Four decades later, retired Deloitte & Touche CEO Steve Van Arsdell can still picture himself in revered Professor C.A. Moyer’s accounting class, where something unforgettable happened.
“Professor Moyer was an imposing individual both by reputation, physical stature and booming voice. He needed no microphone to be heard. And, he was an instructor of the old style. He believed in asking tough questions and getting good answers — with little tolerance for poorly expressed or poor answers. He also believed in classroom attendance and strict classroom decorum.
“Were one to miss a class without an acceptable reason or to fail to observe proper etiquette in the classroom, one could expect Professor Moyer to devote a fair amount of time to you — typically, demonstrating the shortcomings of your knowledge of the accounting materials at hand.
“During one particularly pleasant April, the fellow who sat next to me in Professor Moyer’s advanced accounting class was absent for several consecutive classes. To protect the guilty, let’s just name him Mr. Smith.
“At last one day, Mr. Smith arrived at class a few moments early and borrowed my notes from the classes he had missed to try to bring himself up to speed before Professor Moyer arrived.
“When Professor Moyer arrived, he dutifully took roll, as he always did — but held his recognition of Mr. Smith’s attendance until the end, outside of the normal sequence.
Well, well, Mr. Smith, Professor Moyer asked in a tone recognized by all, to what do we all owe the honor of your presence in our classroom today?
Mr. Smith squirmed noticeably in his chair as he began his reply.
Professor Moyer, to be honest with you ...
But before Mr. Smith could utter the next word, Professor Moyer cut him short.
Mr. Smith, sir, do you profess to wish to become an accountant?
Well, yes, I do.
Then, sir, are you not aware that honesty is expected of all accountants?
Well, yes, I am.
Do you not recognize that honesty underlies the very code of ethics to which you will be asked to adhere should you ever be so fortunate as to graduate from this university?
Then why do you waste our time by starting an answer by stating something as if it were out of the ordinary when it is expected of you? Unless, sir, it is out of the ordinary for you. Is it?
Well, no sir, I mean …
Mr. Smith, your answer now, please!
Sir, I misplaced my golf clubs.
You could have heard a pin drop after the uniform gasp for air by all of the rest of us in the room. We each anticipated that the rest of the class period would be devoted to a demonstration of Mr. Smith’s lack of preparedness that would leave him exhausted and, literally, barely able to crawl out of the room when the bell rang.
Professor Moyer, never at a loss for words, simply looked at Mr. Smith and stated: Given our wonderful weather of late, that, sir, is an entirely reasonable answer but one that will not be repeated.
"Professor Moyer then proceeded as if nothing had happened and did not call on Mr. Smith again during the class.
"As you may have surmised, Professor Moyer, a superb collegiate athlete, was an avid golfer.
"Mr. Smith never missed another of Professor Moyer’s classes – regardless of the weather or the location of his golf clubs. Indeed, he was complimented publicly by Professor Moyer for his outstanding performance on one of the hourly exams and, I believe, received an A in the class.
"Mr. Smith went on to a successful career and, to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor any of the others in the class has ever again started an explanation with 'To be honest ...'