Charles Dalton

Interviewee: Dalton, Charles
Interviewer: End, Jack
Duration: 35 minutes
Date: ca. 1971


Biographical note: Charles R. Dalton '20, '43G, worked as a "field secretary" – a position which connected the admissions office with high schools, beginning in 1929, and then served as Alumni Secretary until 1944, when he became director of Admissions and Student Aid. In 1962 he became assistant to President Wallis, and then General Secretary, until 1968. The Charles R. Dalton Scholarship Fund to assist outstanding undergraduate students.

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The views expressed in the recordings and transcripts on this website are those of the speakers, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the University of Rochester.



JE: Mr. Dalton, you graduated from the University of Rochester in 1920. What was the school like in those days as compared to today?

CD: Well, it was certainly very different, Jack. In the first place it was a small liberal arts college, as I’m sure you well know. And there was a very close relationship, I think, between faculty and students and of course among all the members of the student body. We knew practically everybody in our class; we knew almost all the people in the college. Quite apart from that, our facilities were modest, extremely modest in comparison with the facilities we have now. And every little addition that we had to the facilities that we then had, we appreciated. I think that today the students have much more in the way of opportunity and facilities and equipment and all that than we ever had. Whether they appreciate all this or not, I don’t know. [laughs]

JE: You came back to the University in a professional capacity in 1929. And distinguished yourself in administration first as counselor on admission, then Alumni Secretary [laughs], then Director of Admissions and finally as a Special Assistant to the President and Secretary of the University. Somewhere along the line – I think it was in 1943 – you combined your professional duties with going back to school, and attained a Master of Arts degree. What prompted you to do this?

CD: Well, let me say in the first place, Jack, that I very much question your comment about distinguishing myself [laughs]>with the University. It is true that I was with the University a number of years and enjoyed my association with it. But to come more directly to your question, I returned to the vocation, the [unintelligible] vocation as a student because at that time I was, of course, heavily involved with Admissions and I knew that there were many courses in the Education Department which would help me with that program. A lot of – a lot of work in educational testing and that kind of thing. Now when I first came back – or when I first entered, I should say – into the program I entered it with the idea of only taking those courses, which I thought would be of extreme value to me in the job that I was doing. And got so heavily involved in it that I went on finally and took my master’s degree.

JE: Hm. Did you, . . . ever have any preferences to jobs, I mean you’ve had so many in the University; did you have any that you liked better than others or –?

CD: Well, I think that the work that I did in Admissions was always the most intriguing to me of any of the work that I did. It was inspiring in a way and extremely interesting. And to some extent exciting because we were not only faced with the problem of determining whether or not we – I’m talking about all the people in Admissions – about whether a student would be wise to come to this institution and whether we’d be wise to accept him. But also we were constantly confronted, particularly during the later years of my administration in that field, in the problem of whether of how many, I should say, how many offers of admission we could make and not go over the number that we could take in the class and not be well under. And at – during those years, when our dormitory facilities were extremely limited and fixed in terms of the number that could be put in – for the number of men or women that could be accommodated – it was almost essential that we not go over the number that we had predicted. This made it exciting, sometimes too exciting. [laughs] But nevertheless, the whole program of admissions to me was thrilling.

JE: Well let’s, um – sort of zero in on that, um . . . and talk a little bit about your experiences and your thoughts about admissions. And – well, for one thing every year a larger percentage of high school students apply for admission to college. Is this necessarily a good trend? Or do you feel that a good many of these people would be better off terminating their formal education at the high school level?

CD: Well, of course I think this is a very debatable question. But my own view is that many of these students should not be attempting a college degree in fields at least that we consider under the liberal arts or science programs. Many of these high school students, I think, should probably go on to additional work. But I don’t think that many of them should go on to – uh, the type you question, should go on to degree programs in the liberal arts or sciences. I don’t – uh, I think this idea that everybody should have a college degree in order to get a good job and to progress in the economic strata of our society is necessarily a good thing.

JE: Well, um . . . what is the alternative?

CD: Well, I think schools beyond the secondary level which offer practical and technical and other types of courses which prepare people for jobs in advanced stages of these fields but which are not of a college variety that we commonly think of in terms of the liberal arts and sciences.

