Practice What You Teach
The Benefits of a Scholar-in-Residence Program

By Frank Messina and Steve Grice

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DECEMBER 2007 - Medicine, optometry, nursing, and engineering are examples of professions that have exemplified the “practice what you teach” mentality toward education. Universities with strong academic programs in these fields are likely to have faculty who not only teach and research in the confines of the “ivory tower” but also actively engage in the practice of their profession. Academic institutions may even provide practice facilities to support the faculty. Arguably, there is no better way for faculty to remain current in their profession than to be engaged in its practice. This article describes how a growing regional CPA firm and two accounting faculty members are reaping the benefits of a scholar-in-residence (SIR) program.

Commitment to Quality Growth

Carr, Riggs, & Ingram, LLC, (CRI) began a campaign to expand through mergers in the late 1990s. Over the last nine years, CRI has emerged as the fourth-largest regional public accounting firm in the southeastern United States and is currently ranked 36th in Public Accounting Report’s top 100 firms in the nation. CRI has 15 offices, spread across Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and employs more than 400 professionals. CRI’s managing partner, Bill Carr, has shown the foresight to routinely position CRI to prosper in a changing environment. Carr and CRI’s executive committee work to ensure that, even as the firm grows, the quality of services and high standards on which it was founded continue to be upheld. They achieve this by consistently following the firm’s mission statement below:

The present and future of CRI embraces professionalism, integrity, compassion, and a passion for our profession. Our workplace, our work product, our staff, and our partners will be held to the highest standards in our profession. We have a responsibility for growth to provide a future for our staff, ourselves, and our firm. No amount of growth will compromise the high standards we have set for our firm. [emphasis in original]

The firm’s executive committee continuously monitors the progress toward quality control (QC) standardization and consistency as CRI merges offices throughout the Southeast. To ensure a smooth integration of varying cultures and practice methodologies, at least one partner from each office is assigned to the firm’s QC committee. This approach allows each office to contribute to the overall firm culture and practice methodology. However, as CRI expanded, the executive committee realized that its partners could not be expected to oversee firm-wide QC issues and also fulfill their daily client service responsibilities. Consequently, there was a need for staff whose sole purpose was to oversee this QC process. Carr and the executive committee looked to the academic accounting community for assistance.

Scholar-in-Residence Program Initiated

Carr initially focused on identifying a person who could provide QC oversight for the firm’s accounting and auditing (A&A) practice. He believed that this individual should have public accounting experience, be active in the profession, be technically sound, and be a strong communicator, among other attributes. Carr approached the then-director of the Troy University school of accountancy, Dr. Steve Grice, about his serving as the firm’s SIR for the A&A practice. For several years prior, Grice had worked with CRI to develop and deliver staff training courses. Carr and the executive committee wanted to use the SIR role to communicate a consistent message throughout the entire A&A practice.

As the SIR for the A&A practice, Grice’s role expanded to include working as an arm of the QC committee. He focused on QC standardization and consistency throughout the firm. The challenge was to integrate different cultures and practice methodologies as the firm continued to merge new offices. To orient new offices to the CRI culture, Grice started holding on-site visits to meet with new A&A professionals and discuss the firm’s QC processes. The SIR role was instrumental in establishing QC standardization and consistency throughout the A&A practice.

After several years of operating with the SIR for the A&A practice only, Carr and the executive committee made a decision to provide similar QC oversight for the firm’s tax practice. Once again, Carr looked to the academic community and engaged Dr. Frank Messina, chair of the department of accounting and information systems at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As the SIR for the tax practice, Messina’s immediate charge was to enhance standardization and consistency throughout CRI’s tax practice. Messina used web-based questionnaires to gather information about the tax practice within each office. The survey results were evaluated by Messina and the tax QC committee to develop a comprehensive QC and policy document for the tax practice. Available to all staff online, this document contains checklists, questionnaires, and other items pertinent to the tax practice and serves as a benchmark for standardized tax compliance across offices.

