Accounting, Professors, Dissertations, and a Decision to Make


I'm not sure how much you know about the shortage of business educators, which began earliest in, and is most pronounced in, accounting. Over the past two decades the number of accounting students has increased around 15% while the number of faculty has fallen by around 8%. To top it all off, a large number of faculty now approach retirement age.

About a decade ago we recognized the need to encourage more people to enter academe. But it's a rather hard sell. Academic salaries at mid- or late-career are well below those who are successful in "the real world."   Tenure is increasingly difficult to achieve, and those who fail can fall into a netherworld of part-time, poorly paid positions without benefits. Still, the academic lifestyle is very attractive for the right person, and the salaries more than sufficient for a good life.--when I look at national statistics, my salary puts me in the top 10%. I'm glad to have made the change.

Earning a PhD means years of effort and limited income. But you won't get into any respected university without it. It's a very labor intensive and expensive process for the university as well, because the best professors teach small seminar classes of five to at most a dozen people and then work closely one-on-one with students as they prepare a dissertation. These facts limit the number of students in the pipeline.

All of this gives you background to help with a decision I must make. I am currently on the dissertation committee for a student a university that offers non-traditional doctorates. This is not Susquehanna work.   It is a way I serve the profession, by making it possible for someone who cannot uproot their life to complete a doctorate. The student's placement depends on the quality of the dissertation. The quality of the dissertation depends on the supervision the student receives during the dissertation process and, of course, the student's own ability and willingness to do high quality work.

I recently discovered that this student has lied to me. When I asked for improvements, he claimed that there was no time to make changes or he would miss a final cutoff. When I responded that this meant he would fail, he "arranged an extension until August." I am already quite booked over the summer, so I wrote to the university resigning from the committee due to my inability to give the project the time I felt it needed to be acceptable.

Yesterday, the University contacted me. They said that there was never a May deadline, nor is there now an extension until August. This student's deadline is and has always been August 2011. They think this is the student's attempt to "push things through" and have asked me to remain on the committee.

Now I need to decide. My inclination is to withdraw. The school is now aware. I do not want  my name associated with this student. If I leave, I protect myself. But a friend points out that this may well mean an unqualified person gets a PhD and I put some unknown and uninformed colleague at risk. By staying, I have the potential to prevent that.

My question to you:  What is the better way to serve my profession and yours?

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Barbara McElroy is Associate Professor of Accounting and Head of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA.  Before beginning a career in academe, Barbara worked in both public and private accounting settings, and owned several businesses.  She is particularly interested in the interaction of accounting and public policy.  Barbara will discuss current events with the interest of students, faculty, and practicing professionals in mind.

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