Few professors have been on campus as long as Professor Emeritus Alan Cerf, BS 44, and few have taught as many students or seen as many changes at the university and in their fields. In recognition of his impact on campus and in his field, Cerf was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Accounting Program at Haas at the Accounting Recognition Dinner April 21 at the Claremont Hotel.
“I figured out the other day that I’ve taught 13,440 students,” Cerf says. “I just averaged it out. I calculated four courses a year, average 60 students per class, times 55 years.”
Cerf still teaches two classes each semester, Intermediate Financial Accounting and Federal Income Taxation.
After earning a BS in business administration from UC Berkeley in 1944, Cerf joined the Navy and then studied at Harvard and received his PhD from Stanford. He worked as a CPA before returning to Berkeley as a faculty member in 1955.
Cerf was the first director of the San Francisco MBA Program, staffed by business school faculty. He also served as chairman of the Accounting Group at Berkeley from 1978 to 1982. His research focused mainly on taxation and on real estate investment. In 1984 he received the Faculty Excellence Award for Education and Research from the California CPA Foundation
During his decades at Berkeley, Cerf has seen many changes, including the growth in the number of female students from a conspicuous few to a majority in his classes and the expansion of the business school from the College of Commerce during his undergrad days to the addition of such programs as the evening MBA, of which Cerf was the first director. Changes in the accounting field that Cerf has witnessed include the exponential growth of knowledge and information. In business education, Cerf has seen a change in emphasis from studying specialized areas such as accounting and marketing to a broader managerial approach of teaching about all aspects of business, he says.
Throughout all the changes one thing remains the same – the seriousness of the students. “I remember in the '60s during the Vietnam War, I was teaching a class and the fire alarm rang. This was a time of a lot of protests. Some students came in and said to the class, ‘You shouldn’t be here studying accounting, you should be out protesting.’ But none of the accounting students left,” he remembers.
What he enjoyed most about his career was teaching people. “Hopefully they learn something, and it helps them advance in their career and make a better life,” Cerf says.
Certainly that has been the case for Paul Reshke, tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Francisco. At Berkeley there was only one tax course, and Professor Cerf was the only one teaching it when Reshke took the class on a lark in 1982. Although Reshke joined his firm as an auditor, Cerf’s class had piqued his interest in taxation enough to compel him to work a busy season in the tax practice.
“I moved into the tax practice and have been doing it for 28 years. It was because of Professor Cerf. I just took the class, but unbeknownst to me I ended up making a career of it,” he says.
“Alan Cerf has always had this quirky old professor kind of style about him. He’s funny, but it’s almost by accident.,” Reshke adds. “I’ve marveled at how he’s been able to teach this long. I’ve gone into his class on tax-panel day, and the students still respond. He clearly loves tax.”
Professor Cerf continues to have an impact on the faculty as well. “From the day I joined the accounting faculty, Alan Cerf made it a point to make me feel welcome and let me know what a special place Berkeley is,” says Maria Nondorf, Executive Director of the Center for Financial Reporting and Management. “Professor Cerf’s legacy endures, and I’m proud to be part of it. We hope that he continues to affect students’ lives and careers.”
And as for Cerf’s age, which he refuses to divulge — you do the math. “I’m still teaching and don’t want them to say ‘Who’s that old guy?’” Cerf says.