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A Critical View of the Evolution of the Accounting Professoriate 1

STEPHEN A. ZEFF, Rice University

The first two-thirds of this paper is a review and analysis of the evolution of the accounting
research and education environments, primarily in the United States but also with respect to
Canada, from the 1960s to the present time. The final third of the paper consists of a critique of
contemporary approaches to both accounting research and education.

Keywords Research, Methodology, Education, History


Since the 1960s there have been profound changes in the culture of the accounting professoriate in
North America. It is my aim in this paper to trace the essential developments and trends that have
marked these changes, and I will then offer some critical comments on the present state of affairs in
accounting and auditing research and education. As I am more familiar with the change that has
occurred in the United States, most of my discussion will centre on the US scene, although I have reason
to believe that the change that has occurred in Canada has been roughly parallel. The two countries are
closely intertwined, and many, if not most, Canadian accounting academics pursuing PhDs in the past 40
years took them in the United States and then returned to Canada.2

Perhaps the most salient changes over the past five decades in accounting have been (1) an
evolution from a culture of heavy teaching loads and a modest expectation of publication, to one of
much lighter teaching loads coupled with an enforced, high expectation of top-flight research published
in the best journals, and (2) the “invasion” in the accounting literature of research bringing insights and
methodologies from such basic disciplines as economics, the behavioral sciences, mathematics, and
statistics. In addition, the research dimension became more “formalized,” as the journals added a more
structured review process. With the “explosion” in the number of research journals, the practitioner-

This paper is an outgrowth of my keynote address to the annual conference of the Canadian Academic
Accounting Association, held in Calgary on June 15-16, 2018. I am grateful for the comments of Bill Beaver, Jake
Birnberg, Philip Brown, Tom Dyckman, Peter Firmin, Yves Gendron, Michael Granof, Dana Hermanson, Bob Jensen,
Bob Kaplan, Ed Ketz, Pascale Lapointe-Antunes, Morley Lemon, Ted Mock, Jim Ohlson, Al Rappaport, Mary Stone,
Bob Swieringa, and Dan Thornton on earlier versions. I am solely responsible for what remains.
Based on an examination of J. R. Hasselback’s Accounting Directory over the years, this generalization seems to
hold more for universities in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces than for those in Québec and the Maritime

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oriented journals have dropped out of the rankings used to reward and promote faculty at most
research-focused institutions.

The objective of this paper is twofold. In Part I, it is to present a review and analysis of the
evolution of the accounting professoriate from the 1960s to the present. In Part II, it is to provide a
critique of contemporary approaches to accounting research and to financial accounting education.



In the early 1960s, the teaching loads for assistant professors were heavy: 12 to 18 semester hours per
year, with multiple and changing preparations. In my first year, 1961-62, after I completed a PhD at the
University of Michigan and became an assistant professor of accounting at Tulane University, I taught six
semester-length courses, involving four preparations. In the second year, my teaching load went down
to five courses, but they were five different courses, including one new preparation. At some of the elite
business schools, to be sure, the annual teaching load at that time was no more than 12 hours with two

The terminal qualifications for US accounting faculty in business schools back then were a
masters degree in economics or business and a CPA. The professional degree of LLB (Bachelor of Laws)
was also considered terminal (AACSB, 1967: 17). Relatively few accounting educators at most schools
then held doctorates, and many had an accounting or tax practice on the side. Better schools, especially
those in the Big Ten, had a significant number of faculty with doctorates.3 Many were in economics
because, as will be seen, relatively few business schools then offered the doctorate in accounting.

Research productivity was expected but not required. Equal valence was accorded to major
service in the accounting profession, for example, membership on important boards and committees.
Textbook authorship was accepted as an alternate to published research.

The 1916-1966 history of the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) reported on a
survey of its business schools conducted in 1963, which found the following (1966: 240): “In 58 percent of the
schools reporting, more than half of the faculty held a Ph.D. degree or its equivalent and in only 6 percent of the
schools did fewer than 30 percent of the faculty hold a doctor’s degree.”

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From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, theory-building was the predominant line of financial
accounting research, with valuation models being advocated in major books and monographs, including
those from the following theorists:

William A. Paton, Accounting Theory, with Special Reference to the Business Enterprise (1922)
John B. Canning, The Economics of Accountancy (1929)
Henry W. Sweeney, Stabilized Accounting (1936)
Kenneth MacNeal, Truth in Accounting (1939)
W. A. Paton and A. C. Littleton, An Introduction to Corporate Accounting Standards (1940)
A. C. Littleton, Structure of Accounting Theory (1953)
Edgar O. Edwards and Philip W. Bell, The Theory and Measurement of Business Income (1961)
George J. Staubus, A Theory of Accounting to Investors (1961)
Richard Mattessich, Accounting and Analytical Methods (1964)
Raymond J. Chambers, Accounting, Evaluation and Economic Behavior (1966)
Yuji Ijiri, The Foundations of Accounting Measurement (1967) and The Theory of Accounting
Measurement (1974)
Arthur L. Thomas, The Allocation Problem in Financial Accounting Theory (1969) and The Allocation
Problem: Part Two (1974)
Robert R. Sterling, Theory of the Measurement of Enterprise Income (1970)

Today, the names of these theorists and their works are unknown to all but a relatively small number of
US accounting academics under the age of 55, because (1) normative accounting research has
disappeared from the major journals and (2) the “golden age” of a priori and axiomatic research in
accounting (Nelson, 1973) is missing from courses of instruction and PhD research. To be sure, a lively
dialogue, often invoking these theorists and their works, does appear in the AECM listserv (Taylor and
Murthy, 2009),4 blogs, forums, and other forms of networked communications, but not in the journals or
in books.

In the 1960s and into the 1970s, research published in books was encouraged and rewarded on
a plane with research published in articles.

