Texas Tech University

Accounting Professor's Passion for Teaching Pays Dividends

Elyssa Sanders

April 13, 2022

John Masselli received a 2022 Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

In February, the Texas Tech University System announced its 2022 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards to honor outstanding faculty members who provide exceptional opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting the eight Texas Tech University faculty members who were recognized.

John Masselli, the Haskell Taylor Professor of Taxation in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, discovered the meaning of job satisfaction in 1991 when he began teaching for the first time. In the 31 years since, his passion for instilling knowledge and helping students grasp difficult concepts has never waned.

Masselli earned his bachelor's degree in accounting from Fairfield University in 1987, his master's degree in taxation from the University of Hartford in 1991 and his doctorate in accounting from Georgia State University in 1998.

John Masselli
John Masselli
(Above: Masselli with President Lawrence Schovanec at Length of Service Awards)

In his 24 years at Texas Tech, Masselli has borne witness to – and been the driving force behind – transformative progress, including the implementation of broader equal employment opportunity (EEO) protections and the creation of global learning opportunities for business students. He helped launch the Texas Tech University Center in Sevilla, Spain in 2001 and, three years later, created the Rawls Summer Program in Prague, Czech Republic. He remains active in Rawls College global education programs, spending his summers teaching accounting and taxation courses abroad.

Now, Masselli is being honored with a 2022 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

The Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards are given to individuals who exemplify teaching or research excellence and who have significantly advanced teaching or research efforts and are noted as leaders among colleagues and in their respective fields. Established in 2001, they are the highest honors given to Texas Tech University System faculty members.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?

The Rawls College of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB). The AACSB accreditation process requires the university to classify their terminal degree-holding faculty as either “scholarly” academics, who publish primarily in peer-reviewed academic journals, or “practice” academics, who sustain relevancy though a significant level of professional engagement, which can include consulting, publishing in trade journals and leading executive education programs.

I am one of the few Rawls College faculty who meets the criteria of both scholarly and practice academics and my research record reflects this distinction. My academic research has been published in highly ranked journals such as Contemporary Accounting Research, the Journal of Business Research, the Journal of the American Taxation Association and the Journal of Information Systems, while my practitioner focused articles have been published in journals such as Tax Notes, State Tax Notes, Taxes: The Tax Magazine, the ATA Journal of Legal Tax Research and the CPA Journal.

My academic research focuses on human judgement and decision-making in tax planning and compliance situations, business model innovations in nonprofit organizations and the examination of accounting's role in legitimizing business organizations within emerging and transitional industries. My practitioner research focuses on recommending tax policy modifications and providing innovative tax and business planning opportunities, many of which are triggered by legislative changes in tax laws or outcomes of court cases.

My primary goals are to help for-profit and nonprofit organizations achieve their missions, help individuals and entities legally minimize their tax exposure and help tax authorities understand how taxpayers respond to various situations. I believe these goals synchronize well and promote a healthy economic climate, the outcome of which has many peripheral benefits to society.   

What projects are you working on at this time?

I currently have four projects in progress, two of which are academic studies and two of which are practitioner studies.

The first academic study examines whether taxpayers with negative attitudes toward certain controversial tax systems, such as the net investment income tax enacted to fund the Affordable Care Act, can be persuaded to modify their positions through positively framed statements from credible and noncredible sources, or whether their negative attitudes are so entrenched that they make suboptimal financial decisions. The second academic study focuses on helping nonprofit organizations develop assessment metrics that embrace a double bottom-line approach of mission and money.  

The first practitioner study involves recommending tax policy modifications for the Treasury Department's process of granting nonprofit status to churches and organizations, which is particularly salient given the IRS's recent negative publicity over NPO status. The second study provides tax planning opportunities related to the Section 199A qualified business income deduction.

What areas are you interested in for future research?

While there will always be a special place in my heart for my academic/practitioner tax research, the research stream that is the most motivational to me at this juncture is my emphasis on nonprofit organization business models.

In our recent article, “Nonprofit business model innovation as a response to existential environmental threats: Performing arts in the Unites States,” my co-authors and I examined business model innovations related to visual and performing arts organizations that were struggling to compete in a world where funding for the arts was being cut and access to 24-hour live streaming of content was threatening their customer base. I didn't realize until I was engaged with that study how much satisfaction I could get from applying my knowledge base to help nonprofit organizations that are near and dear to my heart. To that end, I can firmly say that I intend to continue my work in this area.

What rewards do you get from teaching? What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?

I am answering these questions together because the rewards I receive from teaching are largely the reason I chose to pursue a career in academia. Quite frankly, teaching is my passion. I discovered this passion somewhat accidently in 1991, when I was a senior consultant for Deloitte Haskins & Sells. A local university in New Haven, Connecticut, asked if I would be interested in teaching a section of Intermediate Accounting II, which is known by accounting faculty and students nationwide as the class that separates the adults from the children in an undergraduate accounting curriculum.

I accepted the challenge and realized that before then, I hadn't known what real job satisfaction was. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being a certified public accountant, as evidenced by the fact that I have maintained a small consulting practice for more than three decades and remain very connected with the profession, but I truly love being a professor. My students have said that I come alive when I enter a classroom and my upbeat dynamism is almost contagious. I discovered my talent for effectively transferring knowledge in 1991, and to this day I appreciate the surge of energy I feel when I'm teaching a difficult concept and that break-through moment happens, when you can see students are understanding it.  

