Let’s Strengthen the Links between Academia and Practice

The Pathways Commission initiative aims to involve practitioners more fully in accounting education as Professionally Oriented Faculty (POF) and exploring alternative paths for practitioners to become doctorally qualified accounting professors.

At AACSB’s Deans Conference in San Diego, I will co-moderate Monday afternoon’s discussion on the “Future of Faculty” with D. Scott Showalter, a professor at the Poole College of Management at North Carolina State University. At our session, we will provide participants with a brief overview of the Pathways Commission, a joint initiative of the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that aims to better bring together accounting education and practice. Among other recommendations, the initiative calls for involving practitioners more fully in accounting education as Professionally Oriented Faculty (POF) and exploring alternative paths for practitioners to become doctorally qualified accounting professors.

Before the early 1990s, most faculty résumés included significant professional experience. However, over the last 20 years, academic culture has changed. As universities focus more on developing skills for theoretical or empirical research, so do the vitae of many new-generation faculty, who lack significant experience in business practice as a result. As a result, the connection between academia and business has waned—the two aren’t nearly as integrated as we see in other professions, such as medicine, law, nursing, and pharmacy.

But as we quickly are discovering, weak links between education, research, and practice make for missed opportunities for students, academics, and practitioners. An effective way to address these gaps is for institutions to hire and fully incorporate POF into accounting departments and the business school mission, a topic we will focus on during our session.

It’s true that such a focus could lead, at least initially, to a predominance of faculty classified as Instructional Practitioners (IP) under AACSB’s new accreditation standards. But over time, we also hope to see more faculty trained as Scholarly Practitioners (SP) who can bring together research and practice. Business schools with SP-designated faculty will accrue benefits in the marketplace, including stronger and more interactive connections with real-world business.

We recently surveyed 131 POF accounting faculty and 189 accounting department chairs from across the United States to get their feedback on how involved they felt in the missions of their schools. We also the following questions:

  • Should POF be involved in the hiring of tenure-track faculty?
  • What role should POF play in curriculum decisions?
  • Should POF receive funding to attend academic and professional conferences?

The results were interesting; for instance, we found that less than half of POF have multiyear contracts. During our session, we will share the rest of our survey results, as well as ask a series of tabletop discussion questions, some of which we also asked in our survey. We hope to elicit attendees’ feedback on the role of POF within their colleges or universities—and better define and shape the future of business and accounting faculty.

Mark Higgins is dean of the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University in Missouri. His conference session with D. Scott Showalter, a professor of practice at North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management in Raleigh, will be held from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, February 9, 2015.