Robert Maurer and accounting grew up together at Central College. During his 45 years at Central, Maurer has seen his specialty change from a few classes without a major to an established academic discipline with a conceptual framework. Having become an associate professor of a mature and popular field, Maurer retired this spring at the end of the semester.
“I think I’ve seen accounting come of age as something that has credibility in the educational environment, because we have a theory,” he says with pride. “We no longer do the number-crunching by hand, which gives the accountant time to think about what the numbers mean, what they should mean and how we should measure things.”
That kind of thinking didn’t exist when Maurer first earned his M.B.A. at Indiana University. Accounting was just a mechanical process. But when he came to Central in 1968, Maurer was immediately asked to expand his skills and perspective. Dean Jim Graham sent him to the University of Iowa to learn how to use its computer system, which Central was hooked up to. When the college acquired a stand-alone computer several years later, Maurer wrote programs for students to use in class, including a bank simulation in which he played the part of the Federal Reserve. He also wrote a manual on SuperCalc, a precursor to Microsoft Excel.
As the technology changed, so did Maurer’s relationships with students—his favorite aspect of teaching. “In earlier years, I was kind of a friend, then I became a dad. Now I’m a grandpa,” he says. “I’ve grown up and the students haven’t—they are still 20-year-olds.
That keeps you moving; you are working with young folks all the time, and you’ve got to remain young.”
Despite his grandfatherly appeal, Maurer describes his teaching style as authoritative. Accounting requires lectures, and there’s no room for discussion about which answer is better. “I think that’s both a blessing and a curse,” he explains. “I tell students the numbers are easy and the words are hard. We deal with the precision of numbers as opposed to the ambiguity of words.”
Still, Maurer always had words to spare for his accounting majors and other students on campus. He was the advisor to the Phi Delts for many years and fondly remembers Homecoming floats and spaghetti suppers. He also valued relationships with colleagues—especially Don Butler, who hired him and took him to the Drake Relays when he came to interview.
Forty-five years later, Maurer is retiring and looking forward to “playing with his toys”—Formula One and street racing cars. In his garage, he keeps 11 cars and four motorcycles. From the time he began racing in 1970, Maurer has accumulated several national championships and raced with legends like Paul Newman and Mario Andretti.
But Maurer won’t forget his other passion—the numbers and theory of accounting that led him to Central in the first place. He plans to rejoin the board of the local chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants and volunteer with the Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) in Iowa. Involved with the ever-changing field of accounting, Maurer will keep growing up.