It didn't take long for me to realize I craved the level of career satisfaction I experienced in my role as a professor, so I investigated the steps I would need to take to reallocate my career to primarily being a professor and secondarily being a CPA. I completed my doctoral program in 1998 and joined Texas Tech shortly thereafter, all the while keeping my foot in the profession. Many of my colleagues ask why I opted to keep the level of professional connection that I have. First, it is because I enjoy it. Second, I firmly believe that by staying connected with the profession I can much more easily communicate the relevance of the topics I teach to my students. Third, the harmonization of my academic and professional talents has helped me be an effective teacher in a variety of settings, from undergraduate, master's, MBA and executive programs to professional firms like Ernst & Young.  

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching?

Texas Tech's support of my research and teaching has been second-to-none, in large part because the leadership I've been fortunate enough to work for always maintained a “can do” attitude when it came to considering financial resources for databases I was seeking to acquire for use in archival studies, or funds to compensate subjects in an experimental study. I cannot recall a time when any of my requests were denied.

I have always been a staunch proponent of global learning opportunities and began proposing a variety of ways to expand Texas Tech's footprint abroad as early as 2001. I was invited to be involved with the launch of the Texas Tech University Center in Sevilla, Spain, in 2001, and sought the approval of Rawls College to do so. College leadership approved my request and allowed me to allocate some of my time between 2001 and 2003 to teaching accounting courses at the Seville center.  

Then, in 2004, I asked permission to create the Rawls Summer Program in Prague, Czech Republic. I am proud to say that I have led the program since 2004 and hundreds of business students have benefited from this amazing study abroad experience. Most recently, I was part of a team that received a U.S. Department of Education grant to create an international experiential learning program called the Rawls Global Learning Opportunity in Business Education (R-GLOBE). It is my hope that after our two years of federal funding expire, the R-GLOBE program will become a permanent addition to the international offerings available to Rawls students through the college's dedicated Center for Global Engagement. Texas Tech has always fully embraced any creative proposal I have made to enhance quality of education for our students.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why?

Just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” in my case, it took a village to make my career. Were it not for the unconditional love and support of my husband of 25 years, my family, friends, colleagues, teachers and professors, I would not be the human being, professor, or professional I am today. That said, there are two standouts I would like to mention. The first is Dr. Fred A. Jacobs and the second is Dr. Robert Ricketts.  

Fred Jacobs was not only my dissertation chair and doctoral advisor during my Ph.D. program at Georgia State University, but also became a true friend, confidant and advisor long after I graduated until he passed away in 2019. Fred was instrumental in my decision to come to Texas Tech, and I would like to explain why his insight had such a dramatic impact on my career.  

I was on schedule to complete my doctoral studies in May 1998, so I was seeking an assistant professor position with a fall 1998 start date. I first interviewed with Texas Tech in August 1997 at the American Accounting Association annual meeting. Without a doubt, the assistant tax professor position at Texas Tech was among the most coveted positions on the market during that recruiting cycle. Texas Tech was a Ph.D.-granting institution with a top-notch faculty that maintained one of the most prestigious tax-focused masters and doctoral programs in the country.

Despite all that, I explained to Fred that I planned to turn down the invitation to campus because, as an openly gay man, I was concerned my partner – now husband – and I might experience significant prejudice in the workplace and community. At that time, there were no EEO protections afforded to the LGBTQIA community at Texas Tech, within the city of Lubbock or within the state of Texas. While Fred appreciated my concerns, he pointed out that, by turning down the interview for the reasons stated, I was engaging in the same prejudicial behavior toward Texas Tech that I was concerned would be done to me.

He encouraged me to visit the campus, meet the people, present my research and be the same John that the faculty of Georgia State University were proud to send on the road as one of their doctoral candidates. I remember him saying the worst that could happen is that I get amazing feedback on my dissertation from nationally recognized academic researchers, and the best thing that could happen is that I accept an offer to join the Texas Tech faculty and bring them my talents as a researcher, teacher and colleague. He believed I could be as much of an agent of change at Texas Tech as I had been at GSU when it came to diversity issues. He often jokingly reminded me that Georgia was not exactly known as the bastion of open-mindedness when it came to LGBTQIA issues either. So, I accepted the interview. As an aside, Fred took great pleasure over the years recalling that fall 1997 conversation we had in his office as my career at Texas Tech blossomed into something very special to me.

Dr. Robert Ricketts, the Frank M. Burke Chair in Taxation in the Rawls College, is the second person I credit with my career successes. During my 1997 campus visit, Robert and I created an energy I never thought would be possible in a two-hour interview. We both shared a passion for the field of academic and professional taxation. He and I started our careers with international firms, were active CPAs and were committed to the importance of preparing students for successful professional careers. We shared a vision for the future of the tax and accounting program at the Rawls College that included program expansion and other experiential learning opportunities.  

Robert's vision of an academic institution that recognized the importance of diversity synchronized beautifully with my own, even though in 1997, few businesses or universities had institutional offices dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. Any concerns I had prior to that visit were mitigated by Robert and the other faculty members, so I accepted the job offer within days of it being tendered. Robert's role as my mentor continues unabated to this day, and it is Texas Tech that has helped advance my career to levels I could not have imagined as a young professional and newly minted Ph.D. graduate in 1998.