L.S. Rosen Award – sincere thanks to many of you

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Today at the annual CAAA conference, I was awarded the L.S. Rosen award which is an annual award for contributions to accounting education.  The official write up is here.  Below I provide the text of my short acceptance speech which I used to thank some very important people in my career.

 

First, a huge thank you to the selection committee – Theresa, Michel, and Gary.  I can’t imagine the time it took to read all the nomination packages and how difficult it must be to choose just one.

I want to take this opportunity to thank some key people who have significantly influenced my career.  There are of course, 20 or 30 key people, many of whom are in this room right now but let me instead focus on just four particularly important people.  Many of you will know personally the four names I am about to mention.  My hope is that as I briefly share stories of how important their influence has been to me that you will also recall similar events with these people in your own life.

In time series order, then I want to say a huge thank you to Pat O’Brien, Mike Gibbins, Fred Phillips, and the fourth person is … well … I’ll keep you in suspense.

Pat O’Brien was my doctoral supervisor when I was at the University of Waterloo.  If you’ve worked with Pat you know that she is incredibly bright and that she also has a very kind heart.  Pat has the uncanny ability to listen to a cockamany idea and then gently guide you into a brilliant idea, all the while having you think the brilliant idea was yours from the get go.  Pat, the lesson I learned from you was that smart comments and criticism are no less effective when delivered with a teaspoon of sugar and a smile.  Thank you.

Mike Gibbins was my first boss at the University of Alberta.  Mike may be a foot shorter and 25 years older than I, but my goodness his energy is boundless and contagious.  It was from Mike that I learned how hard it was to be an effective educator and how important it was to understand and connect with each student.  I watched Mike first hand deal with a variety of student issues – from devastating deaths in the family to homework being eaten by pets.  Mike’s patience and fairness were incredible.  My experience with Mike can be best summed up with a quote by Rohinton Mistry

There’s a fine line between compassion and foolishness, kindness and weakness.  Wondering always about how firm to stand, how much to bend.

Mike, thank you for showing me the line between compassion and foolishness.

The third person I want to thank is Fred Phillips from the University of Saskatchewan.  I owe Fred a number of thank-you’s – he was the one who pulled together the nomination package for this award, contacted so many alumni and colleagues for letters of support and wrote a very flattering nomination letter.  But my thanks to Fred go so far beyond that.  Fred is likely one of the best accounting educators in the country and without doubt the top accounting education researcher.  He won this award three years ago and a 3M national teaching award before that.  Fred’s research on accounting education, particularly on cognitive development, will continue to influence our work at CPA Canada and I assume many other institutions.  While Fred and I have never worked at the same institution, he’s been a true colleague and dear friend for over ten years. Fred was unfortunately unable to be here today, but Fred from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Now, to end the suspense …

The fourth person is not a person at all – it’s the accounting profession.  The opportunities I have had to work with the legacy accounting associations and now with CPA Canada have, without a doubt, been an incredible influence on my career.  In my role at CPA Canada, there are of course days that I wake up and wonder if the volume of work and stress are worth it.  But then I remember that I have the privilege of working for an institution who has publicly stated that one of its key objectives is to be a leader in accounting and business education.  That’s a pretty cool objective – be a leader in accounting and business education.  The support for achieving that objective is tremendous.  While there are those depressing moments when you wonder how we can possibly achieve it, there really is no doubt that we will achieve that.  The support of the executive team at CPA Canada, my boss Tashia, my many colleagues, and especially my PEP team and PREP team has been endless and invaluable.  Thank you for making that grandiose objective achievable.

These four people have obviously had a tremendous positive influence – life changing even for me.  If we remember nothing else from this conference, can we each take away the importance of community and support?  My career to date is the result of a community pushing me, challenging me, and supporting me.  While we can go through our careers as a set of individuals, undoubtedly we can do more to improve accounting education if we instead choose to work together.

Thank you again for this tremendous honour.

Accounting unification: Full steam ahead

I had a fantastic week!  The CICA annual general meeting was in Kelowna at the beginning of the week and I was able to connect with some wonderful people.  The picture below is from that meeting.  Notice the CPA Canada signs that are more prominent than the CICA signs?

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Then I woke up this morning to read a BC CGA blog on unification.  I know the two authors well and respect them.  They raise some reasonable points and in my opinion some unreasonable points.  My music choice while I write this?  The truly Canadian Tragically Hip singing “Scared” (lyrics here).

