Politics in Academia

BY GROVER L. PORTER

I read with interest, “Those Who Can…Teach” (JofA, Jul.00, page 49) . However, I found the article long on requirements for entry into the academic world but short on challenges to success.

After several years’ experience in corporate accounting, I devoted nearly 35 years to teaching future professional accountants. I also served as chairman of the department of accounting at two universities accredited by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business. In addition, I have written several articles about collegiate education. Consequently, I have some knowledge of the keys to success in the academic world.

The performance of an accounting faculty member is expected to range between satisfactory and excellent in the areas of teaching, research and service. Such performance, however, may not get a faculty member tenured and/or promoted. The primary key to success in academia is, as the chancellor at one university said, “Politics: That’s how you get everything!”

Although I know of many cases where politics was the deciding factor in tenure and promotion decisions, the following case should suffice to illustrate this problem:

A female faculty member was being considered for tenure and promotion to associate professor in a college of business. Her qualifications included a PhD from a leading university, five years of successful teaching experience, an outstanding teacher award from students, publication of relevant articles in several professional and academic journals, performance of valuable service for the university, profession and community and profitable research contracts.

If the primary factor considered had been her performance, she would have been awarded tenure and promotion. However, the college had an academic clique, and the candidate was not a member.

The majority of the faculty and the department chair recommended that she be tenured and promoted. The clique, however, opposed her candidacy, and the dean did not have the courage to disagree. The candidate did not receive the tenure and promotion she deserved and as a result was terminated.

I encourage corporate, government and public accountants to consider switching to academia, but to do so fully aware that politics may be their greatest challenge in the academic world.

Grover L. Porter, CPA, PhD
Professor of Accounting, Emeritus
The University of Alabama
Huntsville, Alabama

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