Academics Sell Out To The Big 4

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Two articles dealing with the Big 4’s relationship with higher education caught my eye these past few days. One seems like a clear-cut attempt to buy recruits. I was sorry to see it, since a friend recently joined their faculty. The other is truth stranger than fiction, as a recently disgraced firm picks the one topic they are least (or perhaps most) qualified to teach – Ethics.

It’s bad enough the business schools have sold out to corporate interests, with names changing to reflect big donations.

I wondered if the law schools had sold out too. A simple Google search told me that, although a fairly recent phenomenon and not universal, the dilution of academic independence by law firms endowing chairs has spread to even some of the most prestigious schools. Notre Dame has an interesting practice. They allow endowed chairs, but it looks like they all are sponsored by foundations and individuals with strong ties to the school, rather than a crass commercial enterprise, interested in influencing scholarship, co-opting professors as paid expert witnesses and buying recruits.

Deloitte Establishes Endowed Professorship in Accounting at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School

Professor James Benjamin will serve as the first Professor at A&M to hold the endowed position

Continuing a tradition of support for Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, the people of Deloitte and the Deloitte Foundation, a non-profit organization of Deloitte & Touche USA, has established the Deloitte Foundation Leadership Professorship in Accounting. This endowed professorship marks the largest individual gift of the 25-year relationship between Deloitte and the university. The $500,000 endowment was made possible through a combination of Deloitte partner and employee contributions and matching gifts from the Deloitte Foundation.

Supporting the professorship, the endowment will provide financial support to enhance the teaching, service, and professional development activities of the head of the accounting department situated within the Mays Business School.

…”Mays Business School has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Deloitte,” said Ricky Griffin, interim Dean of the Mays Business School…Professor Benjamin acknowledged the committed teamwork between the university and Deloitte, noting, “Deloitte has been very involved with the development of our program, including service on our advisory council, since its inception in 1982, and has continued to provide significant financial support for our programs,” he said. “Just as important, Deloitte is also significant as a leading recruiter of our students.”

D’Andrea and Chris Patton, Deloitte’s partner in charge of recruiting at Texas A&M, also recognized the alliance, and said, “We’ve found there to be a great fit between Mays students and Deloitte culture. We hire more candidates out of the Mays School than any other school in the area.”

In addition to this professorship, Deloitte has also endowed both a professorship in support of the Director of the Professional Program in Accounting at Mays and a significant scholarship fund for accounting majors.

Business Ethics: Program emphasizes importance of honorable behavior

Clearing the fog around business ethics is the goal of a partnership between a national accounting firm and Wake Forest University.

KPMG LLP recently started a program aimed at helping business students find their “ethical compass.” The program is being taught at the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy, the latest extension of KPMG’s academic relationship with Wake Forest.

The program involves role play and emphasizing six principles of conduct “that call for an unswerving commitment to honorable behavior,” Scott Szabo, a partner at KPMG’s office in Charlotte, told Calloway students yesterday.

Business ethics has been defined by academics as representing the agreed-upon rules of a profession or industry, which don’t always coincide with more generally expressed ethical or moral concerns.

Szabo said that the program’s goal is “not necessarily to give you the right or wrong answers, but to give you some help in recognizing situations that may compromise ethical behavior. We emphasize ethics in the recruiting of students and ingrain it in our training.

“As accountants, we are dependent upon the public’s trust in what we do, so it’s very important that we maintain that trust.” Especially in the Internet age, Szabo said, where questionable behavior or conflicts of interest can be posted on YouTube or personal Web pages.

The accounting sector is particularly sensitive to questions about ethics in the post-Enron Corp. era of corporate America. The Enron scandal took down one of the nation’s top-five accounting firms, Arthur Andersen LLP.

KPMG itself is not immune from ethical scrutiny. Two former employees pleaded guilty in a two-year-old case over questionable tax shelters, and four former employees, including a partner, face trial in the case. KPMG resolved its part of the case by agreeing to pay a $456 million fine.

…Lee Knight, an accounting professor at Calloway, said that the KPMG program “helps us do a better job of helping students recognize the need for keeping their ethical antennas up for themselves and the companies they work for.”

Walker Saik, one of the role players, …said. “I would hope that having good ethics as a company factors into the long-term health of any company, especially an accounting firm.

5 replies
  1. Independent Accountant
    Independent Accountant says:

    When I went to the University of Chicago, Sidney Davidson was the Arthur Young Professor of Accounting. This is an old story.

  2. Big 4 Partner
    Big 4 Partner says:

    I think the Big 4 have an obligation to support education and do so in a variety of ways. One of the most important is mathcing the gifts of their partners and staff. This aggregates a lot of money and buys no real recognition for the firms. Failures in ethical standards inside the Big 4 are no excuse for not supporting ethical business education and while Big 4 leadership has been suspect at times, the line partners and staff are almost always very committed to doing the right thing.

  3. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    Matching gifts are great. All companies should do that for their employees. I agree that the firms have a vested interest, which is legitimate, in supporting accounting education.What I didn’t like at PwC was that matching gifts to universities were limited to only the list of schools they recruited from. That’s too tightly wound. Don’t get me wrong. Good people exist at all levels in the firms. Some are helping mentor students, some are on professional association committees helping develop curriculum, some are tirelessly coaching and developing staff. But there’s a risk that students are left with less choices or monopoly pricing in starting salaries when one firm has such a significant financial influence on an accounting department as it looks like Deloitte has with Mays, for example.

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