 Reasonable points

  • Ultimately the CPA designation hinges on government legislation: Yep, that’s absolutely true.  Given Premier Clark’s decision this week for BC legislature to NOT sit in the house this fall, its virtually impossible for the necessary legislation to be passed before the provincial government election in May 2013.  Obviously no one can predict when the legislation will pass given the possibility of a new government.  All current cabinet members and their opposition counterparts are aware of the CPA unification issue.  In my opinion the only uncertainty is when, not if.
  • “In B.C. nearly two-thirds of the province’s professional accounting students are taking CGA.”  While I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, I suspect that’s true.  Of course what is less clear is the average period to complete (or not) the CGA designation.  For instance, currently UBC Okanagan has roughly 8,300 students who complete their degree more less on the traditional 4-5 year plan.  I can double my number of student registrations by dragging out their education eight or ten years.  I’m not sure that would be a selling point though.

Unreasonable (or incorrect) points

  • “In Ontario, home to 50 per cent of Canada’s professional accountants, the merger is not happening.”  This is incorrect.  The latest position of the Ontario CAs states clearly that they are committed to national unification.  As I’ve said before, CMA Ontario and CGA Ontario are not at the table currently.  That’s too bad but unification can still happen nationally.  Yes, Ontario has a lot of accountants and Canada’s only professional major league baseball team but no, they’re not the centre of the universe.  If the Leafs ever become contenders I’ll revise my view.
  • There is great uncertainty around transition for students.  This is also incorrect.  Certainly the transition timeframes may need to be adjusted while legislation is pending, but there is some excellent, accurate, detailed transition information available here: http://cpaone.ca/candidates/transition.html
  • “Frankly, we feel the other programs are adapting to become more like us.”  Really?  If that was true why did you remove yourselves from the provincial unification discussions?  That makes no sense.  Now on that topic, I think you should clarify why you withdrew from the unification talks.  And the real reasons, not the hand waving ones.
  • The monopoly/anti-competiton line … “benefits of competition and the advantages inherent to choice”.  This falls flat on its face and any commerce/business/management student will see the holes.  Virtually every profession in Canada has ONE oversight body nationally or provincially: physicians, lawyers, veterinarians etc.  There’s no monopoly or lack of competition.  This is VERY different from the Bell/Astral controversy but I suspect that most readers already see that.

Conclusion

If you’re a current university student graduating in the near future, concentrate on your studies.  Don’t waste a ton of energy thinking about the unification.  You’ve chosen a great career and whether you end up with a CPA, a CPA.CA, a CPA.CMA or something else, accounting is a wonderful profession.  You will have plenty of opportunity to help people make great decisions using accounting information.  Uncertainty is embedded in accounting, it shouldn’t frighten us.  Trust me when I say that there are great people sinking tons of time into making sure the CPA unification is successful.  There are individuals who live and breathe this; who don’t sleep until the merger is closer to fruition than it was yesterday.

I have two closing thoughts.  The first from the Great One (#99), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I’m excited that we’re taking this shot and I wish the BC CGAs were willing to shoot the puck around with us.  Second, as Gord Downie sings,

Okay, you made me scared, you did what you set out to do
I’m not prepared, you really had me going there for a minute or two

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Alcohol round 2

A reader and I had a face-to-face discussion a few months back regarding alcohol use on campus which led to my initial post regarding alcohol use/abuse by university students. I received a follow up email from that reader this week after they had a conversation with a relative currently attending Harvard.  Apparently alcohol is not an issue on Harvard, or at least for this particular university student.  The student is too busy with their academic studies and the legal drinking age in Massachusetts is 21 so they can’t legally drink even if they had the time.  I was glad to hear that but a bit skeptical.  Family morals and expectations probably have more to do with this individual story than any other factor.  That is great news for this particular student (and their family) but not necessarily great news for the rest of the higher education system.

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Earlier in the week I read a news article about a new study that is going to study alcohol usage for 2,000 university students for the next five years.  In particular, the research will examine the impact on actual consumption that perceived levels of peer drinking has.  That is, does a student drink more if they think their peers are drinking more?  I suspect the answer is yes but I look forward to hearing the definitive answer.

I was trying to reconcile my preconceptions about drinking and peer-drinking with the one piece of data from Harvard.  Is Harvard really all that different?  Perhaps.  On average Harvard may have more intelligent, wealthier, more driven students than other institutions.  On the other hand, George W attended Harvard so maybe Harvard students really aren’t that much different.  Does Harvard have an issue with alcohol abuse?  A quick search on Google found the following: Harvard’s Alcohol Amnesty Policy.  Harvard thinks that students are more likely to seek help for alcohol related issues if Harvard promises to NOT contact the student’s parents, hence the “amnesty”.  Perhaps Harvard believes that its students are mature enough or bright enough to use alcohol sparingly.  Apparently not.  Alcohol related patients at the university infirmary have increased by 43% in the last two years.  And those are years when George W wasn’t even on campus!

