Following an exhaustive search among the nation's most venerated accountancy professors, the UM Patterson School of Accountancy search committee made a discovery while interviewing for its newly endowed position, the Roland and Sheryl Burns Chair of Accountancy. The most qualified candidate, one of the top accountancy researchers and well-respected academics in the nation, was right under their nose – UM's own Dale Flesher, associate dean, Arthur Andersen Alumni lecturer and professor of accountancy.
"At no time did I think that I would be selected to be the initial holder of the Burns Chair, since it was designed to bring in a big-name professor from outside UM. When the search committee brought up the idea of giving me the chair, I had no objections to that, although I was surprised."
Roland Burns was not surprised. "Sheryl and I were excited to learn that Dale Flesher was selected to be the first holder of the chair. Dr. Flesher is one of the top researchers in the accounting field and has been a major reason why the university is one of the top-ranked programs in the country."
The Patterson School recently received exceptional rankings by Public Accounting Report, the independent newsletter of the accounting profession. UM's undergraduate program was rated No. 4 in the country (behind Texas, Illinois and Brigham Young) and the master's and doctoral programs ranked Nos. 5 and 8 respectively.
"We have been fairly high in the rankings for several years and this has brought in many more students," said Flesher. "As a result, we definitely need more faculty. The availability of the Burns Chair has provided funds for the current faculty and may help in the future."
Burns understands the necessity of quality faculty and mentors to ensure future success at the school and recruitment of top students.
"When I was a student in the accounting program from 1979 to 1982, I had great support from professors including the legendary Gene Peery and Jimmy Davis," said Burns. "My accounting professors took a personal interest in my future career and advised me how to be successful in the business world. I left the university and headed to Dallas, Texas, entering the competitive world of public accounting very well prepared to build a business career. The focus that the nationally ranked Patterson School of Accountancy at Ole Miss places on instruction and student development is what inspires its alumni to support the university."
Roland Burns did more than just make a major gift. For the last 10 years, UM accountancy students have been given the opportunity to participate in an internship program in the financial reporting department of Comstock Resources, an independent energy company, where Burns is president and CFO. This opportunity gives students insight into the financial workings of a publicly traded company.
"I became more involved with the School of Accountancy when Dr. Morris Stocks, then dean, approached me to participate in this internship program with the Patterson School of Accountancy," Burns said. "My involvement with this program and interaction with the dean and other faculty led to my interest in adding a new faculty chair in the school."
Dean Mark Wilder reinforced the importance of alumni and friends in the school's preparation of future accountancy and business leaders.
"We appreciate so much the generous support of Roland and Sheryl Burns. The long-term future success of the school depends on our ability to recruit and retain high quality faculty," said Wilder. "The Burns Chair helps us greatly with this need and is a tremendous resource for the Patterson School."
Wilder also praised the school's faculty and in particular Flesher.
"Our faculty play a huge role in the successes of our students and program. Dale Flesher has been an instrumental member of the Ole Miss faculty for 36 years and has mentored hundreds of former students. He is known nationally for his research and professional achievements, and we were all honored that he was named the AICPA Outstanding Professor nationwide in 2011.
"It is because of faculty like Dale Flesher and alumni with foresight such as Roland Burns that our program continues to exceed all expectations and accrue not only national prestige but also top honors for our students. We are so pleased that Dr. Flesher is the inaugural holder of the Burns Chair."
Debbie Vaughn, senior executive director of development for the University of Mississippi, could not agree more. "Sheryl and Roland Burns have a deeply held commitment to providing excellent educational opportunities for young people, and the University of Mississippi is a stronger institution because of their involvement and support," said Vaughn. "We thank the Burns family for their array of generous gifts and particularly for this endowed faculty chair. Their legacy will be long lasting, as it is reflected in the lives of our students who are taught by the gifted Professor Flesher."
Burns appreciates the quality of UM's accounting faculty even more so now that his oldest son, Derek, is enrolled in the program. Burns also credits Flesher with some of his own early success.
"In graduate school I was in Dale's CPA review course. After completing the course I went on to pass the CPA exam on my first sitting with the second highest score in the state. Other than taking Dr. Flesher's course, I did not spend any additional time preparing for the exam. Having passed the exam before starting my career in public accounting, I was able to focus on my new career."
Flesher remembers Burns well among the standout students during his tenure at UM.
"I taught Roland Burns when he was a student here in the 1980s and I remember him well. I even remember where he sat in class and a little about his family. He was a superstar in our program and was selected as the Outstanding Masters Student of 1983. Thus, to have a former student make such a significant donation to the university was inspirational."
Flesher received both bachelor's and master's degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He holds a doctorate in accounting from the University of Cincinnati. He also earned CPA, CIA, CMA, CFM, CFE and CGFM certificates and has authored over 400 articles for more than 100 different professional journals throughout the world, as well as 50 books in 87 editions. He is nearing completion on a book-length history of the CPA firm of Deloitte, which includes its components of Touche Ross & Co. and Haskins & Sells. The firm has already used portions of the material to build an interactive "history wall" at the firm's new training center near Westlake, Texas. Flesher also recently collaborated with his wife, Tonya Flesher, professor and director of UM's Tax History Research Center, on a manuscript for a book chapter to be published in Sweden on the history of tax accounting in the United States.