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NMSU College of Business celebrates first endowed chair in accounting

What started as a professorship established to honor an accounting educator and mentor has grown into a fully endowed chair in New Mexico State University’s College of Business.


Woman at lectern
Donor Judy Gray Johnson speaks during a special reception to celebrate the establishment of the Lionel Haight Endowed Chair in Accounting in the New Mexico State University College of Business. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The Lionel Haight Endowed Chair in Accounting is the first endowed chair for the Department of Accounting and Information Systems, and the sixth for the college. The College of Business announced the new chair at a reception Friday at Pete V. Domenici Hall on campus.

Department Head Kevin Melendrez said the availability of jobs in the private sector can make it challenging to draw accountants with doctoral degrees into academia, so having an endowed chair will help the College of Business continue to attract and retain outstanding faculty members.

“We’re truly grateful for the support we’ve received from firms and individuals throughout the campaign to fund the Lionel Haight Endowed Chair,” Melendrez said. “More than 100 donors contributed to this endowment, which shows the strength of support from our alumni and friends in the industry and the importance of our faculty’s role in student success.”

The Lionel Haight Professorship began with a $250,000 gift from Judy Gray Johnson and her husband, Michael, in 2010. Johnson attended NMSU from 1969 to 1972, majoring in accounting. It was during those years that she and Michael, also an NMSU student at the time, met and married. Michael graduated in 1972, and Judy went on to finish her bachelor’s of business administration in accounting at the University of Houston.

Haight, a former NMSU professor and head of the accounting department who died in 1998, was known for his tough but caring teaching style.

“He was a really great professor, but people had to work hard in his class,” Johnson said of Haight. “He knew the students as individuals and cared about them; that makes such a difference in students’ lives.”

In 2011, with the goal of raising the Lionel Haight Professorship to a $1 million endowed chair, Johnson offered a challenge: If other donors contributed $100,000 to the fund within two years, she’d pledge an additional $100,000 to match those gifts. When that goal was met five months ahead of schedule, she doubled down on the pledge, offering another $100,000 matching challenge.

Thanks to contributions from alumni and supporters – including significant contributions from Albuquerque CPA firms REDW, Moss Adams and KPMG and Las Cruces firm Beasley, Mitchell & Co. – the million-dollar goal has been met.

“We’ve reached a lot of people who were excited enough to contribute,” Johnson said. “That says a lot about the program.”

Don Beasley, founding partner of Beasley, Mitchell & Co. and a 1972 graduate of NMSU, said his firm contributed to the fund because its partners see Haight as a symbol of the excellence of the accounting department. NMSU accounting graduates make up about 75 percent of the professionals at the firm, he said.

For Beasley, who was recently inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame, the gift was also personal – he remembers his professor as someone who demanded excellence and taught him life skills that still serve him well.

“He taught us that you have to be prepared. That really hit home with me,” Beasley said. “I have carried that lesson throughout my career.”

The Johnsons have been generous supporters of NMSU, providing substantial gifts to programs in arts and sciences, education and business, as well as athletics.

The College of Business will now begin the search to award the chair. Dean Jim Hoffman said the support from the accounting industry across New Mexico has been tremendous, and it’s gratifying to see so many students go on to successful careers with those firms.

“This chair will help us continue to offer an outstanding accounting program that benefits the entire state of New Mexico. It also puts us in a much better position to recruit and retain the excellent faculty for which we’ve come to be known,” Hoffman said. “This kind of support has a direct impact on the quality of transformative education we offer our students. We’re very grateful.”