The purpose of this essay is to provide some reflections about my 40-year career as an accounting educator. My focus will include the inspiration for my pursuit of an academic career; the changes that I have observed in curriculum, technology, students, and ethical behavior during those 40 years; and my most notable sources of career satisfaction and frustration during that time.

I developed an interest in pursuing a career as an accounting educator during my junior year as an undergraduate accounting major at the University of New Orleans. I had several outstanding, student-focused professors there, and it was apparent to me that they derived great satisfaction from making a difference in their students’ lives. When these faculty learned I was considering accounting education as a career path, they went out of their way to mentor and encourage me. I will always be grateful for the interest they showed in my professional development.

After a brief stint in public accounting, I entered graduate school at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, where I earned my master of accountancy and doctor of business administration degrees. My doctoral study introduced me to academic accounting research and the role that research played in the career of a professor. As for learning how to teach, right before the start of my first quarter of graduate school at the age of 21, I was given an introductory accounting textbook and a solutions manual on a Friday afternoon. I then was told that starting that next Tuesday morning, I would be teaching two sections of introductory accounting! My first quarter of teaching did not go well: A number of my students complained to the associate dean and strongly suggested that I be removed from the classroom. After getting skewered on my student evaluations that term and discussing the issues with the department head, I realized that I needed to transition my style of classroom management from confrontational to supportive and encouraging. I worked diligently at improving my teaching methods; within a year, the same associate dean told the department head that a large number of students were now raving about the high quality of my teaching! The moral of this story is that hard work and perseverance go a long way in achieving success.

Over the past 40 years, I participated in various curriculum changes that had both benefits and downsides. For instance, I was required to teach introductory accounting for about 10 years without using debits and credits, but rather focusing on financial statement effects. While students who did not plan to major in accounting found this user-based approach less dry than the traditional preparer-based approach, those students who were accounting majors tended to struggle to get up to speed with double-entry bookkeeping and the steps of the accounting cycle during the first few weeks of intermediate accounting. A large number of accounting programs have now adopted a hybrid pedagogy in the introductory courses that reduces the emphasis on debits and credits, but does not eliminate them.

A more general challenge has been keeping the curriculum relevant so that graduates are workplace ready. Determining the proper balance of concepts and procedures is a perpetual challenge, as both the “why” and the “how” are important to students’ professional development. Furthermore, the current proliferation of financial accounting standards dictate that the choice of topics covered be selective and support learning how to apply the standards rather than memorize them.

Nothing has changed more dramatically in teaching accounting than technology. I began my teaching career writing notes and working problems on black and green chalk boards. A few colleagues and students used to tease me when they would see my clothes covered with chalk dust. I then moved to using dry-erase boards, but from time to time, the ink smell from the dry-erase markers would stir up my allergies. For the past 10 years, I have placed my lecture notes and homework problem solutions on the online learning management system for students’ access on a 24/7 basis, which fortunately frees up more in-class time for active learning strategies such as case study discussions.

How have students changed during the past 40 years? Many of my colleagues and I have complained in phone and social media discussions about how substantial numbers of the current generation of students are lacking in work ethic and have more of a sense of entitlement than we saw with earlier generations. They also seem to have shorter attention spans, which might arise from extreme dependence on cellphones and other technological media. On the other hand, the current generation seems to be more concerned about the societal implications and impacts of their decisions and are more focused on “giving back” than prior generations.

I sincerely believe that technological advances have had an adverse effect on students’ ethical compasses. For example, the test banks for just about all accounting textbooks are readily available through a Google search, which renders their use as a test material source problematic. In addition, the prevalence of online courses, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, has spawned additional cheating opportunities on online exams that are not proctored.

A Lifelong Passion

The satisfactions of my career have far exceeded the frustrations. Certainly, I wish that curriculum and other programmatic changes could be effected more expeditiously, that more colleagues viewed the teaching component of the professorial workload and working with students as the most important aspect of their jobs rather than a necessary evil in order to be able to conduct their research; and that the current generation of students worked harder and behaved in a less entitled manner. On the other hand, it is so incredibly gratifying to me to have touched thousands of students’ lives over the past 40 years and watched so many of them succeed at the highest levels, making the world a better place in the process. My sincere advice to the next generation is to make every effort to recruit the best and brightest to the accounting profession and to make your passion for teaching accounting a career-long commitment.

Michael T. Dugan, DBA is the Peter S. Knox III Distinguished Chair of Accounting in the Hull College of Business at Augusta University, Augusta, Ga.