In the 1960s, accounting academics were rewarded for publishing in professional as well as
academic journals. Many academics published their work in the AICPA’s Journal of Accountancy and in
the journals of the state societies of CPAs. Research in the academic journals was then a mixture of
surveys of practice, theorizing and policy prescription, criticisms of practice, reports on education,
historical studies, and commentaries on accounting principles, practices, and relevant laws.

For a record of such exchanges treating the grand theorists and their work, see

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The only accounting research journal in 1960 was The Accounting Review, and, strange as it may
seem, the Review did not announce an editorial board until 1967. Prior to then, the journal’s editor
made the publication decision himself for every paper, usually without seeking advice from others.
When I submitted a paper to the Review in April 1962, Editor Lawrence L. Vance notified me by letter a
few weeks later of its acceptance, and the paper was published in the October 1962 issue!

In the 1960s, the only active, major academic accounting association was the American
Accounting Association (AAA). Today, there are many, including the Canadian Academic Accounting
Association (CAAA), the European Accounting Association (EAA), the British Accounting and Finance
Association, the Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand, the Japan
Accounting Association, and the Association Francophone de Comptabilité (in France).

Up to the 1970s, Intermediate Accounting textbooks were “change agents,” that is, they were
regularly critical of standards and practice, and they recommended improvements in financial reporting,
such as general price-level accounting and the inclusion of funds statements (Zeff, 2016). Accounting
textbooks were then considered to be a recognized source in the “hierarchy of GAAP,” when
practitioners were seeking authoritative support for accounting practice.


In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York became interested in
fortifying business education and research in US business schools. Ford gave a large financial grant to
five business schools as “centres of excellence” for management education and research: Carnegie
Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration, the Harvard Business School, the
University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business,
and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business – to lead the way towards nationwide reform.5 In
1959, Ford and Carnegie published major reports (Gordon and Howell, 1959; Pierson, 1959) which
argued for a greater investment by business schools in research and for research and doctoral education
to make greater use of hypothesis-testing and be rooted in the behavioral sciences, mathematics,

For an extensive discussion of the content and impact of the Ford Foundation initiatives on migrating accounting
and other business programs away from purely vocational orientations towards embracing economics and
quantitative approaches, see Khurana (2007: chap. 6) and Swieringa (2018).

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statistics, and economics.6 Most teaching in business schools up to then had been descriptive of
institutions and practices (Schlossman, Sedlak, and Wechsler, 1987: 10). The Ford report cited “the low
level and narrow vocational character of much collegiate business education. Nearly as well
documented [it added] is the failure of most business schools to develop in their students the qualities
of mind and character and the kinds of professional-type skills for which business and society have the
greatest need.” (Gordon and Howell, 1959: 6). With respect to instruction in accounting, the Ford report
complained that, because of the emphasis that business schools place on preparing undergraduate
students for the CPA examinations, “they inevitably act as trade schools, sacrificing breadth to cram into
their students all the specialized knowledge and skills needed to pass the certifying examinations – even
to the extent of offering and giving credit for ‘cram’ courses” (Gordon and Howell, 1959: 132).

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Ford Foundation sponsored programs, usually during the
summer, to train faculty in these new lines of research, and from 1957 to 1962 Ford sponsored 13 New
Developments in Business Administration seminars, mostly at Carnegie Tech and Chicago, to bring
faculty “on board” with these new research methodologies (Khurana, 2007: 263-268). In particular, Ford
sponsored a New Developments seminar at Chicago, with emphasis on accounting, dealing with
conceptual issues as well as the application to accounting of capital budgeting, behavioral research, and
quantitative methods (Dyckman and Zeff, 1984: 233). The AAA, by the latter part of the 1960s, began
offering short courses in quantitative methods and the behavioral sciences to accounting faculty who
were not proficient in these areas.

During the first half of the 1960s, the Ford Foundation sponsored the publication of a total of 26
doctoral dissertations in business that embodied the new empiricism and that drew heavily on the basic
disciplines (Dyckman and Zeff, 1984: 232-233).


Following publication of the Ford and Carnegie reports, the emphasis in business schools began shifting
towards the creation of knowledge via empirical, hypothesis-testing research and mathematical
modeling, thus displacing qualitative research which had historically been the source of new thinking.
And it was not long before academic researchers gained access to high-speed computers and to

For a discussion of the impact of the Ford and Carnegie reports on the development of management accounting,
see Maher (2000: 337-338).

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computerized databases such as Compustat and CRSP (Center for Research in Security Prices, at the
University of Chicago).

Especially at the major business schools, the importance of doctoral studies in accounting began
to grow. In 1960, there were only 20 US accounting doctoral programs – today there are 107. Only 17
accounting doctorates had been conferred in 1955, which rose to 47 in 1965, and more than tripled to
149 in 1975.7 By 1967-68, only 31% of US accounting faculty held doctorates (Williams, 1969: 17). It was
not until 1969 that the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), as it was then
known, finally prescribed “bright lines” in support of its call upon accounting (and other) faculty in
business schools to hold doctorates. In the interpretations of its accreditation standards, it set at 40%
and 75% the lowest percentage of the faculty who must possess a doctorate, depending on whether
they taught at the undergraduate or graduate level, respectively (AACSB, 1969: 27).8

In 1963, the University of Chicago launched its semi-annual Journal of Accounting Research
(JAR). Sidney Davidson (1984: 282), the founder of JAR, wrote as follows about the genesis of the

The previous decade had seen substantial advances in the development of statistical
techniques and quantitative analysis. The emergence of the computer indicated that large new
data bases of financial information would be readily accessible to researchers; also new
information and theories on motivation and other aspects of behavioral science were
developing. Research in accounting was beginning to capitalize on these advances in the related
fields. A more scientific approach to accounting research was clearly on the horizon. We at
Chicago felt it important that there be a journal exclusively devoted to research in all areas of
accounting, a journal that would serve as a vehicle for publication of this expected new wave of
accounting research.

