Dennis Dougherty III, the USC senior vice president for finance and chief financial officer from 1990 to 2008, died of cancer on Nov. 7. He was 76.
“The entire university community mourns the passing of Dennis Dougherty,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “His extraordinary skill in strengthening USC’s financial underpinnings helped ensure that future generations of Trojans will inherit a vital institution in which to study, teach and work.
“He also contributed significantly to USC’s rising prestige through his leadership in developing an administrative model that has been at the forefront of American higher education,” Nikias added. “But even beyond the positive impact he had on our university through his financial acumen and foresight, I will always remember Dennis as a caring and devoted mentor and friend.”
Dougherty came to USC in 1981 as vice president and comptroller, part of the team charged with developing an innovative revenue center management (RCM) system that would give deans increased financial authority in conjunction with their academic authority. That new system — which was up and running by the beginning of the next academic year, July 1982 — has since been replicated at other universities across the country.
To inform the development of that new system, shortly after arriving at USC, Dougherty put together a working group of administrators from across the university to assess existing financial management processes and help with the redesign. One of those administrators was Carol Shields. The two began dating and were married in the fall of 1983.
Over the years, as Carol Dougherty held highly visible positions ranging from senior assistant dean for administration at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences to senior associate athletic director, Dennis Dougherty self-effacingly described himself as a “bean counter,” saying he was mostly known around campus as “Carol’s husband.”
In university administration, however, his accomplishments were renowned. Dougherty was named vice president of finance in 1985, and senior vice president in 1990 — serving in that capacity until his retirement in 2008.
Over the course of his 27-year tenure overseeing financial and business support systems for faculty, students and staff at USC, his responsibilities spanned budget and planning, treasury, comptroller services, financial services, facilities planning, auxiliary services, personnel and human resources, and payroll.
Dougherty is credited with having played a key role in USC’s rapid ascent into the top ranks of the world’s major research institutions. In addition to implementing RCM, he negotiated federal overhead rates to free up more funds for research, centralized capital planning and funding to expand the university’s presence and potential, and brought USC outstanding return on its endowment. His successes at USC, in turn, earned him a reputation as one of the best financial officers in American higher education.
In 1990, Dougherty was elected chairman of the board of the influential Council on Governmental Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based national organization of research universities that recommends policies and regulations regarding federally sponsored research. He chaired the board until 1992.
In 1994, he received the Distinguished Business Officer Award from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) recognizing outstanding career achievement in the field of business and financial management in higher education and was named to the NACUBO board the following year. In 1997, he was appointed secretary to the corporation and became a member of the executive committee of the NACUBO board.
In 1996, Dougherty was elected chairman of The Listening Post Group, an organization of senior administrative and financial officers of the private Association of American Universities (AAU), a nonprofit association of 62 preeminent public and private research universities in the United States and Canada.
At USC’s 122nd annual commencement in 2005, Dougherty was one of six individuals — including astronaut Neil Armstrong MA ’70, systems architect and Professor Emeritus Eberhardt Rechtin, communications pioneer Andrew J. Viterbi PhD ’62, composer John Williams and director Robert Zemeckis ’73 — to receive an honorary degree.
Beyond his work in senior administration, Dougherty served as guest lecturer in university finance at the USC Marshall School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He was also a consultant to the National Institutes of Health and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Accreditation Commission.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Dougherty began his career in 1955 on the accounting staff at Drexel University. He went on to serve as chief financial officer and comptroller at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and Atlantic Human Resources, then spent nine years at the University of Pennsylvania before joining USC.
He is survived by his wife, Carol; children Loreto Halton (spouse Ed), Dennis Dougherty IV (spouse Maureen) and Laura Blair (spouse Jim); grandchildren Eddie and Andrew Halton, Melisa and Dennis Dougherty V, and Erin and Logan Blair; and brother, James Thomas Dougherty.
In lieu of funeral services, the family and Trojan Family will honor Dougherty at a celebration of his life at USC, with details to follow. Donations may be sent to USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1441 Eastlake Ave., Room 8302, Los Angeles, Calif. 90089, Attention: Carmy Peters.