Carr and the executive committee believe that the SIR program has been a success. Though the firm has always had separate QC committees for the A&A and tax practices, the SIRs have been able to work effectively with these committees to move the firm toward high-quality standardization and consistency. Though the roles of an SIR continue to evolve, Exhibit 1 describes the keys to the success of the SIR program up to this point and the corresponding rationale for the firm’s involvement.

Benefits in the Classroom and the Accreditation Process

Faculty members understand that accounting graduates will be working in a self-regulated profession. Preparing their students to be competitive in the profession is certainly one objective of most accounting programs. Most accounting faculty members have been actively involved in the professional accounting community. The authors agree that serving as an SIR at CRI has provided them an opportunity to work “inside” the firm, which is a tremendous benefit to their classroom teaching. Serving as an SIR allows faculty to experience current practice and integrate that experience into lectures and classroom discussions. The SIR program has improved their quality of teaching by helping them maintain an updated and challenging curriculum, which has in turn prepared students for the marketplace.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International Business Standards indicate that faculty should maintain intellectual qualifications and current expertise to accomplish the mission of the business school. The standards recognize that the world of business changes rapidly. Consequently, faculty members should be involved in development activities throughout their careers to remain current in their field. To meet accreditation standards, these development activities should provide faculty members with opportunities to learn more about their specialty and how it is applied in practice. The activities (e.g., intellectual contributions through publishing, professional development through continuing education courses, or current professional experience through consulting) may change during a faculty member’s career. The SIR program can be a great opportunity for the right faculty to meet accreditation requirements.

AACSB International Accounting Standards provide specific accreditation guidance for accounting programs. These standards indicate that accounting faculty should demonstrate sufficient ongoing professional interaction to support their role in achieving the program’s mission and educational objectives. In addition, the accounting faculty, as a whole, must maintain a portfolio of relevant practical experience in business and accounting consistent with the accounting program’s mission and educational objectives. The following factors are used by accreditation reviewers when evaluating whether an accounting program meets the accreditation standards:

  • The faculty has a portfolio of recent professional interaction and relevant practical experience in business and accounting consistent with the academic unit’s mission.
  • The relationship of the faculty’s professional interaction and practical experience with their teaching and research assignments is documented.
  • Professional interactions include professional organization activities, attendance at continuing professional education programs, and personal meetings with practicing professionals.
  • Relevant practical experiences for faculty may include: working in public accounting, private industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations; developing and presenting continuing professional education activities; and field-based research, internships, and consulting engagements.
  • To be relevant, experience should relate to the faculty’s teaching areas and be sufficiently recent to provide insights related to current practice.
  • A comprehensive planning process should ensure that the professional interaction and relevant practical experiences of faculty members are consistent with the academic unit’s mission and each program’s educational objectives.

The accreditation standards also require specific documentation recording the activities of individual faculty members. For example, the accreditation reviewers will likely ask for a detailed record of the professional interaction and practical experience of the faculty member, including the nature of work assignments. The authors agree that meeting the documentation requirements is not difficult for faculty members involved in SIR programs. While not all accounting faculty members will have an interest in participating in such a program, even the involvement of one or two members can benefit an accounting program. It can resolve many critical accreditation-standard issues while helping to establish a quality program.

Positive Effects of an SIR Program

The authors have no doubt that through their participation in the SIR program they will continually improve the quality of their teaching. They have taken many of their real-world projects into the classroom, such as CRI’s transition to a paperless office. The authors’ experience helps their accounting programs maintain an updated and challenging curriculum while meeting accreditation standards, improving their faculty development, advancing intellectual contributions, and preparing students for the marketplace. These benefits have led the authors to believe that the SIR program is a positive experience for all of the parties involved. Exhibit 2 outlines benefits afforded to a firm, a participating faculty member, and an accounting program by an SIR program.


Frank Messina, DBA, CPA, is the chair, and Steve Grice, PhD, CPA, is an associate professor, both in the department of accounting and information systems at the University of Alabama Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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