Uncategorized | Bottom Line Ethics - Part 2

I have been thinking lately about how to better use my time. The truth is, I am always thinking about that rather than actually doing it. But I have been trying to give serious thought to the things I should say no to, and the things I should embrace and do with all my heart. Part of my preoccupation with this derives from my having read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, and part from trying to figure out what really matters in life.

Most of my values are reasonably well formed, though I may not live up to them consistently. I don’t struggle so much with what is important or valuable, but with what is priority, what comes first. I often fail in my priority because I give a little bit of attention to a lot of issues, and my job is such that I can do that and feel, in the moment, that I am making a contribution. But I am lying to myself.now later

One of the hardest decisions for me is whether to accept speaking engagements. Who doesn’t want to hear himself speak, or want to be asked? But the truth is that the things I talk about are things that any number of people are perfectly capable of addressing and, in most cases, more eloquently. What I need to decide is which situations warrant the investment of preparing for that speech.

I think the answer for where I should focus my efforts is where I am less replaceable. At some level, accounting professors are all replaceable. If you are looking for an accounting professor, there are any number of people who fit the bill. People might like certain characteristics of one more than the other, but there are a lot of people who can fill the role. I am less replaceable in certain teaching contexts than others, so it makes sense that those warrant more of my attention.

But many times we are disappointed to find out that we are replaceable. I used to teach at a small liberal arts school, and in my last year there, I was named professor of the year. Since I was still relatively early in my career, I was under the impression that my leaving the college would have a significant impact on the students and the accounting program. I went back the next May to attend the graduation of those juniors whom I had taught. And though I was welcome, and they greeted me warmly, it was clear that life had moved on just fine without me.

Our replaceability in most contexts may seem depressing, but it is actually quite freeing if you are the type of person who has difficulty saying no. I control my choice to make the highest contribution I can to others’ lives, to my family, to my workplace, and to my continued growth and development. Greg McKeown makes the point in Essentialism that if we do not choose for ourselves, someone will choose for us.

With national signing day for football this week, numerous high school students will be given the impression, through conversations with coaches and reading about themselves on message boards, that they are irreplaceable. That may be true for a few, but only for a limited period of time. And believing that it is true can lead to all kinds of dysfunctional behavior.

Replaceability has the potential to produce the kind of humility that frees us to maximize our contribution while living a priority-driven life. Ironically, failure and burnout can accomplish the same thing, as I have learned on more than one occasion.

But my hope, in this stage of my career, is to let this realization that there is a finite end to my productivity light a fire in me to maximize my contribution today. I can prepare students for my profession and encourage them to adopt the values that will sustain it. I can engage in one-on-one conversations aimed at helping them do that, and in helping them understand their own values. I can invest in the one woman I will ever love and, to the extent I am given entry into their lives, in my children and grandchildren. And I can continue my research in the two or three areas where I make my maximum contribution.

And I can write.

But I will only do these things if I am humble enough to know that I am not necessary for everything and that it is okay to say no to things that others can readily do. My goal for this year is to make real progress in that endeavor.

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She is up befoMeredith Oliverre dark for a two-hour workout, and she knows that a workout at least as long waits for her in the afternoon. And yet, for the last 15 weeks, Meredith Oliver has faithfully attended and engaged in my Auditing class while her body recovered from one workout and braced itself for the next. She never asked for special treatment or made excuses. Perhaps some days were more of a grind than others in the classroom. But if grinding is what is necessary, Meredith Oliver is ready to do it, because she is not just an accounting student. She is also a swimmer.

Twitter started blowing up yesterday with speculation about a second quarterback leaving our football program at Texas A&M, leading to the inevitable statements of despair, loathing, and frothing at the mouth over coaches, game plans, and loyalty. Meanwhile, I was sitting quietly in my office discussing upcoming internships with two scholarship athletes who have distinguished themselves in their time here, and who have excelled in my classroom at Mays Business School this fall.

