K-State professors issue call to mandate new curriculum for accounting degree programs

06/09/05

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- "It is very rare -- probably unheard of -- for a national call for better business ethics education and one for better accounting ethics education to come out of the same university's college of business and be covered at refereed academic conference and included in refereed journals," according to Diane Swanson of Kansas State University's College of Business Administration.

"It's really just coincidental that Dann Fisher and I are in the same college of business, have the same interest in ethics and are both willing to buck the status quo. It amounts to a very clear message coming out of K-State by individual faculty initiative."

Swanson, a K-State associate professor of management and von Waaden business administration professor, spearheaded a campaign to emphasize the importance of ethics in business education in an effort to prevent corporate ethics scandals like those at Enron and Arthur Andersen from recurring in the future. That endeavor has earned the endorsement of more than 200 professors, ethicists, business professionals, two conference boards and resulted in national and international media coverage.

Now she has teamed with Dann Fisher, a K-State associate professor of accounting and the Deloitte and Touche Faculty Fellow, in response to proposed new rules by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Fisher and Swanson have issued a national call in support of the rule, which would effectively mandate a new curriculum for accounting degree programs.

According to Fisher, the proposal would require three hours of accounting ethics coursework and three hours of business ethics coursework as a condition of sitting for the certified public accountant exam. The proposed rule does not have an impact on renewal of licenses which occurs after the exam is passed and after an experience requirement is met. The experience requirement is determined by each state board of accountancy and governs the right to practice in that state. Along with that, each state board requires a certain amount of continuing education as a condition of license renewal.

The Fisher-Swanson call in support of the proposed national rule for accounting ethics coursework was published in May in the American Accounting Association Teaching and Curriculum Section Newsletter. The pair will also elaborate on this call when they present a paper at the American Accounting Association Ethics Research Symposium in San Francisco in August.

"We've suggested specific changes in accounting curriculum to help avoid the lapses in moral judgment that we've witnessed with Arthur Andersen and company," Swanson said. "Amazingly, there is resistance to the idea of having a required ethics course in the accounting curriculum. It is so good to have a partner in Dann Fisher who sees the need for ethics coursework in accounting so clearly."

Fisher, who has published several articles dealing with ethics issues in accounting and tax compliance, has some credibility in this area. In a forthcoming article in Research on Professional Responsibilities and Ethics in Accounting, which examines the publishing productivity of accounting faculty in the ethics area for the period 1968-2002, he is ranked 13th.

While the new Fisher-Swanson public call for better accounting ethics education is somewhat of an extension of Swanson's campaign for better business ethics education, it is also distinct from the earlier campaign as accounting curriculum is distinct from other curricula in business schools.

Swanson and Fisher are on the forefront of research on new state requirements for continuing education in accounting. Their research has found that approximately 34 of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and United States territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and Virgin Islands, now require ethics coursework in continuing education, although many university accounting degree programs do not.

"The accounting profession, especially the large firms, see a need and have expressed support for ethics courses as part of the accounting curriculum," Fisher said. "The resistance expressed by the academic community is what I find disconcerting. In general, accounting faculty appear to be unwilling to change and, at the same time, bitter that an external body would attempt to force them to change curriculum. Regardless of the reasons, the status quo is unacceptable.

"Recent scandals suggest that too many accounting graduates are ill equipped to recognize ethical dilemmas, much less prevent and resolve them. As educators, we should find this alarming."

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