Robin W. Roberts, Accounting Exemplar

Editorial Note: We are delighted to publish this interview of Professor Robin W. Roberts, our Accounting Exemplar. As always, when you read his comments, we ask that you keep in mind that the opinions expressed therein are those of Professor Roberts. They do not represent the position of the AAA or of any other party.

On Sunday, August 5th, Professor Robin W. Roberts of the University of Central Florida received the 2018 Accounting Exemplar Award during the Accounting Exemplar Luncheon held during the American Accounting Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

The Public Interest Section’s Accounting Exemplar Award is given to an educator or a practitioner who has made notable contributions to the professional and ethical health of the accounting profession. The Exemplar represents a role model who has contributed to our profession in a manner that serves the public interest. Previous winners of this prestigious award have included Abe Briloff, Stuart Chase, Cynthia Cooper, Ralph Estes, Harold Langenderfer, Arthur Levitt, Eli Mason, Tony Menendez, Albert Meyer, Carl Devine, Tony Puxty, Bob Sack, Prem Sikka, and Art Wyatt.

Dr. Robin W. Roberts serves as the Al and Nancy Burnett Eminent Scholar Chair in Accounting and Pegasus Professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF). His research interests focus on accounting and business ethics, regulation, and social responsibility. Dr. Roberts serves on the Executive Council of the Center for Social and Environmental Accounting Research, which is housed at the University of St. Andrews, and is past editor of Accounting and the Public Interest. He has been instrumental in the development of the AAA Public Interest Section Emerging Scholars Colloquium and in promoting public interest scholarship in accounting.

We are delighted to publish this interview with Robin.

When you learned you were receiving the Accounting Exemplar Award, how did you react?

Pat Kelly emailed me and asked if we could talk by phone. I said of course, thinking, however, that I was about to commit to doing Pat a favor. I was so pleasantly surprised when Pat told me I was receiving the award. After finishing my talk with Pat, I called my spouse Sherron. During my call with her I got surprisingly emotional (and continue to be). The Public Interest Section has provided such a supportive and nurturing environment throughout my career. Receiving this honor is a very personal, significant career achievement for me.

I want to thank the Accounting Exemplar Award Selection Committee and my colleagues who conspired behind my back to nominate me, particularly Lisa Baudot, Charles Cho, Joseph Johnson, Pamela Roush, and Dana Wallace. And I have to give tremendous credit to my favorite colleague and life partner, Sherron. Sherron is an education professor and has been my personal teaching coach, professional advisor, and my editor for over 35 years. My career successes are due in large part to her counsel and encouragement.

How did you become interested in public interest accounting scholarship?

Like most public interest accounting scholars, my interest grew as I became more familiar with the AAA Public Interest Section and with public interest research. My original research interests were in governmental accounting and auditing, spurred in part by Dr. Michael Granof assigning our undergraduate class to read Aaron Wildavsky’s book, The Politics of the Budgetary Process. It was the very first time I found accounting really interesting.

Over time this evolved into a stronger interest in political science and in studying the politics embedded in the profession and practice of accounting. Researching and teaching accounting ethics, professionalism, and the public interest rescued me from a much more mundane and less satisfying academic career and I am grateful.

Why do you think you were chosen to receive the Accounting Exemplar award?

First, I will repeat how honored and grateful I am to receive the award. I know there are many others who have devoted significant time and effort to advancing ethics, professionalism, and the public interest in accounting. So, for one thing, I was lucky.

I view the award as a career achievement award. I don’t have a defining life episode when I faced tremendous pressure to stand up against unethical practices. I so admire our award recipients who took such personal risk to blow the whistle. Although I have published public interest accounting research, I think the award primarily reflects my interests and efforts in developing new public interest accounting scholars.

I served for 10 years as Director of the University of Central Florida’s Accounting PhD Program. Our program valued and supported doctoral students interested in public interest research. Also, I helped start the PIS Emerging Scholars Colloquium that is held in conjunction with our section’s mid-year meeting. The success of these two endeavors means the world to me.

What advice would you give to emerging public interest accounting scholars?

I believe that choosing to focus on ethics and public interest accounting research and teaching is a vocational calling. Dedicated ethics and public interest scholars are passionate, caring, and intellectually interesting people. We are the moral conscience of the accounting discipline and the accounting profession. Ethics, professionalism, and the public interest should be key aspects of our collective work as an accounting academy—in our teaching, in our research, and in our service to practice—and it is not. So, work to help these topics find their rightful place.

I will offer three pieces of advice. First, research without regret. Let your curiosity and passion drive your research program. If I had continued to study aspects of accounting that don’t resonate with me as a person, I would have failed miserably. Stand proud as an accounting researcher who cares about solving social problems such as discrimination, income inequality, access to health care, and environmental degradation.

Second, be bold in pushing the ethical envelope in your classes. Accounting is much more than a technical practice. It is a social practice that affects the lives of employees, customers, suppliers, citizens, and all living things. Bring the ethical aspects of decision-making and reporting into all of your classes. I have found students very receptive. Collectively, we can make difference, and it starts with you.

Third, become involved in the AAA Public Interest Section or another group of like-minded scholars. It is very difficult to go it alone as a public interest accounting scholar. If you become involved, you will find encouragement, support, and potential collaborators. Reach out if I can do anything to help!