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Advice for hiring accounting faculty

A shortage of traditional Ph.D. faculty has colleges and universities getting creative when it comes to hiring.
By Lea Hart

When accounting departments look to hire new accounting faculty members, they know they could be up against some tough odds.

With the average age of accounting faculty still hovering around 55, as this 2007 study noted, an increase in retirees means schools need to make new hires. At the same time, fewer people are pursuing doctorates in accounting, making for a tight market.

Those across-the-board difficulties can also be coupled with other unique, local challenges. For example, Fred Mittelstaedt, Ph.D., professor of accountancy and chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Accountancy, said that some candidates may not choose to settle in the relatively small town of South Bend, Ind., if they receive a competing offer in a larger city. Doug Boyle, CPA, DBA, accounting department chair and doctorate program director at the University of Scranton, said his university may not be able to compete with others that can pay a higher salary.

Not everyone faces the same problems. Gary McGill, CPA, Ph.D., director of the Fisher School of Accounting at the University of Florida, considers himself fortunate. The school can afford to pay at the top end of the market, and he’s hired for both tenured and nontenured positions without any issues.

While not all schools are dealing with the same set of circumstances, most agree they’ve become more creative in their hiring processes. Some are hiring candidates from unique, homegrown programs they have implemented, while others hire faculty from nontraditional backgrounds, such as retired firm partners, retired corporate leaders, or full-time CPAs who teach on the side.

Several accounting administrators share the hiring strategies that have worked for them:

Go where the Ph.D.s are. Don’t wait for potential hires to find you; seek them out instead. Each year, the American Accounting Association (AAA) and the University of Miami host the Accounting PhD Rookie Recruiting and Research Camp, a forum where faculty and recruiters can network with Ph.D. candidates, hear research presentations, and interview potential job candidates. “We’ll send two to three professors to meet these candidates, then decide whether to invite some of them to campus,” Mittelstaedt said.

Be open to nontraditional faculty members. “People sometimes say, ‘How can you possibly teach something if you don’t have a Ph.D.?’” said Jim Willis, CPA, associate dean of accountancy at the business school at Wake Forest University and former tax partner with BDO USA, LLP. He’s proof that it’s possible: “I worked in the profession for 31 years prior to joining the faculty at Wake Forest. Some of the best professors are the ones who have significant real-world experience.”

Schools do need to meet accreditation standards, which specify that a certain proportion of their faculty members must hold doctoral degrees. (See Standard A9 for full details.) Practitioners who teach at the college level do not always have terminal degrees. That said, they can still make excellent teachers. Keep an open mind and meet with people who express an interest in teaching, Willis said.

What’s more, faculty without terminal degrees (classified as “scholarly practitioners” or “instructional practitioners” by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)) often have lighter research responsibilities than those with doctorates. Therefore, they can often take on a larger course load, Willis said. “Before I took an administrative role, I had a six-course load, and four or five of the courses were different,” he said. “I could handle prepping that many courses in a year because I didn’t have research responsibilities.”

Grow your own faculty. Some schools have developed nontraditional doctoral programs aimed at accounting practitioners. For example, the University of Scranton runs a program through which practitioners can earn Doctorate of Business Administration degrees in accounting while working full time as accountants.

The University of Florida has two programs to support terminal degrees. Its Post-Doctoral Bridge Program, which is approved by the AACSB, trains people with terminal degrees in other fields to teach in business schools, McGill said. They undergo about six months of intensive training and, at the completion of the program, attain initial AACSB “scholarly academic” status.

The university also offers a DBA taught in a nontraditional manner. The business school has hired candidates from both the DBA program and the bridge program, McGill said.

The Accounting Doctoral Scholars program, administered by the AICPA Foundation, has helped fund the doctoral education of 108 accounting students to date, 91 of whom have become faculty members and 17 of whom are completing their education. The AICPA Foundation plans to fund 45 to 50 new Ph.D. students in accounting in the next few years.

Look within your network. At Boston College, Mark Bradshaw, Ph.D., professor and chair of the accounting department, keeps an email folder containing teaching inquiries from accounting professionals. “It’s so easy in Boston to find retired accounting professionals,” he said. “We staff with research faculty, and then we supplement with retired partners, and early career people who just like the idea of teaching.”

While a big city like Boston presents opportunities to find professionals locally, colleges in smaller towns may not have the same luck. That’s why Willis keeps tabs on alumni and friends of Wake Forest University who have interest in teaching. “We have some really good, experienced people on our board of visitors who have expressed interest in teaching,” he said.

Create a future pipeline. Schools can encourage undergraduate and graduate students to pursue doctorates, Mittelstaedt said. “Then, engage them when they enter Ph.D. programs,” he said. “We can usually track students because they ask at least one Notre Dame professor to write a recommendation for them.” Though this step won’t solve the current teaching shortage, it may increase the pipeline down the road.

McGill noted that administrators should never assume that simply placing a job advertisement will bring in the candidate they need.

“You need to be proactive, and proactive means talking to your peers at other institutions, and keeping your ear to the ground in terms of who’s coming out of different [academic] programs,” he said.

Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a senior editor at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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