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story.lead_photo.caption University of Arkansas students are shown on the lawn in front of Old Main on the campus in Fayetteville in this file photo. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- A $10 million gift will support the soon-to-be-named William Dillard Department of Accounting at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the university announced Wednesday.

Dillard, a 1935 UA accounting graduate, founded the department-store chain that has its corporate headquarters in Little Rock.

The pending name change comes after his son, William T. Dillard II, has given approximately $6.5 million already in support of UA's accounting department and pledged another $3.5 million, UA spokesman David Speer said.

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, in a statement, called the store founder "an inspiration" for his business leadership and accomplishments, and said that "the naming of this department in his honor ensures his legacy will continue to inspire our students and serve our campus for years to come."

Before the naming decision is final, the University of Arkansas board of trustees must approve the change.

The Dillards, father and son, have each been inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

Dillard II, a 1966 UA accounting graduate, is chairman and chief executive officer of Dillard's Inc., which operates nearly 300 stores in 29 states, according to the company's website.

A Dillard's spokeswoman said Dillard was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

The gift will support the retention of accounting faculty members, along with professional outreach and scholarships for graduate students.

The accounting department enrolled 721 students this fall, including 50 graduate students, making it the fourth-largest of seven departments within the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Matt Waller, dean of the Walton College, said the $10 million gift will create an endowment "to allow for innovation in courses and programming to develop." Waller said between $400,000 and $500,000 likely will be available to spend yearly from the endowed gift.

The Dillard name also helps accounting at UA stand out compared with other universities, Waller said.

"Just having a named accounting department is unusual enough that it will get a lot of recognition, I think," Waller said.

Gary Peters, chairman of the accounting department, said in an email that the gift "will help us grow by supporting continued innovation in our graduate programs, student scholarships, faculty development, and experiential engagement with the profession."

The university released to the Democrat-Gazette a document outlining plans for endowed funds:

• $3 million to establish the Dillard Accounting Transformation Fund, which aims to support faculty development and retention, program innovations, getting speakers to campus and outreach to the professional community.

• $2 million to support 10 to 15 Master of Professional Accounting student scholars. The new graduate program requires final state approval, Peters said.

• $2 million to support Dillard Faculty Scholars of Excellence, a supplemental program for research faculty.

• $1 million for an executive-in-residence program to have accounting executives in the classroom.

• $1 million to provide fellowships and support for doctoral students.

• $1 million to support the accounting analytics curriculum, which Waller said is helped by acquiring large, complex sets of data that can be expensive to acquire.

"We're very grateful for what he's done. It will make a big impact," Waller said of Dillard's gift.

Steve Matzke, director for faculty and university initiatives with the American Institute of CPAs, said there has been a shortage of accounting faculty. Matzke said there's currently a need for fresh data about accountants pursuing careers in higher education.

For universities, "I think it's about making salaries competitive," Matzke said. "I also believe putting money towards research and funding research will go a long way to obtaining talent."

UA's accounting department now has 20 full-time faculty members, including 15 tenured or tenure-track members, Peters said.

"The market for academically qualified accounting faculty is extremely competitive. Flagship universities compete for a relatively limited group of newly minted accounting Ph.D. graduates every year," Peters said.

The Dillard gift will help provide summer research support and other research resources that Peters called "a crucial factor in attracting, retaining and cultivating exceptional accounting faculty."

Waller said that while a few departments at colleges and universities are named with an endowed gift, "it really is not very common."

At UA, only one other department is named. The university's chemical engineering department in 2005 became the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering after a $5 million gift from Martin, described by UA as the founder of engineering company PetroFac Inc.

Gifts to universities in support of accounting programs include $10 million announced in 2015 from retired Raymond James Financial executive Lynn Pippenger to the University of South Florida.

William Thomas Dillard, who died in 2002, is credited as a "a pioneer of the suburban shopping mall," according to the Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

He was born in 1914 in the southwest Arkansas city of Mineral Springs. The son of a store owner, Dillard first acquired a stake in a store in Nashville, also in southwest Arkansas, then, after selling that store, acquired a store in Texarkana.

The chain expanded first "in towns across the South," the encyclopedia states, as the company acquired hometown department stores and also took root in shopping malls.

Metro on 02/13/2020

Print Headline: Dillard's chief sets $10M UA gift

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