David Guenther joined the Lundquist College of Business as a faculty member in 2005, and his steady hand has guided the Department of Accounting for a decade. Recent research by Guenther and others, coupled with key department hires, have elevated the department to new heights. Many look to Guenther as an essential element to that ascension. The Scharpf Professor of Accounting was also recently named the Stewart Distinguished Professor for 2017.
The Stewart Professorship was established through a gift by alumnus Thomas C. Stewart, and is awarded annually and aims to reward excellence in faculty performance that significantly enhances the visibility and strategic directions of the Lundquist College of Business and the University of Oregon.
A nomination letter authored by four current accounting faculty notes, “Under his leadership, the accounting department’s research reputation soared, particularly in the field of federal income taxation, where the department was recently ranked number 2 in the world. There is no question that Dave is one of the leading tax researchers in the country.”
The letter cites Guenther’s more than a dozen top-tier research publications and the fact he has received the manuscript award from the American Taxation Association four times. One of these awards is for joint work with new Lundquist College Dean Sarah E. Nutter, who is also a tax scholar, and Edward Maydew of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Despite the administrative burden of serving as the department head, Dave has continued to publish high-quality research with two recent publications in ‘A’ level journals,” the nomination added.
Guenther served as accounting department head until September 2016, when Angela Davis, Jack O. Rickli Professor of Business, took the reins. He is proud of the achievements of the department during the past decade but is careful not to take too much credit.
“I just tried to provide the environment and resources to continue and grow,” he said. “We have really tremendous support from our alumni and the accounting firms. We couldn’t run the department without that. We go to them for advice and counsel, and we listen to them.”
Along with connecting with alumni and partners, Guenther’s work with Lundquist College PhD students has also contributed to raising the reputation of our PhD program and attracting high-quality students.
One of those PhD students is Brian Williams ’15, now an assistant professor at Indiana University.
“David Guenther is the definition of a scholar—he approaches research with a rigor and enthusiasm rare even for academics,” Williams said. “But what is even more impressive about Dave is his generosity. During my five years at Oregon, I spent countless hours in Dave’s office as he patiently explained ideas and theory to me, helped craft the way that I think about research, and showed me what it meant to be a professor. I owe so much to Dave’s mentorship. It is truly a debt that I can never repay.”
Guenther said the most satisfying research he has done so far is that on corporate social responsibility: Specifically, how much income tax public companies that seem to value corporate social responsibility actually pay.
“It was much different than a lot of the research I do,” he said. “This is an important question in our society: Whether payment of tax is socially responsible and something people should do. I didn’t know the answer to that, but I thought it would be interesting to find out.”
That paper, “Do Socially Responsible Firms Pay More Taxes?” is coauthored by Davis, Lundquist College associate professor of accounting Linda Krull, and Williams. It appeared in The Accounting Review in January 2016.
Guenther said his interest in the question came about after spending a sabbatical at Oxford University in England.
“It seems a lot of European countries are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to accounting for socially responsible activities,” he said.
“There are a lot of big, U.S. companies that seem to pride themselves on being socially responsible—how they treat their employees, disposing of their products at the end of their life cycle,” Guenther said, citing Apple and Google as examples. “Yet those corporations seem to not pay a lot in taxes.”
He said the team was somewhat surprised to find companies that had the highest rankings in terms of corporate social responsibility had the lowest effective tax rate.
“We didn’t get the sense corporations were doing anything ‘bad’ or ‘cheating,’” he added. “There were a lot of lobbying activities.”
The paper caught the notice of The Economist.
For Guenther, research can be illuminating, but it’s teaching and mentoring students that gives his work meaning. It was teaching that first piqued his interest in academia and led the veteran of the United States Marine Corps on the path from a successful career as a CPA to earning his PhD.
“It’s a way to try to make the world a better place,” he said. “My goal is to make it worthwhile for students to come to class. I’ve never taken attendance for that reason,” he added. “I always felt that it was my job to make the class meaningful for them, in a way that they would want to come to class and feel like they are getting some benefit from it. If you have students who you were able to help and they are successful, it’s really rewarding.”