On the EAA Doctoral Colloquium

Posted by Thorsten Sellhorn - May 08, 2021

Message from the EAA President, President-Elect, and the Co-chairs of the EAA Doctoral Colloquium
8 May 2021

In mid-April, the EAA announced here the faculty composition for the 2021 EAA Doctoral Colloquium (DC). Subsequently, several respected colleagues (including former editors of EAR, EAA Management Committee members as well as DC co-chairs and faculty) voiced concerns. Their tenor: The current DC faculty composition looks deeply unbalanced and signals a lack of openness for qualitative, organizational and sociological accounting research. How could the EAA allow this to happen?

We take these concerns very seriously. Students of ‘the Doctoral’ ourselves, we had always cherished it as one of the EAA’s ‘crown jewels,’ which puts the EAA’s raison d’être into action. Like the Congress and our association journals, the DC encourages and promotes diversity, openness to any research approach, and specific regard for European research traditions. At no time during our tenures as Management Committee (MC) members, DC Co-chairs, or President (Elect) had the priority and strength of these values been questioned or modulated. In fact, the EAA’s 2019 Strategy Day had actually reinforced our commitment to them. Yet, here we are: this year’s DC faculty does unintentionally look skewed. How did we get here?

The current DC Co-chairs – Joachim Gassen and Wim van der Stede – are responsible for selecting the students and the faculty of the DC. They have selected the faculty based solely on the selected students’ work in order to facilitate fruitful and constructive discussions. The resulting list of faculty members consists of outstanding academics who we trust to embrace diversity and, collectively, to speak to a wide range of topics, paradigms and methods. However, we also see that this year’s selection process has yielded a less diverse set of academics compared to prior years, with some paradigmatic/disciplinary lenses not represented at all. Neither does this outcome signal disregard for the ability of certain academic fields to contribute to fruitful and constructive discussions, nor does it reflect an intentional trend, let alone strategy. We deem this outcome to be deeply unfortunate.

The EAA is at heart a volunteer organization. To execute its mission of supporting the EAA members, it relies on passionate, competent, and dedicated journal editors, congress organizers, committee chairs, and countless other contributors. All these people are renowned accounting scholars who give liberally of their free time and energy. The EAA leadership carefully selects, oversees, supports and trusts these EAA volunteers to carry out their tasks. Important decisions are discussed and taken together; however, the EAA leadership avoids excessive micro-managing and second-guessing. Clearly, selecting the DC faculty is an important decision. Since its inception in Brussels in 1985, the DC has been organized by two co-chairs. Supported by the EAA Executive Secretary and an EIASM staff person, the co-chairs issue the call for applications, select students, convene the faculty, and run the actual event. The co-chairs are selected by the MC and approved by the EAA Board for a three-year term, once renewable. When appointing DC co-chairs, the EAA leadership ensures that the selected candidates embody the EAA’s values. Those appointed are among the most respected and dedicated accounting researchers in the EAA community, and the MC fully trusts them with their important task. The current DC co-chairs are no exception.

This trust from the EAA leadership is also enjoyed by the EAA journal editors when appointing their editorial teams, by the EAA PhD Forum organizers when drafting their programs, by all EAA committee chairs when choosing their committee members, and by all other EAA volunteer leaders when making important decisions that affect the EAA community. Still, in all these cases, the MC gladly provides input and guidance on their important decisions. Such guidance is offered not in a spirit of mistrust and oversight, but one of support and shared responsibility.

But there is one difference. The MC has historically stayed out of decisions related to the DC – giving the DC co-chairs undivided responsibility. Where others in the various EAA roles would go through institutionalized feedback loops with the MC, the DC co-chairs have been entirely self-reliant in all -related decisions. Why, one wonders now, would the MC not offer an equal level of input and guidance to the DC co-chairs as well?

There is no good answer to this question other than how things happen to have developed. This is what now transpires with hindsight. It is the responsibility of the EAA leadership, first and foremost the EAA President, to install and maintain mechanisms that ensure the fulfilment of the EAA’s mission and the upholding of its values – in other words: the preservation of Anthony Hopwood’s legacy. This is particularly important in a volunteer organization, where individuals are transient due to limited terms. Put simply, until the recent reaction, we had failed to see that the DC deserves to be enveloped in the same kind of support and governance structure, just like all other important EAA activities already are.

We do see it now – and we are already acting on this insight. At an unscheduled MC meeting last week, with less than a month to go before the 2021 DC, we decided to avoid ad-hoc changes that could be viewed as mere ‘token’ gestures. Instead, we wish to address the issue swiftly, yet in earnest and with proper and circumspect reflection – and in line with the tradition of the DC. Hence, we are in the process of developing a new governance structure for the DC, which will be decided by the MC at the upcoming 2021 Virtual Annual Congress in late May, when we will inform the EAA Board and General Assembly about it.

Although, clearly, it is premature to talk about details, the new structure will feature MC input to the selection processes and overall composition of the DC faculty and student body. It will also include clear communication that the continuing focus of the DC is on the key objectives of diversity, openness, and excellence. This will reinforce changes already implemented by the current DC co-chairs for the 2021 DC, namely the increase from 36 to 40 students as well as 12 to 15 faculty, and the organization of the DC in five multi-paradigmatic parallel topic streams rather than method tracks (which tended to expose students to feedback reflecting their own paradigms).  The idea is to empower students to engage in issues-driven accounting research to address what they find to be important societal problems – from any relevant angle with any relevant method.

Overall, DC governance will be guided by the objectives and spirit that have characterized the DC from its inception, and which are beautifully summarized by former EAA President John Christensen as follows: “In a European setting, where there is a diversity of national traditions of inquiry, this approach [of placing emphasis on academic quality rather than the prevailing political acceptability of different schools of thought] has been both appropriate and important.” The Doctoral Colloquium to this day has always been, and we are confident and committed that it will continue to be, a source of sense of community and pride in the EAA.

Thorsten Sellhorn, EAA President 2019-2021

Annalisa Prencipe, EAA President 2021-2023

Joachim Gassen, DC Co-Chair 2020-2022

Wim A. Van der Stede, DC Co-Chair 2019-2021

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