Davidson (1984: 282) added that “the editors of The Accounting Review at that time seemed reluctant to
accept articles with a heavy empirical or quantitative content. Few, if any, articles on ‘behavioral
accounting’ appeared in the Review.”9 In fact, Ball and Brown (1968), “An Empirical Evaluation of
Accounting Income Numbers,” which did so much to stimulate capital market research, had been
rejected by the Review as not being accounting research. Nicholas Dopuch, by then the editor of JAR,
appreciated the potential of this line of research and had heard Ball and Brown present their paper at a

These data were culled from various editions of J. R. Hasselback’s Accounting Directory.
I am grateful to Dale L. Flesher for advice on the AACSB’s early accreditation standards.
For a discussion of the state of the academic accounting literature in the 1950s and 1960s, see Dyckman and Zeff
(1984: 226-238).

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Chicago research workshop, and he offered to publish the paper in JAR (Dyckman and Zeff, 1984: 242-
243; Ball and Brown, 2014: 17).

The first five volumes of JAR, from 1963 to 1967, largely edited by David Green, Jr., contained a
mixture of articles reflecting theory development, normative argument, and historical enquiries, but by
1968, when Nick Dopuch became the editor, the journal increasingly catered to the research for which
Chicago became well known: empirical studies drawing on computerized databases as well as employing
behavioral and experimental approaches. After 1967, historical and normative argument articles
virtually disappeared from JAR. The percentage of empirical main articles in JAR rose from 27% in 1969
to 60% by 1972 (Dyckman and Zeff, 1984: table 15, p. 265). Before long, The Accounting Review followed
suit, as this mode of research “caught fire” among US accounting academics.

In March 1965, Stanford University hosted the first-ever conference devoted wholly to
accounting research, which was sponsored by the AAA. The conference was titled Seminar on Basic
Research in Accounting Measurement (Jaedicke, Ijiri, and Nielsen, 1966). Since then, the number of such
research conferences has increased to the point where they are now held almost incessantly around the
world. Today, universities hold “summer research camps” and the AAA’s Sections put on very well-
attended Midyear Meetings to hear research papers. In May 1966, Chicago held its first annual
Conference on Empirical Research in Accounting, supported by the Ford Foundation, with the
proceedings published in JAR. Although no longer dubbed “empirical research” after 1973, the JAR
conference has continued to be held every year since then, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary in May

The dawn of empirical research, drawing on computerized databases, and to some extent
experimentation, and on the basic disciplines to accounting, was an exciting time at Chicago (Hopwood,
2007; Beaver and Wolfson, 2013: 434; Ball and Brown, 2014). Its PhD graduates, their dissertations
reflecting the new empirical research, left to spread the word in PhD programs and through their
published research at other universities. Joel S. Demski went to Columbia and then a year later moved
to Stanford, and William H. Beaver went to Stanford; George J. Benston and Ross L. Watts went to the
University of Rochester; Anthony G. Hopwood (who studied behavioral science and organizational
sociology) returned to the UK; Philip Brown and Ray Ball returned to Australia, Ball coming back to the
US, at Rochester, in the 1980s; Baruch Lev returned to Israel, coming back to the US, at the University of
California, Berkeley, also in the 1980s; T. Ross Archibald went to the University of Western Ontario; and
William R. Scott went to Queen’s University.

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Robert J. Swieringa, after completing his accounting PhD in 1969 at the University of Illinois and
also acquiring a strong background there in psychology, went to Stanford, whose business school sought
to increase its footprint in the behavioral sciences. In 1967, Berkeley, owing to the tutelage and
influence of Jacob Marschak (at UCLA, a recent visitor to Berkeley) and Roy Radner, and under the
chairmanship of Hector R. Anton and the guidance of Bart McGuire, produced information economists
John E. Butterworth, who went to Johns Hopkins University for two years and then to the University of
British Columbia (UBC); and Gerald A. Feltham, who went to Stanford for four years and then to UBC
(Feltham, 1984: ftn. 1, 88). In 1969, Theodore J. Mock, following his Berkeley PhD, went to UCLA
primarily to work with Marschak. In 1972, James A. Ohlson, another information economist, completed
his Berkeley PhD and then spent two years at Stanford prior to returning to Berkeley. The preeminent
Bayesian statistician Arnold Zellner, while on a visit to Berkeley, much influenced Ohlson. At Chicago,
Nick Dopuch edited JAR throughout the 1970s, and made it a trumpet of the new empirical research.10
He encouraged accounting researchers to draw on a variety of basic disciplines.

For his part, Anthony Hopwood founded the UK-based journal, Accounting, Organizations and
Society (AOS), in 1976. It did much to inspire researchers to draw widely on the behavioral sciences,
expanding beyond cognitive psychology, which was the main focus of most US-based behavioral

Thomas J. Burns, director of the accounting PhD program at The Ohio State University, gave
impetus to behavioral accounting via three behavioral research symposia which he convened in 1966,
1968, and 1971 (Burns, 1967, 1970, 1972). Burns motivated many students to pursue accounting PhDs
elsewhere, and his behavioral perspective influenced Ohio State PhD students and faculty.12 In addition,
in October 1970 the AAA’s director of education convened a Symposium on Behavioral Research in
Accounting, to which he invited leading researchers in the fields of psychology and sociology to
comment on papers presented by young behavioral accounting researchers. The symposium did much
to instill confidence in the accounting researchers who attended.

For his reviews of the early development of empirical research, see Dopuch (1980, 1983).
Gendron and Baker (2005: 530) report that “in most years from 1985 to 2003 the proportion of
sociological/organizational papers [in AOS] was greater than 50%.”
E-mail communication received from Theodore J. Mock, dated July 25, 2018.

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In 1971, under the leadership of AAA President James Don Edwards, the Association launched its annual
Doctoral Consortium, sponsored by the Big 8 audit firm of Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte). University PhD
programs across the United States nominated a student to attend and hear presentations from leading
researchers in the new methodologies. Beginning in 1985, PhD students were invited also from
Canadian universities. The Consortium, which steadily increased in attendance as the number of
accounting PhD programs grew, now is more international in intake and continues to be a very
successful annual program. It has been imitated by other academic associations, some of the AAA’s
Sections, and as an adjunct to some research conferences.

