The University of Massachusetts Boston Job Posting: Assistant Professor Early Childhood Education
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My childhood had a significant bearing on my adult experiences. From an early age, I was taught that I must leave the world a better place, or my life was not worth much. I was gifted in science and mathematics, and assumed that I would be a scientist. It did not turn out as planned. I had a mentor of international reputation who was an engineer and inventor. His inventions revolutionized some industries, and some were so revolutionary that they were suppressed. One invention was considered the world’s most effective engine for powering a car.
Another was a circuit that revolutionized the electronics industry and earned the man who stole the invention the title of “Electronics Design Man of the Year. 10 million to analyzing his engine, it went nowhere, partly due to auto industry inertia. During the excitement over his engine, one high-ranking official told him that if he really thought that his engine would make the internal combustion engine obsolete, he had better start making his funeral plans. I was a teenager when my mentor invented his engine. I had visions of revolutionizing the energy industry and ending the insanity of producing energy by raping the planet.
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What I could do about the world’s energy situation when I was sixteen, I had no idea. I held the dream for many years and had the chance to try making my dream a reality. For that alone, I feel fortunate. In the meantime, I was graduating from high school and going to college, studying chemistry.
Chemistry was my second love, an affair that began at about age twelve, after an infatuation with paleontology that began when I was eight. I had vivid dreams about the elements, such as a dream about gallium. In my second year of college I had the existential crisis that many young people encounter, and decided that life in a chemistry lab was not for me. I had been introduced to the paranormal and spirituality a few years earlier. After forty hours of meditation training at age sixteen, I had dramatic experiences that demonstrated that everybody has innate extrasensory perception abilities, and that there is far more to earthly existence than meets the eye. From that moment forward, I became an avid student of spirituality.
I was nineteen, and had dropped my organic chemistry, calculus, and physics classes, knowing that my life would not be lived as a scientist. I went from the top of my class in college science studies to dropping all of my classes. I felt that I was careening toward disaster, a rocket wildly off course, not knowing where I would crash. One night, after months of futility, I hit rock bottom. I fell into a dreamless sleep. The next morning as I lay in bed, looking across the room, my first waking thought was a voice speaking inside my head. The voice said, “Have you ever considered studying business?
I had nearly no idea what the voice was talking about. That sounds like a great idea, but what is it? My only academic perspective at that time was studying “important” subjects such as chemistry and physics, or “loafing” and studying English, history, or social science. I had no idea that I could study business in college. My father’s career was spent working for the federal government. I called the counseling center at my college and said, “Are there classes at your college where I can study business?
Is there such a thing as a degree in business? The next semester I took Introduction to Business and Bookkeeping 101. Bookkeeping appealed to my mathematical mind. My professor said that accounting paid well. I was introduced to the business world and capitalism. I was taught that accounting was the language of business, about how superior capitalism was to communism, and how business was a great force of light in the world.
I learned about Adam Smith in my economics classes. During my next year of business studies I worked as a janitor, cleaning the offices of attorneys, accountants, investment advisers, and other businesses. I retrieved the Wall Street Journal and other business publications from the trash and read them. I was seeing how business could be an ideal vehicle to serve one’s self and humanity. I was at the top of my class in my business studies. I decided to pursue an accounting degree. I attended a community college for my first three years, and then attended a university.
There were national accounting exams given to university students. I got the highest score in the university’s history. I went from being the chemistry prodigy to being the accounting prodigy, but my last year in college wore me out. I graduated in 1981, during the worst recession since the Great Depression. I went to college in California where I was raised, but I was born in Seattle.
I wanted to go home, and did. After a sobering experience of working for a small CPA firm in the winter of 1982 and being laid off a few weeks after April 15th, it became more important for me to pursue the proper career path than live where I wanted. I moved to Los Angeles and joined a Big Eight firm. My winter spent working at the small CPA firm was a brutal introduction to the profession, but working in downtown Los Angeles was a deep dive into the “real world. It was a trial by fire.
In America, downtown Los Angeles is the most conservative business district west of Manhattan, and as one of seven hundred professionals in my office I was thrown into a dog-eat-dog world. Those recruits fresh from college, as they began their CPA apprenticeship in the Big Eight, were called “Grunts,” “Lambs to the Slaughter” and other terms. I traveled throughout the Los Angeles region, spent several months on audits out of town, and worked in Skid Row Los Angeles for several months. I was the first male in my family in a hundred years who did not serve in the military, but I experienced the corporate version of it.
A mystical, non-materialistic vegetarian was a misfit. I was required to eat at restaurants everyday, and being a vegetarian was less acceptable than being a homosexual in that environment. I gave up being a vegetarian to work there, which affected my health. The lambs were assigned mentors in the firm’s hierarchy to help groom their careers. I was not dazzling them at the phony weekly cocktail parties, and if I wanted to get ahead at the firm, I had to crawl over the bodies of my peers.
