for the Accounting Profession: CPAs and PhDs
- Accounting professors have the awesome responsibility of preparing
their students to be the best possible accounting professionals,
no matter where in the wide world of opportunity these students
will find themselves. Academia has long debated whether accounting
should be taught by PhDs or CPAs. Accounting is a practical profession.
The preponderance of PhDs do not have practical experience, but
they do have textbook knowledge. The practical aspects of the
profession that a student may encounter need to be taught by the
need to be prepared to handle all phases of the accounting profession.
For example, they may be faced with the challenge of clients with
complex transactions. Conversely, the challenge may be clients
with many simple transactions. They may have clients who need
guidance from their CPA, or who have complex tax, pension, or
estate planning needs. Our students may find themselves with clients
who are small manufacturers or who are always planning new takeovers.
They may be hired by firms with unyielding management structures,
or with minimal supervision and insufficient staffing, or management
structures with which they are unfamiliar. Alternatively, our
students may open their own firms.
have the responsibility to prepare their students to have the
rudimentary tools to meet each of the above situations, which
include manufacturing, financial accounting, taxation, and professional
ethics. Professors need to help students to “learn how to
understanding that a student’s first position in all probability
will be with a public CPA firm, any accountant may eventually
receive offers from corporations. If a CPA accepts such an offer,
the public accountant is now a corporate accountant. If we have
performed our job well, all the CPA’s professional training
will transfer to the corporate world: ethical behavior, internal
controls, delegating skills, and supervisory skills.
the various potential career paths open to students of accounting,
if college professors were to be asked which courses they would
eliminate, how could they respond? Not knowing what the future
may hold for our students, how could we eliminate financial accounting,
accounting theory, managerial accounting, or advanced accounting
with consolidations? Could we eliminate taxation, auditing, accounting
information systems, internal auditing, or government accounting?
Accounting professors need to educate for the general practitioner.
Specialization comes later.
of accounting professors do not end with preparing students to
be excellent practitioners. They have the additional responsibility
of successfully preparing students to pass the CPA examination.
Professors cannot and should not teach only so students can pass
the CPA exam or become excellent practitioners. Teachers cannot
avoid the issue either. The accounting professor’s responsibility
is to prepare students both for the exam and for practice thereafter.
remains: Who should this accounting professor be? Professors bring
their own life experiences and training into their classrooms.
A balance needs to be reached in the classroom. As depth of knowledge
of the accounting profession is needed when teaching accounting,
the issue need not be practitioner versus researcher. Richard
Schmalensee, dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, stated:
“Part of the answer is for business students to learn more
about business directly from practitioners” (BusinessWeek,
November 27, 2006). The answer can and perhaps should be CPA +
PhD, or CPA + Master’s. As in the medical profession, continued
practice in the discipline being taught should be required.
Such a solution
would permit CPA professionals to control their profession. Professors
could continue to perform research, write, and develop new ideas.
Learning from both practitioners and teachers will prepare students
appropriately for the professional practice of accounting. In
addition, CPAs would take their rightful place alongside other
respected licensed professions such as medicine and law, both
of which require that their licensed professionals teach the courses
required by their practicing professions.
L. Fischman, PhD, CPA, is the chair of the department of
accounting, taxation, and law at Long Island University, Brooklyn
Campus, Brooklyn, N.Y. She is a member of the NYSSCPA’s Board
of Directors, Higher Education Committee, and Banking Committee.