JE: Uh, Mr. Dalton college tuition rates seem to be continually on the rise. How will this affect the enrollment numbers? Will many prospective college students be unable to meet this financial problem, or will they be able to cope with it through one means or another?

CD: Well now, Jack, you’re asking me to make a prediction, really. And predictions [laughs] of course are always dangerous. But my own feeling is this will not necessarily limit the number of students going on to college. I think that the answer will come in greater subsidy by federal, state, or other educational – or other governmental agencies to counteract this increase in tuition and permit students to go on whether or not they are personally able to finance it themselves.

JE: I don’t – how do you feel about college dropouts? Is it the end of the line for them as far as formal education is concerned? Or should they be encouraged to come back to school for a second chance?

CD: I feel very strongly that college dropouts should not consider this the end of the line. As a matter of fact, while I was still with the University I made a study of college dropouts at the University of Rochester who came back after being and readmitted through our program, having once dropped out or actually, in these cases, dismissed because of academic, uh . . . failures. And these students, upon second chance, a large proportion of them did extremely well. The question involved here, of course, is the question of motivation. And when the motivation changes the record can change along with it.

JE: When they get out into the world and find out that they haven’t that they really don’t have the ammunition, as it were they begin to realize. . .

CD: This is right. Actually, the study that we did here was not with people who withdrew from college voluntarily but people who we dismissed – whom we dismissed from college. And these are probably the most, uh . . . desperate group in a sense, in terms of academic performance. And many of them on their return – a large portion of them, as you can find out in the study – did very well.

JE: Hm. Um, at one time as I said previously, you were Alumni Secretary of the University and as everyone knows, have always been active in alumni affairs. Do you think that alumni support and interest is increasing or diminishing in terms of spokesmanship for, and contributions to, the University?

CD: Well, I don’t know that I’m very well qualified to speak on this subject, Jack. I have two . . . two thoughts about it. In the first place I think that, if you’re talking about alumni loyalty in terms of the old college loyalty that we think of with Old Siwash[2] [laughs], I think this is pretty much gone by the board. I don’t think that alumni loyalty in terms of a desire to the help the University do a better job in the education of youth has gone by the board. I think alumni are still interested in this in this kind of contribution. In other words I think it is practi – probably a more sound and more effective and a more helpful kind of contribution than they made in the olden days when this was tied up with an emotional kind of experience.

JE: In other words you might say that their education has been better because they know now in which direction to turn in terms of in future generations.

CD: Yes this is right, and I think there’s another factor involved here. When institutions were smaller, and when they were more select – I mean in terms – I’m talking in terms of numbers not in terms of quality – a more select group of people going on to college, it had a club atmosphere that was retained after they got out. Now with a great number of state institutions and junior colleges and all kinds of opportunities offered this kind of an emotional attachment to an institution is gone pretty much by the board. And I think this is also true in terms of, and is evidenced by, for instance, a change in fraternity life in the college.

JE: Well, you’ve an – [laughs] anticipated my next question.  Uh, you’ve always been active in fraternity life on our campus, dating back to the days when you were a student. And in fact at that time had a vital role in actually founding a fraternity. What was the position of the fraternity in the college community when you were in school and what is it like now and what will it be like in the future?

CD: Yes, Jack, I think that – I have been very much interested in fraternities. Too much so, I think, if I – as I look back upon my early days in college, when I was very much involved in the creation or the origin of a new fraternity on this campus, which afterwards became a chapter of Sigma Chi. I think I devoted too much time to this. At that time fraternities seemed extremely important. Uh, students who belonged to fraternities had an interest in the college and had an enjoyment of fraternity life, which it seemed to me was divorced from the rest of the – more or less divorced from the rest of the student body. I think since then, talking about modern times, very recent times, I think the fraternity situation has changed dramatically. As you perhaps know, a few years ago and I can’t give you the exact date, but I made a little study at the request of the President about what the University should do with respect to housing of fraternities on the campus.

JE: Yes, you inaugurated the idea of having one building for all of the fraternities.