One of those, Conner McQueen, is a quarterback as well. He is also the holder for placekicker Taylor BertolConner McQueenet, who was recently named second team All-SEC, and I am confident that Bertolet knows that his success is in no small part due to the consistency of his holder’s performance. But you are not going to hear that out of Conner McQueen. He is self-deprecating in the best sense of the word. The grandson of one of the greatest Texas high school football coaches, he is more concerned about being prepared to succeed in his accounting firm than he is with winning awards. You can tell by watching him on the field how much he loves his teammates, the experience of playing college football, and wearing maroon and white. He was recently named to the SEC Football Community Service team and was nominated this fall for college football’s Wuerffel Trophy for community service.

The other student-athlete sitting in my office was volleyball player Shelby Sullivan, captain of this year’s SEC champions. Watching her on the court with her animated support of teammates is inspiring. I sat at a match where a Shelby Sullivanteammate was removed unexpectedly, much to her chagrin, and her disappointment led to an animated, whispered conversation with another player while waiting to re-enter. I am not a volleyball aficionado, so I watched to see if that behavior was typical. In fact, I watched Shelby, because she was rotated out regularly, even though she was the team MVP last year and was an all-SEC player this year. She left each time with a smile and a high five for her replacement, already intent on how she was going to get those on the bench more excited in their support of the team. It is no surprise that in addition to being last year’s SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year, she was one of 10 national finalists for college volleyball’s Senior CLASS Award this year, given for excellence in community service, classroom performance, character and competition.

All three of these students are top-flight academically, even while they are running a second parallel life in the athletic arena at a big-time sports school. I have the privilege of preparing them for a role in the accounting profession, though any of the three could be successful in a variety of ventures, from coaching to entrepreneurship. Their paths to success are largely the result of incredible work ethics attached to their inherent giftedness, and the habits they have developed will almost certainly lead to significant achievements. All of them are also very grounded; none of them seems driven by the need for adulation or the attention of others.

I am a season ticket holder for A&M football games, and I have only witnessed one 10-win season in my 10 years here. I ask myself the same questions that every other fan does about where we are as a football program and where we are headed.

But I don’t ask that question about Texas A&M as a university, because I have an advantage that very few Aggies have. I get to spend my life investing in students who work long hours at jobs to support themselves, who serve extensively in our community, who lead organizations, who quietly enrich the lives of others without asking for anything in return. I get to talk to them about the auditing profession, and life, and where they come from, and their hopes and dreams.

As I finish another semester as a professor, I am reminded that it is a gift to be here, to be alive in this place, to teach. I have been given a sacred trust, the hearts and minds of young people anxious to learn, to be better, to build a life worth living. Students like Meredith, Conner and Shelby will leave this place and make their communities, their families, and their workplace different, and richer.

So, just in case you were worried about us here, please don’t. All is well in Aggieland.

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Mike ShermanMike Sherman left College Station four years ago after a 6-6 season. He was, the legend goes, standing in the driveway of Matt Davis’s house when he was notified of his firing, attempting to persuade the highly coveted quarterback to come to A&M. After the call, he is said to have encouraged Davis to come to A&M anyway, because Sherman was convinced he would be a big success here.

Yesterday I read an article about Sherman’s current football team. After leaving Aggieland, he became the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, famous mostly in that stint for drafting his own Aggie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, in the first round. When he was fired by the Dolphins, he decided to return to New England to be near family. After a career coaching at the highest levels in both the NFL and college football, he was not in need of money. But the athletic director at a local high school persuaded him this year to become their head coach for the princely sum of $6,000.

I knew he was coaching high school, but what I didn’t know is that his team has yet to win a football game. I can see how someone who had coached Brett Favre would be tempted to walk out mid-season, as Steve Spurrier did at South Carolina last month. But the article describes the same guy I wrote about four years ago when he left, a man whose investment is in people, not in his own personal branding or success. What Mike Sherman enjoys is watching those people succeed.

Ironically, I watched Matt Davis play last night, and he is enjoying some of that success that Mike Sherman predicted for him four years ago – only he is now the starting quarterback for SMU, and his performance put a scare into nationally ranked Temple. Davis initially enrolled at Texas A&M, but a logjam of quarterbacks and the emergence of Johnny Manziel led to his decision to transfer. It has been a difficult year for Chad Morris’s Mustangs, but Davis’s competitiveness and athletic ability have given SMU fans hope.

