Robert Raymond Sterling

Robert SterlingRobert Raymond Sterling, an innovative and influential scholar, teacher, and administrator was born near Bugtussle, Oklahoma, on March 16, 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, the last of ten children. His uneducated father was a failed cotton farmer whose early demise required his uneducated mother to become the sole support of ten children during that depression and concurrent dust bowl. Like many naive, patriotic teenagers in World War II, he lied about his age to join. He also served in the Korean Conflict. The GI Bill enabled him to attend college, the first in his family to do so. He earned two degrees at the University of Denver — a BS in economics and an MBA. Following graduation and with the encouragement of Professor Fagg Foster, he enrolled in the economics PhD program at the University of Florida in 1957, receiving his doctorate in 1964.

From 1963 to 1966, he was on the social science faculty at the State University of New York at Binghamton where he taught courses in all the social sciences as well as accounting. In 1966, he was awarded a one-year postdoctoral fellowship in Yale University’s Departments of Philosophy and Physics. In 1967, he joined the School of Business faculty at the University of Kansas where he was promoted to professor in 1969 and named Arthur Young Distinguished Professor of Accounting in 1970. He chaired The Executive Committee, which governs that undepartmentalized School, for four of his years at KU. In 1974, he accepted appointment as Jesse H. Jones Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Accounting at Rice University. Here he became the founding chairman of the Department of Accounting and then the founding dean of Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Administration (now Management). In 1981, following a visiting appointment at the University of Alberta, he joined the Research Division of the Financial Accounting Standards Board for a three-year term as the Senior Research Fellow. In 1983, he accepted appointment as the Kendall D. Garff Professor of Business Enterprise at the University of Utah, a position he held until his retirement in 1991.

An insightful writer, he argued eloquently for expanding the role of market values in financial reporting and authored over 60 papers in academic and professional journals. He twice received the Notable Contribution to the Accounting Literature Award given jointly by the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of CPAs; “The Going Concern: An Examination” received this award in 1969 and “Accounting Research, Education and Practice” received it in 1974. In addition, his 1970 paper, “On Theory Construction and Verification” and his 1975 paper, “Relevant Financial Reporting in an Age of Price Changes,” were both listed among the twenty-five most significant contributions to accounting research during the 20th Century. His books and monographs include Theory of the Measurement of Enterprise Income (1970), Toward a Science of Accounting (1980) and An Essay on Recognition (1985). In recognition of his distinguished record, he was designated a fellow by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Accademia Italiana de Economia Aziendale of Italy.

He also worked to encourage research in and exchange ideas about accounting. While at the Rice, he founded the Accounting Researchers International Association and served as its first president. At the University of Kansas, he organized a series of influential conferences for which he edited and published widely cited proceedings including Accounting in Perspective (with William Bentz, 1971), Asset Valuation and Income Determination (1971), Research Methodology in Accounting (1972),Institutional Issues in Public Accounting (1974), A Simplified Firm Owning Depreciable Assets (with Arthur L. Thomas, 1979), and Maintenance of Capital: Financial versus Physical (with Kenneth W. Lemke, 1982). He also believed in the importance of early accounting literature and, with the support of Arthur Andersen & Co., he founded The Scholars Book Co., which republished over twenty accounting classics.

His extensive record of professional service to academic and professional organizations included membership on many committees of the American Accounting Association and other organizations. He served as the Association’s Director of Research and, in 1976, he and Raymond Chambers were the first to travel as the Association’s Distinguished International Lecturers. In addition, he was a valued and active member of many editorial boards, including those of The Accounting Reviewand Abacus.

He lived in Houston, Texas, where he wrote and consulted with former colleagues and students. He enjoyed corresponding and visiting with friends and family, including his two children and two grandchildren. He was the 80th member of the Accounting Hall of Fame. Robert Raymond Sterling died June 29, 2010 at age 79.