My life story: 23 academic degrees and 239 gold medals

I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1947. It’s a city in the northeastern part of the United States, just south of the Canadian border. Because it was cold and snowy for 4 to 6 months each year, I tried to stay inside as much as possible, waiting for the snow to melt, although I did engage in a few snow ball fights with friends.

Four generations; me as a baby. Photo from the personal archive

I think that remaining indoors for extended periods of time helped me to develop my love of reading, since there wasn’t much else to do. In those days, television consisted of just three stations, so there wasn’t a large selection of programs to choose from.

My favorite television programs in those days were documentaries about World War 2, which had ended just two years before I was born, game shows, news shows, and history programs. During the election season, I watched political programs. I enjoyed watching the election results in presidential election years. I wanted John F. Kennedy to win in 1960, mostly because he was Catholic. Erie was a Catholic city – Italian Catholics on the west side and Polish Catholics on the east side. I was Irish Catholic.

My parents subscribed to three weekly magazines that contained stories about current events. There were many photos and short articles at a reading level that was suitable for 12 year-olds. I tended to look at every photo and read most of the articles. My father used to talk about the war, politics, and current events, which also piqued my interest in these topics.

Going to Catholic schools exposed me to theology and philosophy. We would ask the teacher whether God could make a rock he couldn’t lift, and why non-Catholics couldn’t go to heaven no matter how good they were (because the nuns told us that only Catholics could get into heaven).

In 1965, the Catholic church held a Vatican Council, where they took a vote and decided that, henceforth, non-Catholics could, theoretically, be allowed to get into heaven. We asked the nuns if the vote was retroactive, meaning that those who died before the vote would now be able to get in. The nuns said no, that it was prospective only, which we thought was unfair. It was at this point that I began to question organized religion, or at least the Catholic version of it, since I did not have any exposure to other religions in those days.

My undergraduate degree is from Gannon College, named after Catholic Archbishop John Mark Gannon. It was an all-boys Catholic college. It didn’t start admitting women until my fourth year. It became a university a few years after I graduated. The curriculum was mostly liberal arts, although I also took some business classes. My main subject was economics, but I was also interested in history, political science and philosophy, so I took these three subjects as minors.

We were also forced to take four theology classes – Catholic theology if you were Catholic and Protestant theology if you weren’t Catholic. I didn’t like the Catholic theology classes, so, after two courses, I became a Protestant. I didn’t join any particular Protestant church. I just didn’t want to be Catholic any more and I especially didn’t want to take any more Catholic theology classes. It was during this period that I stopped going to church.

My first job after graduation was as a high school (secondary school) algebra teacher. I loved algebra, but the main reason I took the job was because I wanted to stay out of the army. It was the Vietnam War years, and I was able to avoid the army by becoming a teacher. I quit after one year and got a job in banking. I was able to stay out of the army because the government started a draft lottery, and my lottery number made me exempt for all practical purposes.

The 1970s was a period of great stress and growth for me. I was unqualified for most of the jobs I held in those days. I took a job as a bank auditor, never having had a course in auditing, so I went back to school at night and took some courses. I accepted a job as a corporate tax accountant, never having taken a tax class in college, and having had just two accounting courses. I went to night school and earned a master of science degree in taxation, then a law degree.

I started teaching accounting at the college level in the State of Ohio, having had just two accounting classes as an undergraduate. Most of the students I taught had more accounting than I did. So I took some accounting classes at night, and worked out every problem of every chapter of every textbook I was using, keeping a chapter ahead of the students. Eventually, I was able to qualify to take the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam, which I passed on the first attempt (That exam has a 15-20% pass rate).

After teaching accounting for a few years, I accepted a job working for a large publishing company in Manhattan. My tasks included writing materials for students who wanted to pass the CPA exam, flying around the country opening new locations for CPA review classes, and teaching the CPA review course in New York and New Jersey.