In the article I read, Sherman described the millennials this way: “They are multitaskers and can handle a lot of things at once. But they don’t handle adversity real well.” As I wrote four years ago, I watched Mike Sherman handle adversity here, culminating in a painful last-second loss to Texas in his final game as A&M’s coach. He handled it with class and dignity, and he walked through it optimistically to that last moment in Matt Davis’s driveway. Those Nauset Regional High School students, many of whom face very trying circumstances, could not ask for a better person to teach them that lesson. I think NBC Sports recognized that, because they have produced a reality show that has followed the team this fall. I am no fan of reality TV, but each minute I watched online today has spoken about the humility and impact of teachers, parents, and a coach who didn’t have to take on this assignment.

The changes that have happened here the last four years are astounding. There is a new perception of A&M since our entry into the SEC, and we have renovated a stadium and built facilities that are the envy of all who see them. Fan interest and monetary support are at an all-time high, and the result has been unprecedented success in recruiting. We are also a place where nine wins is no longer enough, and where challenging for SEC and national championships will be expected. If you are the quarterback and play badly for two or three games, social media will keep you fully informed of your worth.

I am writing this on Saturday afternoon before the Auburn game, and Twitter is abuzz because Johnny Manziel is home, and the former Heisman Trophy winner is likely to be at tonight’s game. But I hope, in the near future, we will welcome home someone who, though he may have had a .500 record in his four years here, solidified the integrity and stability of a program badly in need of it, and recruited a bunch of NFL players to boot.

I can guarantee you he is not spending any time worrying about whether we do or not. He is too busy doing what he was put on earth to do—coaching football and preparing young men to lead fruitful lives. But we have rarely had a public representative of this university who better embodied Texas A&M’s core values.

Let’s bring Mike Sherman home and tell him thanks.

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I have been involved in some interesting discussions since my last blog, “I Miss the Hiss.” I certainly did not expect the level of back and forth that arose from writing it, but I can appreciate both sides of the argument. I know the yell leaders have put forth their view in The Battalion. I thought it was worth one more blog to address some of the concerns of those who dismiss the view that “hissing is a good thing.”

I see the horse laugh as part of passing on culture more than anything, and this process needs to be intentional in most cases. Though I don’t wear an Aggie ring, I do have some experience at passing on culture. Linda and I have raised five kids together, beginning when Jimmy Carter was president, and our youngest is in college. We have spent the last 37 years passing on a particular culture. As a result, if you meet my children, you are likely to be addressed in certain ways and afforded a measure of respect, even before you have “earned it” in the relationship. Many of the criticisms of my position on the hiss remind me of criticisms I received of my parenting skills. (Of course, both may be well founded.)

12th Man #4

The first objection to the hiss is that it is hypocritical. You mean the same thing as a boo, so you are just being hypocritical to hiss, and it is actually more irritating than a boo is. This view makes some sense to me. But there are also a lot of ways to express anger in a marriage, and the way you do so says something about your character. My wife does not appreciate a snarky laugh when I disagree with her on something, but it is way preferable to shouting at her and calling her an idiot. I am trying to do better than a snarky laugh. But there are orders of magnitude to how we disagree that say a lot more about us as individuals than they do about the person on the other side of the relationship who is “wrong.” The hiss is not perfect self-control, but it has humor injected into the disagreement rather than pure anger.

The second objection is, “You’re wasting your time, Mike. You need to let go.” (This is usually accompanied by “smh.”) People said the same thing to us repeatedly when we were raising our kids, and I’m glad we decided not to listen to them. If you are going against the flow of culture, you do have to swim upstream to be unique. But that doesn’t mean the waters are not swimmable. And if that is true, how did the hiss last until 2015? Couldn’t you have made the same argument in 1985? Because it is going to end some day is not a strong argument that it ought to end today. “Some day” we’re all dead.

The third argument is that booing is my choice. You can’t tell me what to do. True. And I love that we are still a free country. Besides, I’m a professor. I’m used to people not listening to my suggestions.

Fourth, the team prefers the boo to the hiss. I saw one player’s Twitter post to that effect. I think that is one of the most legitimate arguments against my position. But if my kids were mistreated by classmates or a teacher, I didn’t go yell at that person, even though I might have felt that was the most effective thing I could have done. With teachers in particular, I generally gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were trying to get it right. I would express my disagreement whenever necessary. But my goal was to do it with respect. Were my kids happy? Not always. Did they feel supported? You would probably have to ask them. But I am confident that my yelling would not have made them more successful.