Finally, while Googling around this evening I found this tragic story: Alcohol Poisoning Suspected Cause of Clemson Student’s Death.  Very sad.  I met a number of Clemson staff a month ago at a conference.  All the staff I met were very involved in student life services beyond just academic stuff and I know they will be feeling the pain.  I was very impressed with what I saw going on at Clemson – great student support, great residential programs, excellent faculty-student interactions, lots of effort to ensure students had the necessary support to succeed.  Despite all that help, this student still made some poor choices last Friday night.

I’m not sure why this topic keeps rolling around my brain.  I have no expectations of prohibition but it does seem to be heavily centered around education.  Education of the risks of alcohol.  If universities do not take responsibility for the education or at least ensure more effort to provide educational opportunities for students about alcohol then I’m not really sure we should label ourselves Institutions of Higher Education.  I would love for some students to leave some comments on this.  Why do you binge drink?  It is costly and makes you feel crappy the next day.  What are the upsides?

Community on campus- what are we doing?

Perhaps I’m naive but I fully believe that the best student university experience is one that is integrated: academics, sports, health, housing, student growth – all aspects of student life.  That requires breaking down or minimizing barriers between those functional areas on campus.  How many faculty cross the physical threshold into student housing?  How many faculty hang out with staff or students outside of formal meetings?  Do faculty job requirements and incentives promote such cross-over or discourage us from doing it?

I’ve got a very bright 14 year old daughter (and an equally smart 11 year old son – there I was the “equal Dad”!) who will likely (hopefully) attend a university before too long.  What type of experience do I want her to have?  Do I honestly believe that she would get an amazing experience at my institution?  The best possible experience?  And if I don’t believe that why do I think that a sub-par experience is acceptable for other parents’ kids?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its easy to look at this situation and say that change is out of our hands; an institution is an unmovable force best left alone.  Realistically what can one faculty member do to promote change on their campus or even more broadly, on campuses across Canada?  Not much sadly, but I am confident that one faculty member promoting change is likely to accomplish more than no faculty members promoting change.  As Parker Palmer reminded me in The Heart of Higher Education, across North America campuses are full of individuals that want a better student experience.  If they each think they are the only one on their campus they will keep their heads down and never connect with other like-minded people.  If we each raise our hand and say “I’m interested in promoting change and improving the state of education” perhaps small communities can form where the wheels will start turning.  At the least we will be able to take comfort or cover as we run into walls and resistance.

Let me bring this back to the topic at hand which was building community and improving the student experience rather than faculty revolt or faculty revolution.  If we want to bridge the divide between faculty and students and faculty and staff and begin to build true “community” there are small, relatively easy steps we can take.  First, we need to lead by example; that is, faculty themselves must become a community rather than merely a set of people.  A community involves support, encouragement, valuable and constructive feedback, laughter, and ultimately sharing in each others peaks and valleys.  Let’s stop shaking hands and give each other a hug once in a while.  Start dropping in for random chats with faculty down your hall or even way across the campus.  Make connections that are outside your comfort zone.  If we want students to grow and be comfortable with the unknown we should probably model courage and tackle the unknown as well, even if that unknown is a really odd faculty member with leather patches on the elbow of their tweed jacket.

I admit that building community is much bigger than simply being friendly towards our colleagues but before we run we need to crawl.

If you listen long enough, patients will tell you exactly what is wrong with them

Many of you know that I’m working on a Masters degree in education, currently I’m through about 1/3 of the thesis.  I struggled for over a year to find a topic that was the right combination of doable, personally interesting, addressing a current challenge, and potentially influential.  I don’t know how my thesis will stack up on those four dimensions at the end but the topic I chose was exploring how professionalism is taught to accounting students and what it takes to do that well.

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  • I’ll give my supervisor major credit for paring the project down to make it doable, thanks Harry!
  • Helping students develop into professionals has been a stated, formal goal of mine for almost five years.  I struggle to see why we think that simply filling heads with technical accounting knowledge will result in developing successful accountants.  Hence, the personal interest in the topic.
  • My sense of accounting faculty hiring over the past 10 years is that there has been a significant change in the composition.  Yes, we’re hiring more research-trained and research-capable faculty than before but we’re hiring less faculty with professional designations, professional training, and ties to the profession.
  • My hope with the thesis is that I can find some “low-hanging fruit” around teaching professionalism where accounting academics can make some serious progress in the near term.

One of the highlights of the thesis so far has been the background research that I’ve done on this topic.  I’ve found an absolute plethora of material about teaching professionalism in medical schools.  Doctors are probably 15 years ahead of accounting education.