In the 1970s, the process for awarding tenure at American universities was made much more
formal and rigorous, as research overtook teaching and service as the most important factor to weigh in
such decisions. Tenure, not just promotion in rank, became the high bar to surmount for assistant
professors. One reason for the increase in rigor in the tenure decision, one supposes, is that research
achievements can be quantitatively measured and thus are susceptible to a more objective assessment,
while the quality of teaching and service requires a more subjective assessment, on which different
evaluators can easily disagree. By the end of the 1970s, it became increasingly commonplace for
business schools to write for tenure and promotion letters from scholars at other universities, in order
to obtain an independent set of views to complement that of the business school’s own departmental

The movement to “scientific research” in accounting in the 1970s was strongly influenced by the
institutional context: accounting departments in particular, and business schools in general, were
seeking academic legitimacy in their institutions. They wanted to be evaluated under the same
standards used to evaluate faculty and schools in the rest of the university, especially departments of
science and economics.14 This was yet another factor that led to more stringent criteria for tenure.

Also in the 1970s, the attention of quite a number of empirical and analytical researchers was
directed at the needs of accounting standard setters and of the practicing community. William Beaver’s
1973 article in the Journal of Accountancy, “What Should Be the FASB’s Objectives?” is a good example.
In addition, the entire JAR conference in 1974 was devoted to Financial Accounting Objectives,

For a more extensive discussion about the research literature in recent decades, see Dyckman and Zeff (2015).
I am grateful to Robert S. Kaplan for this insight.

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stimulated by the 1973 report of the Trueblood Study Group on the Objectives of Financial Statements.
Published analytical research by Robert S. Kaplan appearing in JAR in the early and middle 1970s was
inspired and informed by leading-edge practice on statistical sampling in auditing (1973a, 1973b,
1975).15 Former FASB Chair Donald J. Kirk wrote (1988: 12, 17), “[e]fficient market research has been
useful to standard setters….Standard setters need and, if wise, use research – both analytical and
empirical – to assist in making difficult choices.” The FASB commissioned an empirical research study on
the potential market effects of its proposal that all oil and gas producing companies adopt “successful
efforts costing,” which led to its Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 19 on “Reporting by
Oil and Gas Producing Companies,” issued in December 1977 (Van Riper, 1994: 64).16 But empirical
researchers’ interest in relating to the needs of the standard-setting and regulatory communities
seemed to wane in later years, notwithstanding the upbeat argument in Barth, Beaver, and Landsman
(2001: 98) that “the value relevance literature provides fruitful insights for standard setting,” which they
have amply demonstrated in their own research over the years. A problem is that “many young
researchers seem to have only a superficial comprehension of the institutional accounting reality and, in
some instances, even of accounting” (Dyckman and Zeff, 2015: 518).

In the 1970s, accounting researchers began clustering in the AAA’s newly formed Sections,
tailored to topical areas (e.g., taxation, auditing, financial accounting, management accounting,
government and nonprofit) or research methodologies (e.g., behavioral accounting, history), and today
the AAA counts 17 such Sections, of which 10 publish their own journals. Accounting academics, like
those in other disciplines, have thus formed their own specialized niches.

In May 1981, the Clarkson Gordon Foundation (established by the partners of a leading
Canadian audit firm, Clarkson Gordon) sponsored a unique research symposium entitled “Research to
Support Standard Setting in Financial Accounting: A Canadian Perspective.” At the symposium, which
brought academics and practitioners together for three days at Dalhousie University, seven major
papers were presented, embodying a variety of methodologies, including empirical and analytical (Basu
and Milburn, 1982). This was not the Clarkson Gordon Foundation’s only venture into academe. In 1976,
financial support from the Foundation and Deloitte Haskins & Sells (via P. Howard Lyons), coupled with
sage advice from Clarkson Gordon partners J. R. M. (Jack) Wilson and Ross M. Skinner, helped academic

See also the proceedings of Chicago’s 1975 annual research conference on Statistical Methodology in Auditing,
published in volume 13 of JAR.
The resulting article was Dyckman and Smith (1979).


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leaders achieve success in forming the CAAA (Richardson, 2001: 22; Rosen, 2001: 119). This was yet
another example of how leaders of the practicing community in Canada have collaborated productively
with their academic brethren.

In 1984, the CAAA launched its first journal, Contemporary Accounting Research (CAR). The
following year, Haim Falk, the founding editor, began holding an annual CAR conference, which was so
structured that a submission to the conference became a submission also to CAR. It was said that “the
publication of discussants’ comments [at the conferences] provided the editor with more opportunities
to include Canadian academics in CAR” (Richardson, 2001: 55).17

The Research Opportunities in Auditing (ROA) Program, sponsored by Peat, Marwick, Mitchell &
Co. (later KPMG Peat Marwick), was an excellent example of how funding and data provided by a major
audit firm can succeed in directing academic research towards an area of practical enquiry in need of
research. Ashton and Cianci (1998: 120, 136), who studied the 18-year history of the program, wrote,
“The ROA Program supported auditing research projects with data from actual audits, partner and staff
time, and financial resources from 1976 to 1993….It has influenced researchers to focus on auditing
issues, and has enhanced the reputation of auditing as a subject of intellectual and scientific merit.
Moreover, it has influenced auditing education in substantial ways.”

In 1979, Rochester launched the Journal of Accounting and Economics, which became a prime
forum for work stimulated by the economics-focused research paradigm. Its stated purpose was “to
publish only the highest quality manuscripts which seek to explain accounting phenomena using
economics including economic theories of the firm, public choice, government regulation, agency
theory, and financial economics” (Watts and Zimmerman, 1979: 1). It was the first US accounting
research journal to be published by a commercial house, North-Holland Publishing Company.