Finally, booing helps the team get calls later in the game. Officials can be intimidated. Again, that may be correct. It’s an empirical question, and I’ve never seen anything more than anecdotal evidence regarding officials’ behavior after a controversial call against the home team. So why not boo loudly after every innocuous encroachment or offside penalty (which they do in some stadiums)? Is that the culture we want?

I actually think the self-control demonstrated by the horse laugh helps restrain us from being that kind of culture. In all the discussions since my earlier blog post, I have not heard anyone argue, “I wish we were more like Tech fans.” (Of course, I admit that I did not view all of the memes of my position on fan sites.)

What is truly unique about our culture in Kyle Field is honor and respect. It is what bonds the Class of ’56 with the Class of ’86 and the Class of ’16. All throughout the game, we honor people – and we stand. We stand for an invocation, for the national anthem, for “Texas, Our Texas.” We stand for Bugle Call out of respect for someone who has had a significant life. And, if you are a student, you always stand as the 12th Man. The way we treat the other team, including inflammatory players and coaches, the way we treat their fans, and the way we treat the officials is simply an overflow of our love and respect for one another.

Linda and I don’t become different people when someone comes into our home, just because they don’t share our view of life. This is true even if they mock us for being Aggies or loving A&M. Without changing who we are, they get the benefit, while they are in our home, of the love that flows within our family. That includes respect and restraint on my part, even when they are disagreeable, or downright irritating.

Kyle Field is our home, and I will be rooting hard at every home game for the Aggies to clearly establish their position in the SEC West. I really want us to win. But, on Sunday morning, visiting fans will go home to their home state and I will wake up in Aggieland. Here’s hoping that the place I wake up in is always unique, a group of people who love one another and are unafraid to live by our core values.

Because those values are what brought me to A&M. What has happened to me as a result is what I hope will happen to many of our visitors. In fact, we sing it at every game: “Then they will come and join the best.” It will happen, not because we are the same, but because we do things differently.

Don’t dismiss the hiss.

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One of the funniest traditions I encountered when I came to Texas A&M was the tradition of the “horse laugh.” As an alternative to booing, especially the officials at a sporting event, Aggies have traditionally yelled, “Riffety, Riffety, Riff-Raff! Chiffity, Chiffity, Chiff-Chaff! Riff-Raff! Chiff-Chaff! Let’s give ’em the horse laugh!” followed by hissing from the crowd. It actually makes me laugh and takes the edge off a bad call by the officials.

During the second quarter of Saturday night’s game, A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was ejected for targeting after a crushing block on an unsuspecting Mississippi State defensive back. It was, to say the least, a controversial call, and the 12th Man was incensed. Boos rained down on the field as the penalty was assessed and Seals-Jones was ejected.

Kyle Field is viewed during an NCAA college football game between Ball State and Texas A&M, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 56-23. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Kyle Field is viewed during an NCAA college football game between Ball State and Texas A&M, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in College Station. Texas A&M won 56-23. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

We had a string of disappointing losses in Mike Sherman’s last year, but the crowd never devolved into what I saw Saturday night, including after the phantom penalty on the last drive of the final Texas game. But the same chorus of boos happened after a controversial call in the LSU game last year, and I remember feeling regret over it. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel that way, since the same thing would happen in virtually any stadium in America, pro or college. Still, one of the things I admired about A&M even before I got here was the ability to express disagreement and anger, even disdain, in creative ways. The War Hymn makes clear how Aggies feel about Texas every time it is sung, but the locked legs sawing Varsity’s horns off are as much about school unity as they are about vanquishing a foe.

Saturday night you could hear a little hissing in the crowd, but it was overwhelmed by the boos and the invective, at least in my section of the stadium. Certainly it was a reaction in the moment by a large subset of the 104,000 in attendance, and I am not recommending an unemotional response. And I am probably not the right person to point it out, since this is only my 10th year as a season ticket holder. But it feels to me like we are losing something around here that is important.