Many drank heavily, and I could not imagine living their lives. Many peers were determined to make it, and trampling each other on the way up came with the territory. The environment was bad enough, but what constantly nagged me were the challenges to my idealistic vision. I was not very bothered by the “I drive a BMW, therefore I am” mentality that I saw in my peers, but I had difficulty seeing how our audits benefited society. The collision of indoctrination and reality was a harsh one. I was taught that auditing provided a valuable safeguard against the excesses of capitalism. I did not know what auditing was when I graduated from college.
The idealist in me tried making sense of my place in the scheme of things, and wondered how I was contributing to society, particularly in light of the money attending my efforts. I knew the party line about auditing being good for the business world and a benefit to society, but it was difficult to see from the trenches. When the busy season was over, there was a one-week training class for the new junior auditors. A partner came to class and answered any question we had. We put our anonymous questions in a basket. How much do partners make in the LA office?
How does auditing increase the world’s real wealth? There was a snort or two, then everybody began giggling in genuine humor, and I laughed with them, as the question was so out of place. If somebody could have spoken for the group mind at that moment, it would have been approximately, “How delightful! Somebody still believes in the Easter Bunny. The partner put on a straight face and gave the standard answer that auditing helped provide reliable financial information for the business community, so better investment and business decisions could be made.
A couple of years later, I was on an audit with him and saw how he really felt. He talked about an audit that our firm performed that exploded in our faces. The audit opinion can state that the client played the accounting game fairly, while the financial statements themselves show a company in peril. That is not an audit failure, but if a company gets close to failing, there is a “going concern” principle that states if the company appears that it may soon fail, the auditors should qualify their opinion. A qualified opinion is always bad news and auditors rarely issue them. An audit “exploding in our face” means that the auditors issued their standard unqualified opinion, and the company soon capsized. Auditors are not fortunetellers, but if a company fails a few months after issuing “healthy” financial statements, and there is an unqualified audit opinion accompanying their statements, the auditors are often sued for a negligent audit.
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He said, “That signature looks shaky to me. It was a joke about the partner’s state of mind while signing the opinion, inferring that he knew that the opinion that he was signing would someday haunt him. There was an inherent conflict in my indoctrination versus reality. As auditors, we theoretically rendered independent opinions on our client’s financial statements. Our clients paid our fee and could choose another auditor if they wished. I did not understand that situation’s implications in my early days. I was just trying to survive.
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In 1984, something happened that eventually made it clear. They were posting record revenues and profits, until one day they were unable to pay their creditors and depositors. Then it all came crumbling down. Suddenly, those record revenues and profits appeared illusory.
L’s shareholders filed a huge lawsuit against the previous auditors. On my first day there, my manager briefed me. He said, “As usual, you can make the numbers say whatever you want to until the money runs out. I had heard it before, but did not really understand it. L became one of the highest profile and earliest meltdowns of the entire Savings and Loan Scandal. L had concocted bogus transactions to hide their losses.
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The gist of the problem was this: the Holy Grail of capitalism is profits. Corporations only exist to make profits for their owners. That has been repeated endlessly in corporate halls as a motto to never forget. With the profit drive being the ultimate reason for a corporation’s existence, corporate managers have incentive to report the largest possible profits. There have been principles of accounting, such as the conservatism principle, the revenue realization principle, the objectivity principle, the matching principle, and many others that supposedly guide accounting practices, so profits are not overstated. At the university, my auditing professor told us why the Big Eight partners made so much money.
He said it was because sophisticated professional judgment was required to render an independent audit opinion. My professor said that such highly qualified professionals, with their sophisticated auditing practices, which entailed numerous levels of review, did not come cheaply. L audit, even I could see that our predecessor auditors were signing off on ridiculous accounting practices, which a lamb could have spotted. How could a highflying Big Eight firm, with its highly paid, pin-stripe-suited auditors, approve such phony financial statements? After a month on that audit, the partner in charge, my manager, and I went to lunch. His statement did not fully sink in until years later, when the Savings and Loan Crisis became headline news in 1988. That partner said that the predecessor auditors had been bullied into approving bogus financial statements.
How could they be bullied, with all those accounting standards, levels of review, and highly honed professional judgment? To put it bluntly: by a million-dollar audit fee. A few years before that audit, the CPA profession was partly deregulated. The “free market” ideology of the time, exemplified by Ronald Reagan and his administration, created the acceptability of doctors, lawyers, and CPAs to begin getting “competitive,” advertising and taking business away from each other. It brought capitalistic principles to the professions.
The notion of CPA firms rendering “independent” audit opinions became a farce. Those were the go-go years for Reagan’s boys. Greed was a virtue in 1984. Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Donald Trump, and other capitalistic heroes dominated the scene. L industry, the eventual outcome was evident for those with eyes to see. What we saw on our audit was typical throughout the industry. Take an industry such as energy, for instance.