The Ohio State Institute on Accounting Conferences
Editor's Note: The following paragraphs are taken from the Preface to Ohio State Institute on Accounting Conferences: Collected Papers, 1938-1963 edited by Thomas J. Burns and Edward N. Coffman (New York: Arno Press, 1980). The volume reprints 16 papers presented at Ohio State Institute meetings by authors elected to the Accounting Hall of Fame: T. Coleman Andrews, Andrew Barr, Samuel J. Broad, Marquis G. Eaton, Arthur B. Foye, Paul Grady, Roy B. Kester, Eric L. Kohler, Perry Mason, R. K. Mautz, William A. Paton, John W. Queenan, Maurice H. Stans, Victor H. Stempf, Robert M. Trueblood and William W. Werntz.
Over four decades ago, on a university campus, an annual meeting of accountants was held which quickly achieved national distinction. To it, the leaders of the profession regularly came and participated, both the elected ones who were the presidents of the accounting organizations and the other leaders of practice and thought, such as the national managing partners of the Big Eight firms and many leading academicians notably those at a number of Big Ten universities. Each May, they gathered at The Ohio State University for an annual conclave of several days at which commissioned papers on leading accounting issues were thoroughly discussed at both formal and informal sessions.
In that era, the accounting world was a simpler and smaller one than today. These conferences help explain why the current "Gap" problem between the profession and academe did not exist in that period. Note that when the Accounting Establishment met at the Seaview symposia in the last decade, they did not meet at a university nor were professors much a part of the proceedings. When both the accounting organizations and the professional firms were younger, smaller, and simpler, a single university could provide the forum for such interaction. Back then, neither the organizations nor the firms had developed much in the way of competing meetings. This was a time before the AICPA, NAA, FEI, AAA and the other accounting organizations had developed their giant annual conventions attended by thousands for the better part of a week. This was a time too before the organizations and the firms had developed myriad numbers of courses and conferences on practically every accounting subject. In those years, too, the CAP, as the predecessor of the APB and the FASB, and the SEC did not hold public hearings and accounting issues did not make headlines.
But it was a time uniquely suited for The Ohio State University's annual Institute on Accounting which flourished for twenty six years from 1938 through 1963 (except for the year 1945 when no conference was held). The location of the University for these meetings was a favorable one; it is located in the center of the large state that was equally the most eastern of the midwest states and the most western of the eastern states. But it had been recognized as a strategic location for a national meeting before: after all, the American Accounting Association was founded there in 1916.
But it took more than an appropriate era and a strategic location to assure the success of the meetings. "How hard we worked for the first meeting," reminisced Ohio State's Emeritus Dean James R. McCoy, "and all the later ones." Planning for these meetings was a year long activity with the faculty holding a meeting two weeks after each Institute to start planning for the next one. Among the Ohio State senior faculty who played key roles in the developing of the Institute meetings were George W. Eckleberry, Joseph B. Heckert (later president of the National Association of Accountants), Jacob Taylor, Russell Wilcox, and most of all Hermann C. Miller (who later became president of the American Accounting Association). But junior faculty such as McCoy (who was elected president of the Ohio Society of CPAs) and others such as Clayton R. Grimstad (now of the University of Denver), Harry C. Lyle (now of Miami University), and many others played their parts too. Even the students played a role. The Beta Alpha Psi members with carnations on their coats were the ushers, and were excused from all accounting classes for the several days of the conference, Ray E. Groves, Chairman, Ernst & Whinney International, recollected two decades later. "The meetings had the twofold objective," McCoy stated, "of encouraging professional accountants to take a broader view of accounting and of supporting the view that progress in the profession was to be accomplished through research." In essence, the Institute was organized by the Ohio State accounting faculty to develop the profession with the assistance of academicians.
Miller was the driving force behind the meetings, and as chairman of the accounting faculty, he worked on a year around basis on the meetings. He saw to it that every president of an accounting organization would be in attendance and probably give a paper and also that every national managing partner of a public accounting firm would attend. Given Miller's bias, the programs had a distinctly financial accounting and auditing bias but cost, managerial, and tax accounting topics were regularly presented. Joe Heckert and other faculty saw to that. But Miller was so much the dominant organizer of the meetings that when he died suddenly in 1955, the momentum of the meetings was jolted never to recover completely even though the meetings continued for nearly another decade. The meetings had been started with the co-sponsorship of the Ohio Society of CPAs. The Society had difficulty in organizing effective programs at their two statewide meetings; they agreed to hold the spring one at The Ohio State University and let the accounting faculty organize this meeting and plan the program. The other accounting organizations in the state joined in.
Considering the time, the meetings were large ones. In their heyday, attendance at the sessions and the banquet exceeded 500; only at the last few did attendance dip to just over 300. By way of comparison, note that attendance at the 1979 American Accounting Association convention banquet was in excess of 700. Although the formal sessions were well attended, particularly through the middle fifties, there were always informal sessions and the social aspects of the meetings were important. Many acquaintanceships were started, particularly between the faculty and the practitioners, which developed into lifetime friendships. For many years, there was competition between the Columbus based professionals and Ohio State faculty in hosting concurrent parties following the banquet and the sessions. These parties were referred to as "Hootie Owl" sessions and often lasted well into the morning hours. The local practitioners felt that Ohio State had an unfair advantage in serving more expensive liquor; Jake Taylor of Ohio State was also the state's liquor commissioner and, as such, he received liquor samples.
The liquor Taylor provided for the Ohio State "Hootie Owl" sessions was, of course, free. This was in keeping with the small costs incurred by the department in financing the meetings. Those attending paid a registration fee for the meeting; it was used to cover the cost of meals served including the banquet and publishing the proceedings, which was widely distributed fee of charge. Those attending paid their own hotel bills. No honorariums or expenses were paid those participating in presenting papers.
A by-product of the Institute meetings is the Ohio Region of the American Accounting Association. Following Miller's death and with the increase in competing professional meetings, the Ohio State faculty decided that their second objective in starting the Institute, promoting research, could be encouraged by an annual meeting with their fellow accounting professors from the many other rapidly evolving Ohio institutions. An annual meeting of accounting professors from Ohio and surrounding states was held each spring at The Ohio State University. Out of these annual meetings (held on the Columbus campus for many years and even now held in Columbus every other year) was developed the Ohio Region of the American Accounting Association.
Another interesting product of the Institute meetings was the Accounting Hall of Fame started in 1950. Each year, at the banquet, those elected to the Hall by the Board of Nominations were installed. Still a unique honor for accountants, the Hall has survived the demise of the Institute; annual elections to the Hall are made by a Board of Nominations whose 45 members come from the United States as well as several other countries. Through 1979, 39 accountants have been elected to the Hall.