By the latter part of the 1970s, hypothesis-testing, regression-model research, as well as

analytical, archival, and experimental work, began to eclipse other methodologies in the leading
accounting journals. History, field, survey, and normative work gradually disappeared from the leading
journals, reflecting a growing constriction in the range of acceptable modes of research to editors and
editorial boards. The movement in accounting to legitimize hypothesis-testing and correlational
research has had implications in narrowing the topics explored by accounting academics. In addition to
eliminating the conceptual thinking and framework building of the pre-1970s era, it has served as a

For a retrospective on CAR, see Gordon and Boland (2015).


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barrier to accounting academics in learning about and extending practice innovations. Latter-day
academics seemed to lose the ability and motivation for practice-inspired research such as the audit
sampling work done in the 1970s. This has been a major loss both to academe and practice.

Joel S. Demski (2007: 155) argues, “[t]he vast bulk of our published work is insular, largely
derivative, and lacking in the variety that is essential for innovation.” Gregory B. Waymire (2012: 817)
writes that “accounting research is stagnant and rarely introduces new ideas and ways of looking at the
issues we study.” Anthony G. Hopwood (2007: 1370) writes,

increasingly accounting research is being seen as too cautious and conservative, too rigid and
traditional, and insufficiently attuned to grapple with the new and to embrace novel insights
and bodies of knowledge. Rather than being excited about the emerging gaps in our knowledge,
it is as if the academic accounting community prefers to focus on the leads that arise from
within the existing research traditions. The dynamic for change and transformation that
emerged in the early Chicago days is seemingly no longer with us.

Robert Kaplan (2011: 369) has been critical of accounting researchers for not attempting to
develop innovative solutions to the problems faced by professionals. He writes, “If academics in
professional school limit their research agenda to issues that can be adequately addressed by a narrow
set of generally accepted research methods, then they must wait for phenomena to happen to generate
sufficient archival data for them to analyze statistically. Thus, much of accounting (and management)
research for the past 40 years has been reactive. It has studied, evaluated, and explained existing
practice, but has not contributed to advancing that practice (the accounting-based-valuation model, and
improvements in auditing and tax being notable exceptions).”

The Accounting Review, the AAA’s flagship journal, was formerly a vehicle for all modes of
research on all kinds of topics, and it was read not only by accounting educators but also by accounting
practitioners. Yet, with the increasing narrowness in its contents, practitioners and many academics
began complaining that the Review no longer served their needs, and that the statistical methodology in
its articles made the journal virtually unreadable by any but the cognoscenti (Zeff and Dyckman, 2018:

In reaction to the membership complaints about the uselessness and unreadability of the
contents of The Accounting Review, AAA members began looking for ways to create or preserve journal

For a trenchant criticism of the evolution of accounting academe and of The Accounting Review, see Heck and
Jensen (2007).


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space for the research methods of greater interest to practitioners, standard setters, and a wide
community of educators. This resulted in the establishment of several new “bridging” journals intended
to solve the problem. For example, in 1981 the AAA’s Auditing Section founded Auditing: A Journal of
Practice & Theory (AJPT), with Practice deliberately placed ahead of Theory. In 1983, the AAA launched
its second Association-wide journal, Issues in Accounting Education, first as an annual publication on a
temporary basis and then in 1986 as a semi-annual journal on a permanent basis. The future of articles
on accounting education, which had long been a staple in the Review, seemed to be in peril; hence,
Issues was created to accommodate them for the benefit of AAA members.

In 1986, the AAA executive committee and council voted to launch a third Association-wide
journal, Accounting Horizons, in order to bridge academe and practice. Its aim was to publish a wide
range of articles, which the Review used to publish, of broad interest and accessibility to educators and
practitioners (Zeff and Dyckman, 2018: 116-118). The journal began publishing in 1987 under Editor
Robert K. Mautz, who had just retired following a career as both an academic and a partner in a Big 8
audit firm.

By the early 2000s, it became evident to the leaders of the AAA’s Auditing Section that practice
was not well served by the time required to publish auditing research in AJPT, as well as by the
opaqueness of the journal’s content. The journal had become mostly a medium for analytical, archival,
and experimental research. Thereupon, in 2007 the Section founded an electronic journal, Current Issues
in Auditing, which is co-edited by a practitioner and an academic. One of its sections is entitled
Practitioner Summary, where academics undertake to explain the purport and meaning of published
empirical or analytical research to a practitioner audience.

So-called bridging journals have been established in other countries, for similar reasons as in the
United States – the need for a useful and readable journal to a wide audience. In 1991, CPA Australia (a
practitioner body) and the University of Sydney founded the Australian Accounting Review. In 2002, the
CAAA launched Canadian Accounting Perspectives, which dropped Canadian five years later. And in
2004, the European Accounting Association inaugurated Accounting in Europe. But these were not the
kinds of journals for which academics at the leading US business schools were rewarded for their

Notwithstanding the efforts to preserve the “classical,” or qualitative, modes of research in such
journals as CAR and AJPT, the supply of papers reflecting these “lost” approaches to research has largely


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dried up, as so many of the authors of such work in the past retired from academic life.19 If journal
editors wish to publish the best work they receive, it is more than likely that the work will be empirical,
which is the only approach taught at most major US doctoral programs in the past two or three
decades.20 It perhaps should come as no surprise that, in 2013-16, 81% of the Main Articles in
Accounting Horizons involved regression analysis, compared with just 76% in The Accounting Review
during the same period (Zeff and Dyckman, 2018: 128).

To be sure, qualitative modes of research are still alive and well in accounting history journals,
such as the Accounting Historians Journal, Accounting History, and the Accounting History Review
(formerly Accounting, Business & Financial History).

Hypothesis-testing, regression model-based research has come to dominate most of the highly
rated North American journals and has increasingly dominated research agendas by accounting
academics overseas, as it is vaunted as the epitome of “social science research.”