CD: And well, at that time, recognizing that expense of building a house, a fraternity house, had become so great that it was impossible for a new fraternity to undertake a building at say, for instance, two hundred and fifty to three hundred thousand dollars. I had recommended to the University that any new that these fraternities perhaps should be housed – the ones that were not housed – but that any new facilities that were built should be built with the idea that fraternities perhaps could utilize these facilities, some of them, as fraternities. But that they shouldn’t be exclusively used for that with so that in the event that fraternities no longer became a vital force on the campus, the dormitories or residence halls, whatever you call them, could be used for regular dormitory facilities. My feeling about it is that fraternities at the University of Rochester over a long period of years, in terms of what students said they got out of fraternities after they were graduated, in terms of their contributions to the University financially or otherwise after they were out, indicated that these fraternities were a very vital part of their college life. I’m not at all convinced that that is any longer true. In fact I am almost certain in my own mind that it is not now true. Fraternities, not at the University of Rochester alone but I think over the country at large, are doomed eventually to be pretty much eliminated from the college scene. This isn’t a question of whether you like it or whether you don’t like it, I think it’s in the books.

JE: What do you think about the conversion of vari – of this house or the other in the Fraternity Quadrangle to other uses? For instance, the Medieval House.

CD: I think this is probably a very good use for these houses.

JE: You think this is the direction in which, uh –

CD: I think this is the direction in which they should probably go. I I certainly have a feeling that fraternities over a period of the last fifteen – ten or fifteen or even – yes, ten or fifteen years – the men who have belonged to them have for the most part, not exclusively but for the most part, belonged as a matter of convenience, as a matter of a good place to live, as they saw it. This kind of thing, I think that the idea of loyalty to a fraternity with all its secret provisions and this kind of thing, has gone. And I don’t think it is going to return.

JE: Do you think that this kind of conversion is detrimental to this University or all schools of higher education, or do you think that this is a good thing?

CD: I would say that it’s mixed. I think that, as I’ve indicated, many students got a lot out of fraternities during their college life. They were taught in the houses, in their initiation and in their training afterward and in their association with others, many things which the College did not undertake to teach them in terms of courtesies, in terms of reasonable deportment they made associations, very close associations with friends, which is a little difficult to make outside. On the other hand, fraternities also had I think great objections. Those who were not in them suffered, I’m sure, many of them, because of the lack of this kind of association. There was a time when they were in the smaller colleges at least pretty much ostracized from active participation in many college activities and college government because they were not members of fraternities and because the fraternities took over. Uh, there is no completely good or bad in the elimination of them, it seems to me, if they are eliminated. But there will be some losses and perhaps some gains.

JE: When you retired as Director of Admissions in 1963 you were immediately appointed to a new position in the University, that of Special Assistant to President Wallis and Secretary to the University. What were your duties in these new posts?

CD: Well, they were – most of these were twofold for the most part. Uh, one duty was to act as, in essence, a secretary to the Board of Trustees of the University, a job which had Harry Mills[3] had undertaken before he left and retired from the University to go to Long Island. And in this capacity I took minutes of Board meetings and acted as a general secretary of the Board of Trustees. In the other capacity, I undertook special projects for the President, including a number of special studies of one kind or another, a couple of which I’ve referred to previously in my discussion with you here today. But these were problems which came to the University and which the President turned over to me and said, will you make a study of these and give us a recommendation on them. Or – and this is perhaps equally important in this field – several of these studies – including the one, for instance, which I had to do with what happens with students who are dismissed from college academically and readmitted – were studies which I had initiated myself under the encouragement of the President and had undertaken and followed to a conclusion. So these studies came from two sources: by my own initiation or from the President. This together with the general duties of the Secretary of the Board involved what, uh – my whole function was as Special Assistant to the President.

JE: Um, upon looking back on your long association with the University, are there any special experiences that stand out in your memory?

