Paton Accounting Center May Be Sacrificed

Efforts to modernize the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business may cost it the Paton Accounting Center. The Center was built and dedicated to well-known accounting professor William Paton in 1976. Construction was financed entirely by former students and friends. Efforts to preserve the building are being led by Paton’s son, William Jr. who has a Ph.D. from the University.

“To demolish needlessly this fine, modern building would demonstrate a blind disregard for Professor Paton’s achievements, the efforts and intentions of the building’s donors, and the Business School’s proud history,” the Ann Arbor News reports Paton Jr. as writing in a letter to University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

Paton Sr. began teaching part-time at the University of Michigan in 1914. He became a full professor in 1921 and retired as professor emeritus of accounting and of economics in 1958. Although he became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 1927, his practice as an accountant was limited to special consulting engagements during schools vacations. In 1987 the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) named him Outstanding Educator of the Century at the organization’s 100th annual meeting. Paton Sr., who died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1991 at the age of 101, is remembered as a devoted and demanding professor. His continuing and strong interest in the careers of his students assures that the affects of his contributions to the accounting profession and industry are still being felt today.

In 1916, he helped to found what is now the American Accounting Association (AAA) and was elected president of the organization in 1922. He played a significant role in the launching of The Accounting Review in 1926 and served as both editor and production manager for the first three years of publication. He also served the AICPA in several capacities including as a member of the Committee on Accounting Procedure from 1939 to 1950. In 1940, he co-authored An Introduction to Corporate Accounting Standards with A. C. Littleton.

He was one of three individuals, and the only academic, inducted into the Accounting Hall of Fame when it opened in 1950. During his distinguished career, he received many awards and honors including:

  • the AICPA’s Gold Medal Award in 1944
  • Alpha Kappa Psu Foundation Accounting Award in 1953 and
  • the first Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan Association of CPAs.

The William A. Paton Award, which honors the candidate with the highest score on the CPA exam was established in 1961 by the Michigan Association of CPAs. In 1955 the William A. Paton Fund for Accounting Scholarships and Fellowships was established at the University of Michigan.

The Ann Arbor News reports that University officials have not yet determined which buildings will be demolished as part of the $145 million expansion and renovation project. The Board of Regents approved the conceptual plans in February of 2005. Schematic plans, drawn up by architects, may be submitted to the Regents for approval as early as October. The Business School was renamed last year after Stephen Ross, who is donating a total of $100 million to the business school including almost half the cost of the renovation and modernization project.

An email from Board of Regents chairwoman Andrea Fischer Newman states that the University is obligated to treat donor-named spaces like the Paton Accounting Center, with respect. While other buildings have been demolished to clear spaces and create a learning environment suited to the 21st century, none have been named.

“We will honor William A. Paton’s contributions to the School and the accounting profession as we go forward with the Business School project,” the Ann Arbor News quotes the email as saying.

If demolition is deemed necessary, University of Michigan officials have not settled on how Paton and his contributions will be remembered according to the Ann Arbor News.

“Paton is recognized really as the founder of modern accounting practices,” Graham Mercer, assistant dean of the business school told the Ann Arbor News. “We certainly don’t want to lose that legacy.”

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