This year we have put up a statue of our core values on the west side of the stadium, the same core values that are over the entries to the MSC across the street. Saturday night I saw five of the six celebrated throughout the game, and most of them demonstrated in significant ways: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty and Selfless Service. We paused numerous times during the game to recognize those who demonstrate these qualities—former players, generous donors, Bugle Call, outstanding alumni. The Big Event was celebrated as a national example of student service.

And, to be honest, there were many demonstrations of respect including, I think, the way Mississippi State fans were treated. But Kyle Field Saturday night was not the Kyle Field I have known and respected both as an outsider and as a part of the faculty. And I know that part of that is loyalty—to the team and to Seals-Jones—and part is a perceived lack of integrity in people’s minds from the officials. Part of it is also the desire to create the kind of intimidating atmosphere we encounter at Alabama or LSU, stadiums that are the proving ground for excellence. There is a lot at stake—money and image and recruits, and all the ancillary benefits those things bring to the university.

But in the midst of becoming the mega-university we are quickly becoming, I hope the yell leaders will provide direction to all of us admission-paying adults, and to the student body, on how to be an Aggie when things are the worst for us. It won’t be long before the next “worst call I have ever seen,” and it will be much more critical than the one Saturday night. How will we react then?

I am not foolish enough to believe that my words will move the needle on something like this. But I have a sense that this is one part of Aggie culture that can be quickly lost and, once it is lost, difficult to ever retrieve. And though I don’t wear the ring, I love this place, and all that it stands for.

I miss the hiss.

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VWI was watching TV when a Volkswagen commercial came on. I found myself thinking, “Why on earth would I go in and test drive one of those?” You probably think this is irrational, because they are quality cars. But who trusts Volkswagen after this past week?

Volkswagen has admitted to installing software rigged to defeat emissions testing, apparently in 11 million vehicles. The software to blame for the scandal was intentionally designed. Unlike most automotive industry scandals, this was not a design flaw. In past controversies, whether it be Ford Pinto gas tanks or GM ignition switches or Toyota gas pedals, the car makers did not deliberately design systems intended to cause harm to customers. What has always been in question is what the companies did once they found out that they had a problem. And though the clarity of who is to blame has varied across cases, people have recoiled at evidence that car makers knew there was a problem, but decided not to act, because of a calculation that it would be less expensive to do nothing and to address lawsuits that might arise than it would be to recall cars or replace parts.

Volkswagen’s dishonesty may not directly threaten lives in the short run, but the software was intentionally designed to mislead not just the regulators, but the public. Volkswagen has built a very successful advertising campaign around clean diesel vehicles that will get over 800 miles per tank of gas. What they did not reveal is that the truth is that you can have EITHER a clean diesel vehicle OR get over 800 miles per tank of gas. Playing on their deep knowledge of the regulatory environments in Europe and the United States, they rightly calculated that their deception would not be detected. In fact, it was only because private testers were able to evaluate several vehicles that the issue was discovered at all. The intent of the American testers was to find clean vehicles with results that would allow them to put pressure on European regulators to adopt tighter standards. The testers were reportedly the most surprised people of all at their results.

When regulators and those involved in the testing tried to confront Volkswagen about it, executives repeatedly denied that there were any issues and questioned the competence of the testers. The company’s persistence in resisting the questions of the testers, and their refusal to conduct their own investigation to support their claims, give the impression in hindsight that Volkswagen executives were being deliberately misleading. This is why CEO Martin Winterkorn’s expression of shock about the systematic dishonesty in the company rings hollow. It was only when the EPA threatened not to allow the company to sell Volkswagen and Audi diesel models in the U.S. that they admitted to the problem. The German transport minister says that 2.8 million vehicles sold in Germany are affected.

Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn

Acting VW Chairman Berthold Huber stated, “I want to be very clear, the manipulation of tests for diesel engines is a moral and political disaster.” That is exactly the right term, but it is more than that. It is an indictment of the very culture that has driven Volkswagen to become the number one automaker worldwide, having surpassed Toyota only a few months ago. According to a New York Times article, it wasn’t until September 3 that “a group of senior engineers” admitted the truth. The truth is that a large number of people within Volkswagen knew exactly what was going on; this was not some rogue employee. It was a result of the culture.

