Vernon K. Zimmerman Center for International Education and Research in Accounting

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Remembrances of Zim

Art Wyatt presented this at the CIERA/AAA-IAS Mid-Year Meeting in Chicago April 3, 1998. The meeting was held in honor of Dr. Vernon K. Zimmerman.

I have been asked this morning to make some comments about Dr. Vernon K. Zimmerman, who died last December. Dr. Zimmerman was a man of many nicknames – Vern, Zim, Zimmy, Zee – and others probably not so flattering. I regularly called him "Zim", but in his later years he used "Zee" more frequently. Zim was also a man of many talents and many accomplishments, and I will deal with some of these in the remarks to follow.

Zim and I were contemporaries in our educational endeavors at the University of Illinois. I entered college in June of 1945, and Zim started in October of that year. As a result, we were not in the same cycle of classes, although we both graduated in June of 1949. I do not recall specifically when we first met, but it had to be some time during our junior or senior year because when we both started graduate work in the Fall of 1949 we knew each other and studied together on occasion. Zim lived in a rooming house on 5th Street, and I lived around the corner in a rooming house on Chalmers. Neither house is standing at the present time. In addition, we were both trapped in the army’s on-again, off-again military draft. Both of us obtained direct commissions as officers in the USAF, but neither was called to active duty. The end result was that we each were drafted after the end of the Korean war and served in the Army Audit Agency in peace time.

During his later undergraduate years and continuing over into graduate school Zim worked as a cashier on Sundays at Kam’s Annex, one of the most popular campus bars. Everyone knew where to find Zim on Sunday, and his presence generated business for Kam’s from people who never visited Kam’s on any other day. The owner of Kam’s was Marty Kamerer, and when he decided to construct a new bar/restaurant establishment just down the street from his existing business, with some apartments on the second and third floor, Zim and I agreed that we would be an original tenant in one of the apartments along with Phil Fess and Floyd Windal. All four of us were teaching assistants in accountancy and this move would have been in the 1952 school year.

I completed my graduate work in the summer of 1953 and Zim was nearly finished at that time. We agreed to take an apartment off campus and shared that apartment in the 1953-4 school year. Zim then went off into the military and a year later I also went into the army. We must have sublet the apartment, because when Zim finished his tour he resumed residence there. I returned in January of 1957, and we shared that same apartment for the rest of the school year. In the Fall of 1957 Zim decided that he wanted to move back on campus, and he did. We flipped a coin to see who would retain our telephone number. I won the flip, still have the number, and Zim really never got over having to get a new telephone number.

I mention these details mainly to provide the basis for the friendship and closeness that Zim and I had during the early years of our teaching careers, a friendship that lasted over all the remaining years. We had different perspectives on life, on teaching careers, and on individual career paths and we each benefited from the other’s philosophy. While we had a number of common interests, Zim’s range of interests was much broader than my own. Our common interests in addition to the varied facets of accounting included watching U of I sports teams in actions playing racquetball and bowling and particularly in watching thoroughbred races. Zim was a particularly avid race fan and was always a bit irritated when we went to the races together and I came away at the end of the day with more money. We also were very active in the monthly poker parties that members of the accountancy faculty had.

I particularly recall one trip to the races that we took. It was just before school started in the Fall of 1965. On our ride to Chicago the entire time was spent discussing the recent resignation of Tee Moyer as our department head and of the shenanigans undertaken by the then dean to appoint a replacement. Both of us were very nettled, to use one of Zim’s favorite words, but he was more inclined than I was to make the most of a bad situation. Between two of the races I snuck away to call the head of recruiting at one the Chicago firms and set up a visit for the following morning. I had to tell Zim about it, of course, as it altered a bit of our plans for the following day. While that visit led to my employment by Arthur Andersen, over the intervening five months only Zim in the Champaign-Urbana business and academic community was aware of my plans, and no news of them leaked out in the community. This inbred trait that Zim had to maintain confidences was to serve him particularly well in later years when he served in the sensitive position of Dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration.