CD:. . . Well, there are a great many things that I vividly remember when I – during my years at the University. Start at the beginning. I recall most vividly when I came to the University having talked with Ray Ball[4], who invited me to consider it. I first came to the University from the Rochester Bureau of Municipal Research[5] and had a desk in an old house on Prince Street. I had a [sic] old desk, I had a few pencils laid on the desk and a pad. That was the only equipment I had. Now I came from a very nice office, and this seemed to me to be pretty gruesome; I had – I knew very few people up here at the time and I wondered, I must confess, whether I had made a mistake in making a change.

Then I can recall – that was in November, as I remember, of 1929 and of course the buildings on the old campus were about to be abandoned, some of them at least because we were coming up on the river. Then I can remember moving up onto the river the following fall in 1930. And here we entered a brand-new plant, in which the students were almost lost on the campus. We had so few students in comparison with what was then a most adequate plant. And in between classes it seemed as if you saw very few students going hither and yon, which is quite different from the situation today. And parking was no problem. The campus was beautiful even though some of the foliage and the trees were young. The trees were young and the foliage sparse. But yet it was an entirely new experience and a very exciting one for anybody who came up from the old campus.

I remember shortly after this – and it wasn’t too shortly; I think this must’ve been about 1935, I’ve forgotten the exact date – when I sat in my office in Todd Union and listened to a call from the paperboy outside announcing the death of Mr. Eastman[6]. At that time there were no radios, or at least if there were radios we didn’t have them up here. And my first knowledge of it was the newspaper boys calling “Extras!” outside of our building, announcing the death of George Eastman. Which was, of course, a great shock to all of us.

I recall vividly also – and these are personal experiences – coming to the campus with Ed Van de Walle[7], who was dean of the campus – Dean of the College, I should say, and lived three or four doors from me. We came together in a car, sometimes in my car and sometimes his. This morning – this particular morning we drove up in his automobile. He went to his office and I went to mine. In the same building. And within an hour I heard that he was critically sick. He died in his office and I drove his car home. This again, was a most this was again a most personal, shocking experience to me because we had been good friends, close friends over the years. We often recall, Mrs. Dalton[8] and I, to the many dances and fraternity houses that on campus that we attended as guests of the student body or as guests of fraternities and chaperones. And many of these – in fact I would say most of these were also attended by Arthur May[9] – or the Mays, Arthur and Hilda May . . . year after year we found ourselves on the campus together, attending many of these student affairs. Which, years ago, were most pleasant and which gave us an opportunity to mingle with students that we couldn’t as we couldn’t in other official ways.

I remember too when our fraternity Sigma Delta Epsilon[10], in which I had devoted many, many hours and days – too many, as I have since indicated – became a chapter of Sigma Chi and was installed on this campus. As a member of that chapter, and of which I was extremely proud at the time because I had thought we had brought to the institution a fraternity of national renown and reputation. I remember the installation of that chapter. I remember the difficulties that we went through, trying as a young fraternity to build and finance a house on this campus. At that time, our fraternity, as a local, was only about was only a little over ten years old. And we tried to raise enough money, when we came on this campus, to build a house and to make a place for ourselves on the Fraternity Quadrangle. This was a real sacrifice, in terms of the perhaps hundred men that we had in the alumni body at the time. These things are impressions that I look back upon and think of as I look at the campus and the facilities that are on it at present. I look back with great appreciation and satisfaction, warranted or not [laughs], when I was given the citation as a member of the faculty administration by the alumni body.

JE: After your many years of experience with the University, you probably have as much insight as anyone as to what the future of the University is going to be like, both academically and in terms of growth and so on. What are your views in this matter?

CD: Jack, I really don’t know how much insight I have into this. Uh, I think many of us are wondering what is going to happen to many of these institutions over the years to come with the financial problems which they are facing, et cetera. A few things seem pretty evident. One of them is that the academic standing of the institution – at least, the academic standing of the University of Rochester – seems to be pretty well assured. And it seems that its prestige as an academic institution will probably grow rather than diminish. And our place in the University field will become better established as time goes on. I would hope that this would not mean that we are going to become constantly larger in terms of student enrollment. Or even in terms of graduate students. Uh, I have a feeling that in order to preserve the strength, and indeed increase perhaps the academic strength of the institution, it’s going to be necessary to – not to expand too much, but to place our emphasis in – upon those fields in which we have natural preeminence. And to – not to try to be all things to all people. . .

