Longtime NMSU donors issue $100,000 challenge for an endowed chair in accounting

November 9, 2011 by Janet Perez, NMSU News Center

Michael and Judy Johnson. (photo by Darren Phillips)

Michael and Judy Johnson. (photo by Darren Phillips)

After donating $250,000 toward the creation of a professorship in accounting at the New Mexico State University College of Business, Aggie supporters Michael and Judy Gray Johnson are challenging alumni and members of the business community to match an additional $100,000 gift with a goal of raising the first fully endowed chair for the accounting department.

“The goal is to have full funding for a professorship, rather than partial funding,” said Judy Johnson, who majored in accounting at NMSU. “Eventually we would like to have the endowment built up so it would have enough to sustain a professor’s program going forward.”

Last year, the Johnsons’ quarter-million dollar gift created the Lionel Haight Professorship, named after the legendary accounting professor who forged a 45-year career at NMSU from 1927 to 1972. Haight was named head of the accounting department in 1964 in the newly formed College of Business Administration and Economics and for a time was the college’s only accounting professor. Haight died in 1998, but his legacy lives on through former students such as Johnson.

“His style was very, very tough, and you knew that once you had finished his class you had learned something,” said Johnson, who sits on the College of Business’ Business Advisory Council. “He was a very demanding professor and that was really good for the students. We needed that. He gave lots of homework; he had a test, a quiz every week. It wasn’t going to be a midterm and a final. He gave us a test every single week. He also had lots of homework assignments and you better do them and you better do them right. But it was important. It was telling you how we are measuring the success or failure of a business.”

Johnson added that while there was no explicit talk about business ethics in Haight’s classes, ethics were implicit in the very nature of the man. She remembers one incident in which she had to take a test in one of Haight’s classes an hour before her classmates because of a conflict with her orchestra rehearsals.

“He saw me talking to other students after I had taken my test and then he lectured me and said, ‘I don’t want to see you talking to anybody. They might ask you something about the test. You might give away something,’” she said with a laugh. “I told him I’d never do that and he said, ‘I don’t want to see you talking after the test.’ The idea of cheating in his class or trying to get away with something was inconceivable.”

Johnson ended up completing her studies at the University of Houston, eventually becoming a certified public accountant and later the financial director for the city of Houston. But the lessons she learned from Haight remained a touchstone throughout her career.

“There are several moments in any career where you stop and say, ‘Let me remember what I learned in school, go back to the basics.’ A lot of times when I did that it would be Professor Haight’s classes I remembered, because he made sure we knew not only what the accounting rules are, but also what the underlying foundation is, what the goal of accounting is,” she said. “He did that in a very stern, but solid way. He was always very practical.’

Over the years, Johnson and her husband, Michael, have given generously to NMSU. Along with last year’s $250,000 donation for the Haight Professorship and this year’s $100,000 challenge, in 2006 the Johnsons gave NMSU a $1 million gift to help the College of Arts and Sciences establish its first endowed chair in the Department of Geological Sciences. In 2009, the Johnsons, who live just outside of Santa Fe, pledged $125,000 to the NMSU Center for the Arts to establish the new center’s costume shop, Jaki’s Closet, named after their daughter, Jaclynn.

While Johnson didn’t graduate from NMSU, her Aggie roots run deep. Her husband received a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from NMSU in 1972, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2006. Michael Johnson currently serves as chairman of the New Mexico State University Foundation’s board of directors. In addition, Judy Johnson’s grandmother, father and a sister are all Aggie alumni.

“The fact that I didn’t quite finish my degree at New Mexico State doesn’t keep me from feeling that I’m an Aggie. Our daughter is about to get her degree this semester, so we’ll have four generations of Aggies in our family,” she said.

With her combined love of NMSU, her admiration for Haight and her dedication to the field of accounting, Johnson is determined to make sure accounting professors at the university have the tools they need to thoroughly prepare their students for the business world. That philosophy underlies the basis of her $100,000 challenge.

“Good accounting education is very important. It’s important to companies; it’s important to nonprofit organizations; it’s important to governments,” she said. “We will always have a need for accountants who come out of school really understanding where they are going with accounting and why it matters.”

For more information on the Johnsons’ $100,000 challenge, contact the assistant dean for development at the College of Business, Andrea Tawney, at 575-646-4917 or at atawney@nmsu.edu. To make a secure online gift directly to this endowment, please visit: http://giving.nmsu.edu/haight.html.

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