Professor reaches across borders to support Black accountants

Author: Steve Hockensmith
October 26, 2022
Theresa Hammond and Sedzani Musundwa
Photo Credit: Paul Asper

When South African Accounting Ph.D. candidate Sedzani Musundwa was unable to find a dissertation supervisor, SF State Professor of Accounting Theresa Hammond stepped in

When Sedzani Musundwa’s Ph.D. was approved by the University of South Africa this fall, making her one of the few Black chartered accountants in South Africa with a Ph.D., she had a lot of people to thank. High on the list was the faculty member who supervised her dissertation … who actually wasn’t at the University of South Africa at all. Because of her dissertation’s provocative subject matter — critical accounting, which examines the way race, gender and class impact key accounting decisions — Musundwa had to look beyond her university and even beyond her nation for help. Fortunately, she eventually found a dissertation supervisor who was an expert on the topic: San Francisco State University Professor of Accounting Theresa Hammond.

“With South Africa having very few Ph.D.s, and even fewer Ph.D.s in critical accounting, I found that there were very few professors who were willing to undertake the journey with me,” said Musundwa, who teaches at the University of South Africa as senior lecturer in Accounting and former chair of the Department of Financial Accounting. “Those who expressed interest appeared to want to steer the study as close to mainstream accounting as possible and away from its main objective.”

Hammond, on the other hand, has been exploring the effect of race on accounting from her earliest days in the field.

“I interned in public accounting in the 1980s and was shocked by how homogeneous it was,” Hammond said. “So I joined the National Association of Black Accountants while I was in graduate school in order to learn more about how I could help shape a more inclusive future for the profession.”

Around the same time, Hammond began working on a dissertation exploring the experiences of underrepresented minorities in accounting. She traveled across the country to interview the few Black men and women who were then Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). That research later became the basis for her book “A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921.”

Years later, Musundwa became aware of Hammond’s work while doing her own research. It didn’t occur to her that the American professor might be willing to serve as her dissertation supervisor, though. Then a stroke of good luck changed everything.

“I presented my Ph.D. proposal at a colloquium where an international moderator formed part of a panel,” Musundwa said. “That moderator turned out to be a close friend and colleague of Theresa Hammond. The main feedback she gave me: ‘Get in touch with Theresa Hammond. She is best suited for this study.’ And as they say the rest is history.”

Of course, there was a lot of hard work for Musundwa to put in before she could make that history.

“Unlike in the U.S., where getting a Ph.D. includes several research seminars to prepare students to undertake a major study on their own, in South Africa Ph.D. students are on their own from the very beginning,” Hammond said. “Fortunately, Sedzani excels at finding relevant seminars, readings and online coursework. I helped familiarize her with prior research in the field, introduced her to leading scholars in the area, encouraged her to participate in relevant conferences and helped her shape her methodology.”

Hammond also provided something else every student needs: encouragement.

“She constantly assured me that we were partners — i.e., there was no authoritative/hierarchical structure — and as such everything I brought to the table was considered,” Musundwa said.

All of this was accomplished via Zoom, with the two not meeting face to face until Musundwa traveled to the U.S. this summer. Of course, a visit with her dissertation supervisor had to be on Musundwa’s itinerary while she was stateside. Not long afterward, she got word that her dissertation had been approved. Now she is the first Black female faculty member in the University of South Africa’s College of Accounting Sciences to earn a Ph.D.

“I am hoping that the lived experiences of those that I have interviewed for my study will resonate with many young South African citizens who aspire to become [certified accountants],” Musundwa said. “My role is really to cast a light on experiences and information that is largely inaccessible in this country.”

Learn more about the Accounting Department in the Lam Family College of Business at San Francisco State.