It was a great learning experience, but I wanted to get back into university teaching, so I accepted a series of teaching positions at several universities in the metropolitan New York area, and simultaneously started a small practice as a tax attorney and accounting consultant.

In the office of Bettina Bien Greaves, 1988.
Photo from the personal archive

I continued to teach and consult for about 20 years. Then I had an opportunity to take a sabbatical, which would allow me to be away from the university for one year.

I used that opportunity to become a consultant for the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Accounting Reform project in Armenia. I worked in Armenia for 13 months.

My job consisted of assisting the Finance Ministry convert the country to International Financial Reporting Standards and help all the major universities in Armenia implement a new accounting curriculum along the lines of those in the United States and western Europe.

The problem is, I didn’t know anything about international accounting standards in those days. The United States used U.S. standards, not international standards, so there was no need for an American accounting professor to know international standards. But I had to know them, so I bought a book on international accounting standards and read it on the airplane on the way to Armenia.

Luckily for me, no one at the Finance Ministry knew anything at all about international accounting standards. The standards were available only in English in those days, and no one at the Finance Ministry could speak English. The Russian version did not become available for another year. So they were totally dependent on me and my interpreter. I hired a team of translators to translate the standards into Armenian and kept one topic ahead of the people at the Finance Ministry.

That project was so successful that USAID hired me to do the same thing in Bosnia, which I did, also for 13 months. However, in order to accept that assignment, I had to resign from the university in New Jersey where I was teaching, which I did. At the end of the Bosnia contract, I got a job teaching accounting at a university in Miami, where Spanish is the first language. I worked in Miami for 10 years. It was almost like being on vacation in Latin America, except that I had to go to the university a few days a week.

My next job was at a university in Fayetteville, in the state of North Carolina, which is on the east coast of the United States, far enough south that it doesn’t get much snow. It was at this time that I got back into the martial arts, a hobby I had abandoned more than 20 years before because I got too busy with work.

Eight gold medals from the Taekwondo National Championship in 2014. Photo from the personal archive

In the next six years I was able to win 5 world championships in karate (3), taekwondo (1) and kung-fu (1) as well as a silver medal in tai chi. I also (as of this writing) have won 35 gold, 19 silver, and 6 bronze medals at taekwondo national championship tournaments and took 6 first places in karate national championship tournaments. My career gold medal count is 239 as of this writing.

With my first novel in 2014. Photo from the personal archive

I published my first article in 1975 while working as a corporate tax accountant.

As of this writing I have published more than 700 scholarly articles in a half dozen disciplines as well as 59 nonfiction books and 5 novels.

Several studies have ranked me #1 in the world for both accounting ethics and business ethics scholarship. The Social Science Research Network has ranked me as high as #2 All-Time among accounting professors, #14 All-Time among business professors and #30 All-Time for all social scientists.

Since the 1960s, I have spent a lot of time studying various subjects in universities in the USA as well as four European countries. I have managed to earn a total of 23 academic degrees, of which 13 are doctorates, while continuing to work full-time. The areas of study include accounting, taxation, public finance, finance, various subfields of economics, law, political science, ethics, philosophy, and history.

My DSc [Econ.] from the University of Tartu is special for me. In the United States, the highest degree is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). In the European system it is possible to earn a higher doctorate, such as the Doctor of Science (DSc). I wanted to earn a doctorate that was higher than a PhD, so I searched for European universities that offered this degree.

I discussed the issue with Prof. Dr. Mart Sõrg, a professor at the University of Tartu who was visiting the United States at the time. After our discussion, I decided to earn the degree in Tartu. My experience at the University of Tartu was very pleasant. I met some highly intelligent people and had an opportunity to learn about Estonia and its history and culture. Years later I returned to Estonia to accept a short-term position as a Fulbright Scholar at a university in Tallinn, where I got to work with some professors I had met during my visit to Tartu.

In Idaho in 2018. Photo from the personal archive
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