And this is almost always true in major corporate scandals. The fact that so many are involved gives each individual an excuse that “this is not me” doing this, but management, or the market pressure, or the strategy. It is why the second half of the Aggie Honor Code so often ignored by students—“or tolerate those who do”—is critical to living out ethics in the business world or in the public square. We actually have immense tolerance for those who do when they are close to us, part of the same company or the same institution with the same goals we have. But we ought not to.

The results of this tolerance are inevitable, and oft repeated, crash and burn events. Instead of catching things early, we only find out when the results are devastating. Instead of being able to adjust and let the air out of the balloon slowly, we get an explosion.

The results include Volkswagen taking a $7.3 billion charge to earnings in the third quarter, and EPA fines that could (but likely will not) reach $18 billion. There will be shareholder lawsuits after a two-day drop of 35 percent in the company’s share price, and plaintiffs’ lawyers are lining up for their share of class action suits from car owners.

And, inevitably, we get more regulation. This is sure to come after the Volkswagen affair. Of course, there are good by products of that regulation—in this case, perhaps, more truth-telling and cleaner air. But the entire market will bear the cost of that regulation; unjustly, that includes those who tell the truth and compete honestly and, ultimately, the consumer.

I may get emotional about this type of deception, but the market is perfectly rational in its response. That 35 percent share price drop is simply a shift in predictions about two things—significant decreases in future cash flows and more risk in the stock. What is unclear at this point is the long-term effect on diesel car sales, which represent about half of VW’s market in Europe, and on the costs and rigor of future testing.

But you can be confident of this: Volkswagen created a culture of dishonesty at the highest levels. We can argue about who knew what, when. But there is no transparency there. In fact, apparently the American arm of the company was kept in the dark about what was going on until right before the EPA announcement. This is what a high competence, low integrity environment looks like.

And if you trust Volkswagen, you do so at your own peril.

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Kyle FloodIt is the third week of Auditing class, and we have been discussing the seven threats to auditor independence from the client: familiarity, management participation, advocacy, self-review, adverse interest, financial self-interest and undue influence. Auditors, at all ranks, have to be particularly aware of being too familiar with or trusting a client too much. They also easily slip into participating in management to ensure their success if the client constantly asks for advice. At a firm level, auditors can undermine their independence by being advocates for or lobbying on behalf of their clients. There are relatively explicit rules regarding self-review, adverse interest (suing one another) and financial self-interest.

I explain to my students that professors, like auditors, also need to be independent of their students, even though the students are paying tuition. Like auditors, professors can fall prey to getting too familiar with their students, either in a deliberate compromising relationship or just by liking them. They may also try to ensure the success of students who ask their advice, and they often lobby for their students or provide recommendation letters to employers and grad schools.

But the threat that can be most damaging to both auditors and professors is the undue influence threat. Unlike familiarity, management participation, and advocacy, auditors and professors do not choose the undue influence threat. It is an outside hazard thrust upon them. It may be a gift, a threat or simply pressure applied to influence behavior. And the more important the person applying the pressure, the more effective it is. Resisting it usually requires a system designed to short-circuit the attempt, and a spine.

Which brings us to Rutgers University Head Football Coach Kyle Flood, who has apparently admitted to emailing and meeting with a professor in an attempt to get a better grade on a writing assignment for one of his players, Nadir Barnwell. Barnwell has since been arrested for aggravated assault, among other charges. According to the Rutgers investigative report, Flood communicated with the professor using a personal Gmail account “to ensure there will be no public vetting of the correspondence,” despite the professor’s earlier complaint to an academic advisor that Barnwell was “badgering me to change his grade.” The professor’s response to Flood’s email was responsive enough to trigger four more emails and a scheduled meeting at a site off campus.

