Tribute to Ray M. Sommerfeld

TaxPoint is dedicated to Ray M. Sommerfeld (1933-1995), one of the true pioneers in tax education. Ray's vision and innovative contributions served as our inspiration in designing this product. Ray is the most creative and energetic force that tax education has ever known.

In August 1993, the American Taxation Association announced the creation of the Ray M. Sommerfeld Outstanding Tax Educator Award. This award consists of a funded scholarship and a crystal sculpture that recalls Ray's passion for sailing. At its annual luncheon honoring Ray as the first recipient of the award, Fred Streuling, a long-time colleague and friend, offered the following tribute:

As chair of the 1992/93 ATA Awards Committee, it is my privilege today to announce the creation of the Outstanding Tax Educator Award, sponsored jointly by the American Taxation Association and Ernst & Young. The idea of the award was presented by our committee in executive session to the ATA Board of Trustees at the 1993 Mid-year Meeting in Chicago where it received unanimous approval.

Taxation has matured into a separate and distinct field of study and today is recognized as such by both academicians and practitioners. At times the road to achieve such stature has been a rocky one. The formation of the American Taxation Association 19 years ago in New Orleans significantly contributed towards recognition and acceptance. However, we especially have to thank individuals who staked their vision, creativity, energy, and, at times, their professional reputation to achieve such recognition. Therefore, our committee believes that the time has come when we should recognize, honor, and reward outstanding contributions by faculty members who, through their examples and diligent service, have helped bring stature and prominence to our profession.

Our committee has selected an individual as the first recipient of the Outstanding Educator Award, who, throughout a distinguished career, has earned respect and admiration from students, academicians, and practitioners. As a young professor he resolved that students, who were interested in taxation as a professional career, deserved to be properly educated. Although others had voiced similar thoughts, he went past the idea stage and built one of the most successful graduate tax programs in the country and inspired the creation of similar programs at other universities. This occurred at a time when professors received little formal education in taxation during their graduate studies. And so to his young colleagues, whom he hired to assist him, he became a tutor and mentor in the truest sense. He shared his creative genius and wealth of teaching experiences with his colleagues, even to the extent that he would endure the drudgery of attending their classes to give moral support and provide valuable suggestions. They also received help and encouragement with research and writing projects.

Unlike some of us, who hold on to old ideas a little too long, he constantly experimented with new ideas. As a result, he broke new ground by publishing one of the first readable tax texts. He demanded superior performances from his students and he had a knack of making them like him for it. Over the years he shared unique approaches to teach taxation, such as using diagrams of chemistry beakers to explain the phenomenon of capital gains and losses; and when you attended his classroom lectures you left excited and fed, never feeling that stale information had been dispensed.

His abilities and accomplishments became recognized by the practicing professionals and about midway through his career he became a partner with Arthur Young & Company, responsible for the firm's tax training. After accomplishing what he had set out to do, he returned to his first love, namely academics.

Over the years he rendered valuable service in professional organizations such as the AICPA, the ATA, and the AAA. He served as ATA President from 1975 to 1976, led the initial effort the create the Journal of the American Taxation Association, and was honored by his peers as the 1986-87 President of the American Accounting Association. Not so long ago, he was honored by being appointed to the Accounting Education Change Commission.

An accomplishment which has elevated my respect for him especially, has been his ability, despite numerous offers and opportunities, to elude with grace and dignity the temptation of becoming a department chair, dean, or heaven help, a university administrator with whom he had little patience. Yet they valued his judgement and his opinion and when it was time to select a new dean, football coach, or university president, he usually appeared as a member of the selection committee.

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