With regard to our differing interests, Zim had a deep interest in music, particularly the opera. He and another faculty member, Emmerson Cammack, would travel around the country during the opera season. Of course, his longtime interest in music grew even greater when he married Marilyn Pflederer, then a music professor in the U of I College of Fine and Applied Arts. He also was relatively more interested in travel and in the nuances of different cultures. Zim was also more interested in an understanding of the lessons of history and spent more time in gaining a broad historical background than I did.

During our graduate studies we both took several courses from A. C. Littelton, then the key professor in our graduate program. A. C. was a most serious and studious person, and most of his students were in awe of him, if not in fear of him. Possibly because of the high importance that A. C. placed on an understanding of historical evolutions, he came to appreciate the similar interests that Zim had, and Zim became more closely associated with A. C. than did any of the other graduate students of that time. While Zim was certainly not a hale fellow, well met, and was somewhat reserved when meeting strangers, he and A. C. developed a particularly close relationship. This carried over in to A. C.’s retirement years. Zim visited A. C. regularly, first in the Denver area and later when A. C. moved to Arizona. On one or two occasions I accompanied Zim on his visits to A. C., and there is little question that in his later years A. C. depended more on Zim than anyone else associated with the University of Illinois. I have always felt that Zim’s interest in history, and accounting history in particular, was closely related to such interest on the part of A. C. and led Zim to carry on and extend some of the research that occupied A. C. during much of his career. A. C.’s death hit Zim particularly hard, and he spent many months in organizing A. C.’s papers and in getting his personal affairs in order.

Zim collaborated with A. C. on a 1962 book, Accounting Theory’: Continuity and Change, a publication that I have always felt was Zim’s most prominent writing. This publication extended Littleton’s masterpiece, Accounting Evolution to 1900, and pulled together years after Littleton’s retirement many of his thoughts on the many changes in accounting, and particularly in accounting education in the first half of this century.

At the same time Zim had a deep interest in the international arena. This interest was enhanced in part by the role the University of Illinois accountancy department played during the 1950’s in helping European businessmen become more conversant with U.S. business and educational practice. Through Marshall Plan aid funding, the University was the site of many visits by groups of European businessmen, who then continued on to Illinois business locations such as Caterpillar and John Deere. These businessmen would participate in structured courses in financial accounting, management accounting and auditing during their two or three week period at the University. These visits led to us becoming acquainted with Peter Holzer, who first visited as an interpreter for one of the groups. Peter later joined our faculty, and he and Zim developed a particularly close relationship, that manifested itself in part in the development of the Center for International Education and Research in Accounting. I recall that Hans-Martin Schoenfeld, who also was a key player in the International Center, joined us as a result of the Marshall Plan group visits.

Zim’s international interests were the deepest and most abiding of his career. He served as consultant for a time to the Peace Corps. In addition he consulted with the Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the International Labour Office, and the Ministry of Education for the People’s Republic of China. Zim was also a consultant for the World Bank/Bangladesh Business Management Education and Training contract. He was the campus coordinator for the World Bank and Midwest University Consortium for International Affairs from 1984 until his death. Zim was also the campus coordinator for Illinois’ Tunisian Business Education contract and consulted on many occasions with the government agencies in Tunisia on the progress of educational programs at the university level in Tunisia. Zim was instrumental in beginning a business school program in Tunisia, and for many years he and Peter Holzer were deeply involved in the development and evolution of that program. The success of the Tunisian effort was particularly gratifying to Zim, as he was involved in its development from the beginning. He often expressed the view that he wished it were as easy to get U.S. academics to move in the right direction as it was in a country that did not have to carry the baggage of entrenched programs and a variety of special interests to overcome and satisfy.