The other day I found this wonderful story in the NY Times. Generous benefactors have provided $42M to the University of Chicago.  The funds are meant to help develop programs and curriculum specifically around teaching bedside manner, managing the doctor-patient relationship, and “kindness” to med students.  I think that accounting educators can and will learn a lot from this new endeavour at Chicago.  Accountants spend too long learning the technical material and not enough time learning how to be professionals.  Strong technical knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for professionals; accountants and doctors both.

Well kudos to the Bucksbaums for ponying up the cash.  Let’s keep our ears to the ground to see what we can learn from this and then apply it in accounting education.  Even better, lets start making some progress on our own, we don’t need to let the doctors lead us through the desert, we’re pretty smart on our own.  After all, if we listen carefully enough the answer is likely to find us.

Alcohol on Campus

As I promised in an earlier post, I am writing about alcohol use/abuse by students (and I suppose others) on campus.  Its been over a month since I said I would write about this so why now?  There have been a number of unfortunate events coinciding with the start of the new academic year including at my own institution.  For instance, a student from Calgary apparently died of alcohol abuse at Acadia last week, at least two students died at Queen’s University over the past year as a result of alcohol related issues, and most recently there was a major bar fight and stabbing on the sleepy UBC Okanagan campus just two days ago.  On a more public scale but off-campus, it doesn’t take much detective work to realize that the Vancouver riots were fuelled by alcohol.  Generally there are two views on this: (1) its just kids growing up, we all went through it, or (2) this totally inappropriate for any institution of higher learning.  I will self-declare as being fully, 100%, in the second category.  There may be a line where we cross into “no-fun territory” or “the constitution gives me the right to drink on my own time” etc, but we’re no where close to that now.

First question that must be asked: Are we satisfied with the current situation or do we consider it acceptable?  Let me spin that question around just a bit, do kids need to get completely inebriated once or twice or every weekend to “grow up”?  In my opinion, no.  100% no.  The type of thinking that considers that a feasible or viable option must be expelled from our society.  Do I need to hit my thumb with a hammer every day so that I comprehend pain and “grow up”?  Of course not.  If we define “growing up” as becoming mature thinkers capable of contributing positively to society and tackling some of the great issues in the world, I fail to see how binge drinking can even be considered a necessary condition.

Second question: What can we do to avoid these tragedies?  First we need to educate the students on the issues with binge drinking.  I’m not talking about sitting 500 frosh down and lecturing them, we’re educators for crying out loud, surely we can find a way to help students learn about the issues and ramifications of alcohol abuse that doesn’t involve their repeated first-hand experience.  Second, we MUST provide alternative activities for students that don’t involve alcohol.  I suspect, although I don’t have evidence, that many students drink because their peers drink, its THE thing to do an a Friday night, and there’s no great alternatives.  Let’s take the lead on this, be innovative and help these students out.  Third, universities must help create a sense of unity and community within the student body.  Students must learn tolerance and respect and treat each other, staff and faculty as family.  My family is in no way perfect, I verbally fought with my siblings and parents but we didn’t stab each other or cut each other with broken beer bottles.

Finally, if you are a faculty member as I am, take the lead.  Ask your Dean, Provost, and President what your campus is doing to ensure the campus is a safe and healthy learning environment for everyone.  Don’t accept hand waving answers.  And share your initiatives and proposals.  We’re all in this together.  I’m sure there is some great research and reading on this, its on my list for the winter break.  If you know of anything please post as a comment and I’ll start building my reading list.

That’s my rant for today.  To the parents affected by the events I mentioned in this post, my deepest condolences and I apologize for not doing more to protect your kids.

A request for some help!

Ok, I’m stuck on this one and I appreciate all ideas that you can provide.  In my tax class I always allow students to bring their textbook into the two midterms and final exam.  I do this to (a) promote using a reference when doing tax and (b) avoid the memorization that would be required if the resource was not allowed.  To keep the “playing field level” I stress that students are NOT allowed to write in their textbooks; they can tab and highlight but no notes can be written in the text.  That is a serious rule and subject to the strongest integrity issues at UBC.  In the past three years I have had very few problems with this system and it seems to have worked quite well.

I also encourage and promote students to use e-textbooks which are becoming more and more common.  Those e-texts avoid students having to lug around pounds of paper (which discourages them bring the books to begin with).  For the first time, students in the tax class have purchased the e-text.  Here’s the problem, well there may be two separate problems: (1) in order to allow them access to their e-texts during exams they will be required to have their laptops and wifi; (2) the e-text allows them to annotate the book with little “notes”.  I have checked with the e-text provider and they have no way of turning the notes feature off.  So how do I try to ensure that the students using the e-texts have similar access to the students using the paper copies?

Thanks in advance for your ideas!