There’s another angle on this that has concerned me for some time. This does not apply exclusively to the University of Rochester but is typical, I think, of institutions throughout the United States. That’s this: as I look back upon the years, the almost forty years that I was with the University, I think of some of the fine scholars that we had as members of the faculty. I am referring to Dexter Perkins[11], to Glyndon Van Deusen[12], to Arthur May to Victor Chambers[13] – I can go on and enumerate many who were really outstanding in their fields. Uh, Elmer – er, Fairchild[14] in the geology was one – was another. These people, at that time, had two great allegiances. One of them was their devotion to their field of study and to the students that they were teaching. And the other was to the institution itself, to the University of Rochester itself. Which in effect meant to the students. During the later years, it has seemed to me – and in comparing notes with others at many other prominent institutions in the country, I find that – I find agreement. It has seemed to me that there are – there is a smaller percentage of our faculty who are both equally interested in their academic life and also in the institution at which they serve. It has seemed to me that more – a larger percentage of them are inclined to be here for a year or two or three or five and have little concern for the institution as it will exist over a period of years, and are here exclusively to teach and as – do graduate work until they go on to another institution a few years hence. That is merely a stepping stone to something else. I find this I find agreement by many people with whom I’ve talked at other institutions in similar capacities. This to me, I think, is a great loss. When I think of Slater[15] and I think of Dexter Perkins and some of the others I’ve mentioned and many others whom I have not mentioned, I think of them as people who have given their lives to the institution of – to the University of Rochester. Not only as teachers, but as people interested in its development and interested in its future. I see too few of these, it seems to me today. And in this loss, I see, in the future a change in the whole university development.

JE:  Thank you, Mr. Dalton.

[recording ends]

Transcribed by Eileen L. Fay, January 2014


[1] Date not given but other oral history interviews were done in the 1971-72 period.

[2] The Knox College mascot until 1993. The name was used informally to refer to the college itself. Merriam-Webster defines it “Siwash” as “a small usually inland college that is notably provincial in outlook.”

[3] His name was actually Henry C. Mills, former Vice-President for Educational Administration. He had joined UR in 1935 as an assistant professor of education and later headed the University School. Left in 1964 to become Chancellor of Long Island University.

[4] Raymond N. Ball, Class of 1914, would have been serving as Executive Secretary of the University at the time. He was later treasurer and chairman of the Board of Trustees.

[5] Worked on matters related to the police and the fire department and drafted a traffic ordinance.

[6] George Eastman died in 1932.

[7] W. Edwin Van de Walle (sometimes spelled VandeWalle), Class of 1921, returned to UR as a professor of philosophy and was later promoted to Dean of the College. He died of a heart attack in 1943.

[8] Emily Oemisch, Class of 1920.

[9] Popular history professor appointed University Historian upon his retirement in 1964. He died in 1968.

[10] Formally recognized by the Students’ Association in 1920; obtained a charter from national fraternity Sigma Chi in 1932.

[11] Professor of history who came to UR in 1914 and was promoted to department head in 1925. Throughout his career he became known as one of the most prominent scholars of US history in the country.

[12] Dr. Glyndon Van Deusen was a member of the Class of 1925. He returned to the University as a history professor in 1930 and served as chair of the department from 1954 until his retirement in 1962. He wrote the standard biographies for Henry Clay, Thurlow Weed, Horace Greeley, and William Seward and was instrumental in obtaining the Seward Papers in Special Collections. (source: PR file)

[13] Class of 1895; became professor of chemistry in 1908. Helped found the Rochester chapter of Sigma Xi.

[14] Herman L. Fairchild. Appointed professor of geology and natural history in 1888, his work on the glacial history of Western New York became the model for similar research worldwide. He was also a highly prolific author and president of the Geological Society of America.

[15] John Rothwell Slater, a popular English professor who came to UR in 1905 and became head of the department in 1908, a post he held until his 1942 retirement. He also wrote the inscriptions found throughout Rush Rhees Library and played the chimes in the tower (predecessor to the carillon).