The email exchange and planned meeting led to a call from Flood to an academic advisor on how a grade could be changed, and the advisor told Flood he could not have contact with the professor. The advisor claims that Flood said that their conversation was to stay between the two of them, and the advisor responded, “We never had this conversation…I want no part of this.” Flood claims that the advisor did not tell him he could not have contact with the professor. But Flood made sure not to wear Rutgers gear so that he would not be recognized when he went to the meeting. Quoting from the report, “The Professor conveyed to the investigator that she felt unable to resist the implied pressure from someone like Coach Flood and thus felt uncomfortable not agreeing to an additional assignment to allow the Student to become eligible.” This is the definition of the undue influence threat. The investigators concluded that “…it appears Coach Flood’s contact with the faculty member potentially violated the University Ethics Policy which generally prohibits a University faculty or staff member from using his position at the University to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others.” Rutgers president Robert Barchi suspended Kyle Flood for three games and fined him $50,000. Ironically, President Barchi said, “Our faculty must have complete independence in executing their duties . . . .”

But Kyle Flood should have been fired. What he did, he did deliberately. He did it repeatedly. And he did it even though he was warned not to do it. That is cause for firing. However, the clincher is that he intentionally tried to cover up what he was doing by multiple means, making firing him a no-brainer. And the fact that the student-athlete was just arrested and charged with multiple felonies makes President Barchi’s choice a real head scratcher.

This is not the first time this has happened. Many corporate boards enable the behavior of top executives, but they usually do so only for successful ones. It is interesting to see President Barchi risking his reputation on Kyle Flood the same way Kyle Flood risked his reputation on Nadir Barnwell. But whether you are an auditor or a professor, it takes a spine to be independent. And when the system fails you, sometimes a spine is all you have to rely on.

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Perhaps I have been teaching auditing and ethics too long, but it seems like my life consists of reading story after story about rule benders and enablers. The latest and greatest example in the world of sports is the allegation by ESPN that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ordered evidence destroyed that implicated the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in a long-term cheating scandal prior to the famous Spygate game in 2007. The allegation is that if the public knew that the Patriots’ filming of other coaches’ signals was a multiyear, not a one-time, event, it would damage the image of the league and of one of its bellwether franchises. Goodell’s recent harsh punishment of quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots for deflating footballs prior to last year’s AFC Championship Game was seen as him fulfilling his promise to harshly punish anyone who stepped over the line again. But Brady’s punishment was overturned by an arbitrator.

In this saga, the Patriots are the rule benders and Roger Goodell is the enabler. But the other 31 NFL owners, who allegedly knew of the document destruction, were also enablers if they acted to protect the value of the league and, thus, their own franchises. In my world, it is audit firms that enable their clients to misstate their financial statements and refuse to exercise the necessary professional skepticism to prevent frauds, like the recently announced sanctions against the auditors of General Employment Enterprises.

Major League Baseball seems hesitant to marshal any strong response to the FBI investigation of the St. Louis Cardinals’ hacking of the Houston Astros’ player evaluation database. The Cardinals fired their scouting director in early July, about two weeks after the hacking was announced. But two days after the announcement, an attorney hired by the Cardinals months before to investigate the hacking called a press conference to assert that there was no link to upper management. Major League Baseball waited until that investigation was done before the accusations became public. Of course, the FBI investigation and the Cardinals’ own internal review may lead to identifying all the culprits.

But I am not holding my breath. Stories indicate the fired scouting director may accuse Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager, of stealing the database from the Cardinals. If so, these issues would be in the papers for months. Major League Baseball and its owners, perhaps with the exception of one, want to move on and clear the decks. They appear ready and able to enable cheating in baseball, just as the NFL is alleged to have done with the Patriots. Who wants to talk about cheating with the playoffs coming up? They might do what’s right. But I am skeptical.

What triggered me writing this blog was a Twitter post claiming that it was unfair that last year’s U.S. Little League champions were stripped of their title for using players a mile out of their district, but Tom Brady got away with cheating. Those who bend the rules to their own ends rarely worry about the common good, and the way their stories are used by others to excuse their own cheating. But the Patriots and the Cardinals are simply the insider traders of professional sports. With insider trading, there is a stock exchange that is persuaded not to enable this behavior, and there is an SEC to investigate the traders, and to punish the stock exchanges if they cooperate with the traders. Unfortunately, in professional sports, the league is both the potential enabler and the investigator.

We already have an idea how well that worked with the NFL, and Major League Baseball is in the on-deck circle. But in a competitive world, cheaters get rich, and enablers get rich off the cheaters. For those people, it often smells like success. But for a society that values justice and fair play, it is corrosive. And, in my book, the enablers are just as bad as the cheaters.

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