have just opened a splendid new 14,000-square-foot Berry Alumni Center in the Ford Complex, one that is nicer than any alumni facility I’ve seen on other campuses. Every residence hall on campus has undergone significant improvements over the last dozen or so years, and the college will soon open a new 122-bed residence hall that will rival the best student residences in the United States. Two years ago, the Krannert student center underwent massive renovation, and what earlier had struck one’s eyes as tired and dated is now gleaming, contemporary and thoughtfully adapted to the needs of today’s students.

The renovation of Krannert came abruptly as a result of subsidence in the north end of the building that caused as much damage as an earthquake. Joe Walton orchestrated the massive grouting operation that addressed the subsidence, found temporary homes for the many students and staff members displaced from Krannert’s offices, and then worked tirelessly with architects and engineers on restoration and renovations while figuring out how to keep food services operating in the undamaged south end of the building. This heroic juggling act was typical of the leadership that Joe Walton has provided for many years. Throughout his time at Berry, he has been thoughtful, measured and, above all, resilient in his responses to all challenges that have come his way.

Joe thinks of himself as an educator first and a manager of finances second, an attribute I much admire and will seek in his successor. The books must balance, as they have for years and years. In such matters, there can be no compromise. Yet Berry’s primary goal is to transform the lives of young people. We are not here simply to manage a business office (nor a president’s office, for that matter). It is Berry’s educational mission that defines Joe Walton’s approach to his work. He repeatedly asks, “How will this budget decision affect teaching and learning at Berry College?” If Berry continues to respond thoughtfully to that question, the college will continue to operate in a business-like manner.

Duanne Walton, like her husband, Joe, is a member of the Berry College class of 1962. Their children, Julie and Josh, are also Berry graduates. Joe has served many years as a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Rome and has worked on a daunting number of church committees. In Rome, he coached both baseball and basketball for local youth organizations and has sat on the boards of United Way and the Chamber of Commerce. He served on the Small College Committee of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, a national forum for best practices in higher education.

After his Berry career comes to an end, Joe plans first to catch his breath ? which is to say, to catch up with a number of tasks and projects at his home ? and then to determine what lies ahead. I predict that he will remain active professionally, possibly as a consultant. Joe Walton is someone I much respect and admire. In my 35-year career, I have not worked with a better person. To my words of praise, thousands of past and present members of the Berry community surely will say “amen!” We wish him and his family all the best for the future.

Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President

 

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