Roman L. Weil, economist who had a passion for teaching accounting, 1940-2023
Booth professor and textbook author taught financial literacy to students of all ages
Roman L. Weil, a longtime Booth School of Business faculty member who specialized in accounting and expanded access to financial literacy for those serving on corporate boards, passed away on February 1 in Chicago. He was 82.
Weil, the V. Duane Rath Professor Emeritus of Accounting, started his Chicago Booth career in 1965 before retiring in 2008. He was the co-author of more than 12 textbooks, including the popular Accounting: The Language of Business. He is highly regarded for his Fisher-Weil duration, a complex measure of bond duration still used today.
Outside of teaching, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Treasury and the Financial Accounting Standards Board. He also was the chair of an audit committee affiliated with New York Life Insurance.
Among students, Weil was known for his notoriously difficult introductory accounting course, says Kathleen Fitzgerald, ’03, Clinical Associate Professor of Strategic Management, who spent several years as Weil’s teaching assistant.
“It was considered a badge of honor to have taken Roman’s class and survived,” she says. “He always took care of people in his Roman way and the students had a lot of respect for him. His exams were hard. He came off as gruff, but if you knew him, he was very kind and considerate.”
Richard H. Thaler, Nobel laureate and the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics, remembers Weil for the rational approach he brought to both work and life.
“I have built a career making fun of Homo economicus, arguing such hyper rational creatures are a figment of economists’ imaginations,” Thaler says. “Well, they say that the exception proves the rule, and Roman was a unicorn, a genuine rational economic man. I made endless fun of him on this account, which he always took in good spirit, and to his credit, he became an ardent student of behavioral economics because he was curious to learn about how other folks thought.”
Weil was also a stickler for grammar, Thaler recalls. He would often receive detailed feedback about the book manuscripts he shared with Weil. “Roman would strike every use of the word very from my writing,” he says.
A prominent area of Weil’s focus was examining corporate governance weaknesses that were exposed by accounting scandals, including the one at Enron. His research found that corporate board audit committee members often had poor financial literacy and did not realize their own gaps.
After the Enron scandal, Weil felt it was critical to show why such committee members needed to thoroughly understand accounting when serving on boards. In 2002, he cofounded and organized the Directors’ Consortium, an executive education program for corporate directors that was co-sponsored by Chicago Booth, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“He was motivated to do his part to make sure Enron didn’t happen again, which it arguably hasn’t. It also shows that when Roman decided to do something, he was relentless,” says Steve Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, who worked with Weil on the program.
Even outside the classroom, he took teaching seriously. Weil was an oenophile, often hosting memorable wine tastings for others, shares Ray Ball, the Sidney Davidson Distinguished Service Professor of Accounting. Those in attendance would not know the wine they were drinking ahead of time, as Weil left off the labels to create a more engaging discussion. “He had an incredible wine cellar,” says Ball, who attended a tasting. “He would host these wine tastings and lead them like a scientist. He randomized the wines he was giving people and asked each guest to rate them.”
Weil’s three children were accustomed to him giving them math problems, including prime factorizations, in the car or arithmetic before bedtime. The cost accounting methods of LIFO (last in, first out) and FIFO (first in, first out) were repurposed for designating who was going first or last out of the bathtub.
“He used mental math as a bedtime story,” recalls Weil’s daughter Lacey Weil Ogbolumani.
Even after retiring from Booth, Weil continued to take teaching appointments at Booth and other universities across the country. He was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford Law School, Harvard Law School, Princeton University, and New York University.
“It sort of seems to be universal that people describe him as a dry black-and-white thinker and kind of prickly, but always generous with his time,” says Weil Ogbolumani.