An important change in the packaging of research was that, with the rise of searchable journal
databases and the importance placed in publishing only in certain “top” journals, books are no longer
viewed as appropriate vehicles for research. In North America, only a few senior and established
academics have published books containing their research in the past few decades, and there is the
considerable risk that few, if any, of the books would be noticed by other researchers.

In stark contrast to the 1960s, when there were fewer than a half-dozen accounting research
journals, today there are more than one hundred such journals published in English around the world.

Teaching loads for newly hired assistant professors of accounting have changed profoundly
since the 1960s. At many leading business schools today, the teaching assignment for the first year or
two, at universities on the semester system, is three courses with a single preparation, and, in
subsequent years, three courses with one or no more than two preparations. A few business schools
allow the first-year load to be only two courses with a single preparation. Yet the salaries for assistant

For a study that found an openness to diverse research methods was signaled by CAR’s editorial team, see
Endenich and Trapp (2018). See also the comments on this latter paper in the same special issue on “Research
Diversity and Hierarchies in Accounting Journals” in Critical Perspectives on Accounting.
Schwartz, Williams and Williams (2005: 342) conducted a survey of students enrolled in 39 US accounting
doctoral programs, including 11 “elite” programs, concerning their familiarity with a broad range of accounting
journals. They found that “[t]he lack of familiarity with journals representing alternative paradigms and topics like
critical theory, tax, systems, or history, particularly by students at elite schools, is disconcerting. It indicates that
there is a significant amount of homogeneity among doctoral programs in the US.”


Electronic copy available at:

professors today are multiples of what they were in the 1960s, even after allowing for the intervening

The main challenge facing newly minted PhDs is to build a superlative research record, because,
at the end of five or six years, they must surmount the very high tenure bar or leave for another
university. Striving to reach tenure is an unforgiving process.



In this section, I subject the following seven issues arising from today’s research environment in
accounting to closer inspection and critical analysis.

Paucity of Replications
There has been an almost total absence of replications of empirical/archival, or of experimental, studies
in accounting. Yet replication is a hallmark of scientific research. R. Murray Lindsay (1995: 35) has
written, “Replication provides the crucial test of the reliability and validity of facts, hypotheses and
theories. It leads, when successful, to generalizable and predictable results.” Much hypothesis-testing,
regression model-based research has revealed interesting phenomena in the real world, but seldom is
the research followed up by replications to determine if these initial findings were aberrations or truly

Moreover, researchers doing empirical/archival research in accounting are errant in not

explaining and justifying their choice of sample periods. Would another researcher undertaking identical
research, with the same research design but with a different sample period, reach the same conclusions
and findings? Without replications, we can never know, which is why it is indispensable for
empirical/archival researchers to explain and defend their choice of sample period. In a study of 55
hypothesis-testing, regression model-based articles published in 2012-13 in The Accounting Review and
the Journal of Accounting Research, Dyckman and Zeff (2014: 697-700) found that none of the
researchers defended the generalizability of their choice of sample. Only 10 of the 55 sets of authors
provided a justification of any kind, which was in each instance limited to data availability. This failure on
the part of empirical researchers – evidently not challenged by editors and reviewers – to defend the
generalizability of their sample makes the need for replications in our literature even more urgent.


Electronic copy available at:

Thankfully, the AAA Financial Accounting and Reporting Section’s newly established Journal of Financial
Reporting, in its initial statement of editorial policy, stated, “JFR is committing to publish replications as
part of its content” (Schrand, 2016: 6). Also, Behavioral Research in Accounting, edited under the
auspices of the AAA’s Accounting, Behavior and Organizations Section, states in its editorial policy,
“Replications of previously published studies will be considered.”

In 1994, CAR Editor Michael Gibbins introduced a special section entitled “Improvements and
Updates,” which was intended to encourage replications and extensions. Yet the response by
researchers was tepid. Gibbins’ successor as editor, Steven E. Salterio (2014: 1134), in a thoughtful
article on the subject of replications in social science research, observed that CAR’s call for replication
research “was met with a resounding ‘thud’ by the academic community.” The section lasted but two
years (Gordon and Boland, 2015: 474).
Philip Brown (2013: 856) labels the actions of editors and reviewers who discourage replications
as a signal of their “disciplinary immaturity.” The field of psychology has taken important steps to bring
replications to the fore of its literature (Dyckman and Zeff, 2014: 699, ftn. 11), and we in the broad tent
of accounting research should follow their lead.

Judging an Article’s Quality by Reference to the Journal of Publication

In accounting, we typically assess the quality of published research by whether it appears in a “top-tier”
journal, rather than by the inherent quality of the work set forth in the article.21 We tend to be deluded
by so-called “Journal Impact Factors” (JIFs), which are predicated on the dubious criterion of citation
counts (see below). Robert Kaplan (2018: 2), in his plenary address, “Reforming Academic Performance
Evaluation: Reverse the ‘Top-5’ Curse,” delivered at the AAA’s annual meeting in August 2017, said,

The prevalent use of JIFs to infer the quality and impact of a faculty member’s publications
leads to a high incidence of both Type 1 and Type 2 errors. The Type 1 errors, the false positives,
are the large numbers of low impact papers published in journals with high JIFs. In these cases,
promotions committees incorrectly reject the null hypothesis that the author’s paper is
unimportant. The high incidence of such false positives, while disconcerting is actually less
consequential than the Type 2 (false negative) errors, when promotions committees incorrectly
treat research as unimportant and low quality if it has not been published in top-tier journals or,
worse, in books, conference proceedings, and other publication outlets ignored by the JIF
metric. Many non-top-tier publications can actually have impact factors far above the median of
articles published in top-tier journals.

Journal rankings are yet another problematic issue. For a critique of the concept and practice of journal rankings,
see Humphrey and Gendron (2015).