Zim’s international interests also led him into visiting professorship arrangements at a variety of universities outside the United States. These included the Hochshule feur Welthandel in Vienna, the University of Lund, Lund, Sweden, Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich, Philipps-Universitat at Marburg, Germany, and Xiamen University in the People’s Republic of China. These appointments were also instrumental in the evolution of the International Center at Illinois, as Zim made many contacts and established solid relationships with many of the leading academics at the schools and countries that he visited. Of even greater importance, however, was the steady stream of visiting foreign scholars that were attracted to the University of Illinois for their educational endeavors by the personal relationships that Zim established on his numerous visits overseas. Likewise these visits generated numerous ideas in Zim’s mind that led to a wide range of publications, both in the United States and in other countries. As a result Zim arguably became better known to the academic community in Europe than he was known within the U.S. academic establishment.

During his teaching career at Illinois Zim taught the full range of courses in the financial accounting sequence, including principles, intermediate, advanced, and two courses in auditing. Zim had some brief experience in auditing with Price Waterhouse and in the army with the U.S. Army Audit Agency, but even more extensive experience with an informal "firm" in Urbana headed by Tee Moyer and including Ed Breen, Don Skadden, Peter Holzer and myself. Later, Zim joined up with Dick Ziegler for a continuation of some of the same audits. That auditing "firm" handled businesses in Champaign-Urbana at the time, with most of the audit work being started over the holiday season break and being completed a month later when we had a ten-day or so semester break. Those audits were more fun than work for me, and I know that was true for Zim as well.

In the early 1960’s Tee Moyer and others in the accountancy department at Illinois recognized an opportunity to build upon the exposure we had gained to nondomestic businessmen and educators through the Marshall Plan programs. Prior to that time we had very few nondomestic students at the undergraduate level. Our graduate programs had attracted individuals principally from Taiwan, Japan and the Middle East. A decision was reached to create what became the Center for International Education and Research in Accounting. Zim started as the associate director, but within two years he was named director to recognize the role that he was, in fact, playing.

The philosophy from the start was to create a Center that was relatively unstructured and that would be adaptable to meet the varying needs of individuals from a variety of cultures. In most cases individual programs were tailored to meet the specific needs of aspiring or experienced academics in individual countries. One of the earliest of these involved a fairly large group of students from Indonesia. On a fairly recent trip to Jakarta I met with one of those students – he is now the dean at a business school in Indonesia – and he remembered far more about his days at Illinois than I did of the time that he was there. He was particularly interested in how Zim was doing and in how the work of the Center was progressing. We later had a similar program for a group of young academics from Thailand. I am sure there were others after 1966 when I went on to the practice of public accounting and lost track a bit with the activities of the Center.

In other cases individuals were encouraged either to spend some time at Illinois undertaking their individual research interests or to make Illinois their "home base" while they were in the United States pursuing their academic interests. Regardless of the mission of those spending some time at the Center, Zim was the one who helped them organize their studies, who helped with their travel problems, an who generally was the one they could call upon for any type of assistance that came to mind. Most often Zim would be on hand at the airport or train station to greet each new arrival and to see them to their lodgings. The end result was that the Center became an administrative unit that achieved an extremely popular reputation around the world, even if it was not particularly well known within the United States. Zim’s objective was never to create favorable publicity for himself, but rather was to serve the interests of those who chose to spend some time at the Center. The individuality of the programs and the ways in which Zim went out of his way to make all of our visitors feel they were welcome and were in fact at a "second home" eventually led to a very high level of respect and popularity for the Center in many countries around the world.

The International Center at Illinois also began publishing a journal, The International Journal of Accounting Education and Research, in the 1960’s and Zim was its first editor and continued as editor until his death. The main purpose of the Journal was to provide an opportunity for publication by academics from other countries, in addition to those in the United States, of articles that primarily would be of interest to those with international ties or interests. Of course, in the early years such interest was relatively limited among U.S. academics. More recently, of course, such interest has increased markedly as have the submissions received by the Journal. Some were critical of the Journal in the early years because articles published did not demonstrate the research rigor that was the growing fad in the U.S. But, Zim realized that a publication avenue was a critical need, and the Journal provided for this need at an important time. Over time published articles in the Journal have more frequently demonstrated quality research efforts.

