Skip to Content

Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance

Chapter 3: Time to Push: 1980–1984

And appointments of new staff there had to be. In 1978 first year enrolments in Accounting alone stood at 410; a year later they stood at 620. Even with massive failure rates, there were 200 students in third year. By 1982, Martin noted to the administration that he had over 1100 students in first year Accounting alone, a number the Department was facing without prospect of staff renewal, and with none of the quality controls available to Law and Business Administration. On the positive side, the do-it-yourself policy of "growing staff at home" was undoubtedly a better way of producing teaching and research coherent with the ethos of the "new breed" who had come into the Department in the mid-1970s.

The success of the 1970s, then, was the creation of an open ecology for growth, which was yet coherent enough to hold in tension the University's founding egalitarian ethos with true individuality. "A little bit of history in there, a little bit of versatility and a bit of humility as well: I think that typifies the Department … Respect would be a key term that I would use to characterise the Department" [Sue Wright].

Student numbers in first year were "exceptionally high", impacting upon the ability of staff to effectively mark the vast tide of assignments. Carrick Martin was giving three lectures a day, twice a week in order to spread the student numbers across the available teaching spaces: "it was getting ridiculous"[C.Martin]. In the days before computers, Wright remembers:

I can remember sorting tutorial first preferences on the floor of my loungeroom. I had 1000 pieces of paper … and you had to work out everyone's first preference by putting them into a pile for their time, and then going, 'Oh, there are too many in that pile, I'd better give them their second preference'

Brownell cut a swathe both in the Accounting Department and in the sector more generally. Harrison refers to him as "an energetic and forceful contributor" to the AAANZ, editing its journal (1991–1995), and acting as President (1989–1990), as well as sitting on the editorial boards of "most of the world's major accounting journals". One of the new Professor's first innovations was to focus on expanding the ranks of Honours, PhD and Masters in Economics in Accounting and Finance students. He took over the Research Methods unit in the Honours program, which he taught alongside its originator, Harrison.

Rob Chenhall's 1981 thesis, The Diversification of Australian Corporate Business Enterprise: A Theory and Study of 75 Manufacturing Organizations had been the first fruit of the longer process that Carrick Martin had put in place in the 1970s. The second fruit was Jill McKinnon's PhD in 1984, while the next three (in 1990 and all supervised by Brownell) were Graeme Harrison and Soo Chiat Hwang, working in the international accounting space, and Alan Dunk.

The immediate challenges of integrating someone like Brownell into the Department were far from the greatest obstacle to the development of a research culture. The most important lay in the continuing doubt among other disciplines that a practical subject such as Accounting had anything worthwhile to research. "How can you do research in Accounting?" staff members were often asked, each question a little dent in their confidence. … It was a challenge, however, to define a middle ground between the old "pure accounting research" done by Chambers and his generation, and the contributory disciplines.

The first fruits of this emerged in the mid-1980s. As their research and doctoral programs progressed, McKinnon and Harrison—separately and together, both in their doctoral theses and then in articles and books—began to build a focus on international and transcultural accounting research.