Electronic copy available at:

Yves Gendron (2008: 119-120) laments that “the content of articles is less and less deemed and
used as a relevant signifier in the academic community. By and large, collective attention and sense-
making are instead focused on the number of ‘hits’ [in top-tier journals] that researchers can display,
and the impact factor and other narrow measures of performance that journals report in order to
account for their worth and usefulness. ‘Risky’ behavior on the part of researchers writing unorthodox
papers, and on the part of journals accepting to publish such papers, is less likely to be sustained in such
an environment.”
Relying solely on the editors and reviewers of research journals to make uniformly sound
editorial decisions can be a risky strategy. Instead, those assessing the quality of published research
should actually read the article in order to render a sound judgment.

Use of Citation Counts as a Gauge of Research Contribution

Citation counts are accorded too much weight when evaluating published research. Reports of citation
counts do not distinguish between positive and negative citations. Citation counts do not give adequate
recognition to research that has addressed novel questions in an innovative way. Such counts reward
mainline research in the deepest grooves of research activity, because a crowd of researchers is
following in the wake of such work. Also, researchers who are about to submit their paper to journals
are inclined to cite analogous work by their target journals’ editors and editorial board members in the
event that they will be sitting in judgment on their paper. This latter practice may be called “strategic
citation behavior.”22 Also, citation counts do not distinguish between researchers’ citations that refer to
a previous work “in passing” and citations where the researchers rely heavily upon – or comment in
depth on – the previous work.
Further, it is probable that citation counts for very recent papers will be badly biased indicators
of lasting impact. This is precisely the reason why, in 1986 the AAA created the Seminal Contribution to
the Literature Award, which recognizes only those works that were published at least 15 years prior to
bestowing the award. The aim of the award is to recognize enduring contributions to the stock of
As with the mechanistic criterion of whether an article appeared in a “top-tier” journal, perhaps

Philip Brown (2013, 856) has written, “[as a reviewer] I am particularly unimpressed when there is an all-too-
transparent and excessive citation of works by editors and potential reviewers, as if the judgments of these folks
could possibly be influenced by that behavior.”


Electronic copy available at:

defined by its JIFs, reliance on citation counts, without making an attempt to go behind the counts to
judge the substance of later researchers’ actual reliance on the earlier article, is a wholly unsatisfactory
way of assaying the importance and impact, and reputation, of a published paper.

Database Domination
Empirical/archival researchers exhibit excessive preoccupation with accessing rich databases and do not
give enough attention to addressing interesting research questions. William J. Vatter, a leading
accounting scholar, made the same point more than 50 years ago. In his summing-up paper at the close
of JAR’s initial Conference on Empirical Research in Accounting in May 1966, he said as follows (Vatter,
1966: 232; emphasis in original):

One of the real limitations of empirical research is that we tend to work on problems we are
able to study because data are available; we thereby tend to overlook problems that we ought
to study, if data for such problems are not easy to obtain. It is significant that the larger and
more comprehensive efforts reported here [i.e., at the conference] have dealt with published or
otherwise readily available data. Gathering direct and original facts is a tedious and difficult task,
and it is not surprising that such work is avoided….We need to look at the real world to find data
related to its problems.

Settling on the use of an accessible database before devising the research questions is like putting the
cart before the horse.

Allowing Data Analysis to Shape the Research Design

A related concern is the belief held in many quarters that accounting researchers sometimes modify
their research design, including their hypotheses, after having conducted at least some of the data
analysis. This is sometimes called “peeking ahead at the data” before deciding on the terms of the
full research project, usually in order to enhance the likelihood of reporting significant findings.23
A proposal has recently been advanced for an editorial procedure that would impose a strict
discipline on empirical research by which the researcher would not be allowed to begin analyzing data
until after designing the final research plan, including the specification of the hypotheses. In this way,
researchers could not modify the research design to accommodate the results obtained from first
analyzing the data. The proposed procedure, known as the “Registration-based Editorial Process” (REP)

Shapiro and Kirkman (2018) refer to this practice as “‘HARKing’ (hypothesizing after results are known).” In
statistics, it is known as “snooping.”


Electronic copy available at:

and which has been used mostly in the natural sciences, was introduced to the accounting literature in
Bloomfield, Rennekamp, and Steenhoven (2018), which was presented at the JAR conference in May
2018, at which all of the presented papers, as an experiment, were vetted in accordance with this
procedure. REP is also said to enhance the reproducibility (that is, the replicability) of published
research. Under the REP procedure, authors pre-register their analysis by submitting their research
proposal to a journal prior to gathering and analyzing data to test their predictions. After rounds of
revision and resubmission, their proposal may be given an “in principle” acceptance from the editors.
This acceptance means that the authors’ final paper will be published so long as they gather and analyze
their data as promised, regardless of whether their predictions were borne out by their results. JAR and
perhaps also the Journal of Financial Reporting (which Robert Bloomfield co-edits) apparently are
exploring the possible future use of REP, at least for certain kinds of papers (O’Riordan, 2018). REP is, I
think, an encouraging editorial technique for enhancing the quality and replicability of empirical
accounting research.
A question facing journal editors is, how can they detect that the authors of a paper, before
submitting it, may have actually glimpsed at the data before developing their hypotheses or adopting a
theoretical framework to interpret their results, without saying so?

Inattention to the Real-world Significance of the Research Findings

Also of concern is the lamentable fact that all too few empirical researchers explain the real-world – as
distinct from the statistical – significance of their findings to a wide audience. Unlike some neighboring
fields, accounting is not just a field of study. It is also a profession, and public accounting practice is
governed by standard-setting bodies in accounting and auditing, which are overseen by the Securities
and Exchange Commission. We as researchers must be sensitive to sharing the fruits of our enquiries not
only with the community of accounting academics but also with practicing accountants and standard
setters, who are on the firing line. In a study of the first 30 years of Accounting Horizons, Zeff and
Dyckman (2018: 129) found that the majority of 200 regression-model based articles did not address the
economic significance of their results in either the synopsis or conclusions, and this in a journal that
avowedly aims to bridge academe and practice and communicate with a wide audience.
Robert Swieringa (2018) observes that, where critics in the 1950s called for accounting and
business programs to be more inward-looking in order to focus on academic quality, critics today are
calling for these programs to be more outward-looking to engage with practice and focus on impact.
Accounting and business programs have a dual mission – to educate students and to create


Electronic copy available at:

knowledge. They cannot afford to focus solely on one or the other, but instead must concentrate on
both, and especially the connections between the two. In particular, universities should emphasize
external engagement and practice to enrich the impact of research, teaching, and service.
Sudipta Basu (2012: 865) has gone even further: “Instead of letting financial economics and
psychology researchers and accounting standard-setters choose our research methods and
questions, we should return our focus to addressing fundamental issues in accounting,” a view with
which I concur.