With Andy Bailey as the new editor, the Journal will likely continue to prosper into the indefinite future. An increasing number of submissions received are papers based upon substantive research undertaken by the author or authors as opposed to being papers more of a commentary nature as was the case in past. As a result, we expect that the Journal will continue to evolve and gain increasing recognition among the popular accounting journals.

From 1968 until 1985 Zim’s principal interests changed from being a teacher and a promoter of the International Center to becoming an administrator. He is either an associate dean, acting dean, or dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration for all but three years in that seventeen year period. Zim was particularly well equipped to serve as a dean. He was a listener and a consensus builder, qualities that were particularly useful in meeting the deanship responsibilities. Under his leadership he pushed along a budding MBA program that has always suffered from the proximity of the two high quality MBA programs in Chicago, at Northwestern and the University of Chicago. He also oversaw a major transformation in the faculty makeup of the accountancy department as many longtime faculty members retired or sought greener pastures. The College certainly prospered under Zim’s leadership. At the time of his resignation as Dean Zim was the longest sitting dean on the Champaign-Urbana campus.

During Zim’s deanship he continued to serve as the director of the International Center. While he had ample support from Peter Holzer, Hans-Martin Schoenfeld, and Maureen Berry, he was not successful in inducing the accountancy department to recruit either a young or budding academic with an interest in the international arena. Zim remained concerned about this situation during the remainder of his life. The shortcoming became particularly apparent when Holzer, Schoenfeld, and Berry all retired. Even today the challenge of strengthening the Center remains an important challenge facing Andy Bailey.

As a dean Zim became very active in the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. He was a member of its board of directors from 1975-1981 and chairman of a number of its committees. He served as president of the Assembly in 1979-1980. In the following years he was an active participant in the various reviews of campus programs that are undertaken by the Assembly. I know that Zim found this aspect of his career to be especially rewarding, and he frequently talked of the quality relationship that he had established with other deans around the country, as well as with faculty at schools that he had visited.

In addition to being editor of the International Journal, Zim published a number of articles. Most of these in the early years had an historical focus. Later, his writings dealt with a variety of aspects of international accounting , gradually moving toward articles that dealt with international education in accounting. His more recent writings had a focus on issues facing higher education or that combined educational and international issues.

I could go into the many accomplishments of Zim’s career in greater detail, but I would like to close with a few observations about Zim as an individual. Zim’s roots were deeply embedded in the family and in agriculture. I know that his international interests were a puzzle to his brother who remained to farm in the Peoria area. World traveler or not, Zim remained very close to his family and relations in the Peoria area. He did not make friendships quickly, but those he made were based upon careful analysis and were solid over a long period. Zim was a particularly caring person, and this caring nature was demonstrated over and over again in his dealings with the over 400 visiting scholars that came through the Center in his years. Many of the contacts that we had between 1966 and 1992, when I was gone from the University, dealt with former students we had had who had called upon Zim for some help, and he either referred them to me or called so that we might jointly come up with helpful suggestions. Finally, Zim’s caring nature was tested to the utmost for the last ten years or so of Marilyn’s life when she suffered greatly from the ravages of cancer. Even Zim would acknowledge that Marilyn was not a particularly good patient, but he was there for her on a constant basis over this lengthy period.

Zim and I were close friends for over forty years. He made substantial contributions to the Department of Accountancy and the College of Business at the University of Illinois. He was a pioneer in the international accounting arena and particularly in international accounting education and research. While we will miss Zim’s insights and leadership, the challenge facing Andy Bailey and his cohorts is to build upon and strengthen the foundation that Zim and his colleagues built over the latter part of this century. Even though Zim was a very private and humble man, I believe that he would be secretly pleased at the recognition given him today at this conference.

 


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Last updated 08/06/03