Countering the Narrowness of Acceptable Empirical Methods

As observed above, hypothesis-testing cum regression analysis, as well as mathematical modeling, have,
for years, been the predominant accounting research methodologies taught in most US doctoral
programs, and a number of the exponents of empirical/archival research have been heard to be
dismissive of other modes of research. In contrast, note that Bloomfield, Nelson, and Soltes (2016: 341),
in a paper presented at the 50th anniversary JAR conference in May 2016, entitled “Gathering Data for
Archival, Field, Survey, and Experimental Accounting Research,” introduced “a framework to help
researchers understand the contemporary value of seven empirical methods that gather data in
different ways: prestructured interviews, unstructured (‘hand-collected’) archives, field studies, field
experiments, surveys, laboratory studies, and laboratory experiments.” Students in PhD programs
should be exposed to these and other empirical approaches, including historical research. Of
consequence is the fact that Robert Bloomfield, one of the authors of the referenced article, is currently
a co-senior editor of the Journal of Financial Reporting, as noted above, and one supposes that he is
encouraging the submission of papers reflecting these empirical approaches.
Philip Brown (2013: 859) has speculated, “[h]ave Ball and Brown (1968) – and Beaver (1968) for
that matter, if I can bring Bill Beaver into it – have we had too much influence on the research agenda to
the point where other questions and methods are being overlooked?”
It should not be necessary for a historical researcher, when submitting a paper to a generalist
accounting research journal, to be asked by the editor, as I have, to explain to readers what historical
research is all about.


It was mentioned above that Intermediate Accounting textbooks were, prior to the 1970s, “change
agents,” such that they regularly criticized accounting standards and practice, and recommended


Electronic copy available at:

improvements in financial reporting. This is decidedly not the case today. Financial accounting textbooks
– from Principles through to Intermediate and Advanced – have become bland, wholly descriptive, and
much more ponderous and detailed since the 1960s. US Intermediate and Advanced Accounting
textbooks are wholly devoid of criticism of standards and practice, and they do not propose
improvements in financial reporting. “Our textbooks,” Demski (2007: 156) writes, “are intellectually
embarrassing.” Perhaps the textbook authors believe that their views do not carry any weight, but
anyone who is an author of an Intermediate or Advanced textbook is ipso facto an expert on GAAP, and
has an opinion worth hearing. Accounting textbook authors – and accounting instructors – have an
obligation, in my view, to instill in students a critical and enquiring faculty, and this is not done when the
textbook, and the course, deaden their inquisitive nerve by being an exercise in memorizing accepted
practice. If accounting instruction does not excite student interest in questioning the status quo, where
will the profession’s future intellectual leaders come from?
In Canada, the situation is marginally better. One of the three Intermediate Accounting
textbooks, which is an adaptation to Canada of a leading American Intermediate book, does a better job
than the American book of raising students’ curiosity level to respond to open-ended questions. Yet
when the Canadian textbooks compare IFRS with ASPEs (Accounting Standards for Private Enterprises),
and there is a salient difference between the two, none of the textbooks challenge the student to think
about why there is such a difference and whether it is justified by one method being for public
companies and the other being for private companies. For example, when ASPEs call for an
undiscounted cash flow test prior to recording impairments on limited-life intangibles, and IFRS has no
such test, can these two different practices be explained and reconciled?24 US textbooks usually
compare US GAAP with IFRS. When there are shown to be salient differences between the two, no
textbook of which I am aware raises the question with readers about why these differences exist and
whether they can be reconciled.
One reason, I think, why textbook authors seem loath to give their views on the soundness of
accounting standards and practices is because normative argument has come into disrepute in the
accounting literature. Many academics have come to believe, it seems, that the only defensible opinions
must be those based on the findings of empirical research. Yet, from the 1990s to 2012, the AAA’s
Financial Accounting Standards Committee (FASC), composed almost entirely of academics, wrote many
reports that were published in Accounting Horizons in which they gave their normative views to the

For possible explanations of the differences between IFRS and ASPEs, see Thornton (2015).


Electronic copy available at:

FASB and other standard-setting or regulatory bodies on exposure drafts usually without basing them on
empirical research findings. Evidently, academics are prepared to give their normative views when called
upon to do so. To be sure, many other FASC reports published during this period discussed and
explained the findings of empirical research studies of relevance to exposure drafts.
Financial accounting has a distinct advantage over other fields of business – namely, its work
product is often in the public domain, as financial statements and related materials are readily available.
Actual corporate financial statements can be used for classroom discussion and examinations. We need
to exploit that comparative advantage.
It is also important in our financial accounting textbooks and courses to bring out the economic,
behavioral, and strategic rationales behind accounting choice, thus infusing the classroom with insights
into the critical role played in financial reporting by managerial motivations.


Three broad recommendations seem particularly apt.
First, we as academics need to broaden our concept of “acceptable” modes of research in the
best journals, because our discipline requires a multiplicity of research methods to address the entire
range of interesting accounting questions.
Second, we need to reconsider protocols in accounting to place emphasis, first, on identifying
interesting research questions, second, what are the appropriate research methods to address the
questions, and third, where the data can be found to conduct the research.
Third, in our textbooks and courses, we need to stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity, and to
encourage them to adopt a critical and enquiring approach to the subject, as well as to enable them to
gain insight into managerial motivations behind accounting choice.


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