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Yale 62

Roman L. Weil


May 4, 2023. A new entry in Roman Weil’s CaringBridge page took us to a lovely recording of his memorial service, which was held at the University of Chicago on Saturday, April 29th. Click here for the description of the event at CaringBridge, or click here to view the service.

(We learned of Roman’s death quickly – the day following his passing – because he had maintained a page at Caring Bridge to keep family and friends apprised of how his cancer treatments were going. Here are his daughter Lacey’s words:)

Hello friends and family,

I’m sad to report that Roman passed away yesterday, February 1st. We won’t learn anything more specific, but we do know it happened fast and he did not appear to be in distress. In the previous 18 hours he had joked with a friend of mine, visited with his nurse, watched videos of my son playing basketball, and emailed family. He was having as good a day as any that he has.

I know Roman frequently reported to people, and on here, that he was fine and “waiting for nothing to happen.” Things had been happening. I don’t think he had shared widely that he had several areas of metastases. In the end, he had two separate Stage 4 cancers but he was hanging in there as best he could. He never reported having pain.

In the last couple of months he was able to spend a good amount of time with me, Lexie and Sandy. He was also able to visit with all of his grandkids. He was very proud of all of them.

We will plan some sort of memorial and decide where to scatter his ashes. We will share plans when we have them, but it won’t be for a bit of time. His expressed wishes are that we have a memorial only if WE want to, do not find it burdensome, and do it as cost effectively as possible. We will do our best in that regard!

Take care, and raise a good glass of wine to Roman!
Lacey Weil Ogbolumani together with David, Isabella (22) and Emeka (14)
Lexie Weil together with Brad Laesch, Lily (22), Greta (20), Conrad (16)
Charles (Sandy) Weil together with Anne, Charlie (20), Baillie (19) and Allie (17)

Roman’s Life, in His Own Words

Roman WeilRoman Lee Weil, Jr. was born in Montgomery, Alabama on May 22, 1940, to Charlotte Alexander Weil [Atlanta GA] and Roman Lee Weil [Montgomery AL].  He dropped the Jr. after his father’s death in 1969.  When he applied for Social Security and Medicare benefits, he learned he had to resume using it as Uncle Sam never dropped using it.  Roman reports that his going to Yale likely would not have happened but for the encouragement of his mother, Wellesley ’35, and her brother, Yale Medal winning uncle Cecil A. Alexander, Jr. YC ’40.

Roman married Cherie Buresh, Wellesley ’63, and they have three children: Alexis, Yale College ’91 [Trumbull] and Charles (Sandy) Yale College ’93 [Berkeley], and Lacey, NYU ’96.  Those three have produced, between them, nine grandchildren, who live in Seattle, Denver, and Evanston. They call him Pappy.

He attended schools in Montgomery, graduating from Sidney Lanier High School in 1958.  He notes that his public school education in segregated schools was remarkably good, for in those days the jobs available to smart women in Alabama were mostly nurse and schoolteacher.  His teachers would today be lawyers, doctors, judges, computer scientists, professors, architects, business executives, and other professionals.  They were smart and tough.  “Roman, you are doing the best work in the class, but you are laaazy, so your grade is B.”  Roman’s father, on hearing this, provided no sympathy.  Roman remarks that he found that his education, compared to the prep-schooled Yale classmates lacked calculus, but only a handful of classmates had had the five years of Latin that Alabama provided in those days to white students.  Roman observed that many classmates were surprised to hear a Southern accent attached to educated ideas.

At Yale, Roman played contract bridge while dabbling in economics and mathematics on the side.  He won the national intercollegiate bridge championships of 1961 but picked up enough math/econ to find his way to graduate school at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon.  [Only two classmates majored in econ/math.  The other, Akerlof, won a Nobel Prize.  Roman was never in danger of that.] Meanwhile, he and Berkeley College roommates Jim Litvack and Donald Stobs, Jr. spent weekends traveling, mostly to Wellesley, where Litvack and Weil found their eventual brides.  Roman’s essay in our 25th Reunion Book remarked that the most valuable lesson he learned at Yale from observing his classmates in action was how hard one has to work to get good at something.

Near the end of his time at Yale, Roman’s mentor, Master Charles Walker of Berkeley College, said, “Roman, you have insufficient deference to make it in the corporate world; you should be an academic.”  Good advice.  Roman lacked the diplomacy skills, even, to be an academic dean.

Roman’s service to Berkeley College comprised his coming to speak to juniors and seniors about business schools and law schools.  Master Skip Stout awarded Roman the honor of Alumni Fellow of Berkeley College.  Cherie Weil’s original lithograph, dated 1993, of the Berkeley Gate, hung in the Charles Walker Seminar Room at Berkeley.  Later searches for it, in vain, suggest it was lost when the Room was remodeled to some other use.

Roman’s service to the Class of 1962 comprised two five-year terms as Class Treasurer in the 1980s, Chairman of the 30th Reunion, and Organizer of the Class’s 50th and 75th Birthday Parties. You’d never have known he was the Party Guy until you tote it all. It began at the 26th reunion gathering of the Class Council at Vic Miller’s house, where we absorbed the scolding of the AYA and the Yale Development Office.  We decided that if we couldn’t be a star class in other ways, we’d try to excel in having fun.  He, with the quiet encouragement of Peter Sipple, strived for the bare bones version of the parties, so as to make them as widely affordable to classmates as we could arrange.  Few complained that the gatherings were less fun because we had hamburgers, not steak.  Roman wanted his obit to acknowledge the essential support Gus Hedlund provided for the 75th Birthday Party, not before now noted to the Class.

After Yale, Roman went directly to Carnegie Tech where he goofed off for another year.  The School would have dismissed him, but for the fact that he had a three-year NDEA Fellowship.  Had the school fired Roman, they’d have lost some funding, so they didn’t.  Finally, after one year in graduate school, under the prodding and tutelage of Lester Lave, Roman discovered the joy of devoting his energy to academic pursuits.  He gave up bridge and pursued completing the requirements for a PhD.  Flukes of timing caused that PhD to be in Economics, rather than Computer Science or Operations Research, which is where he’d planned it.   That turned out well for his later career path. Some decades later, Lester prodded Roman to endow the Lave-Weil Prize given to a non-tenured faculty member at CMU who produces the best paper in the Lave-Weil tradition of empirical work or problem solving.

Roman reports that the best teacher he ever had was Carnegie’s Herbert A. Simon who taught, among other lessons:

  • Shave every day; some days you’ll shave when you needn’t have, but you’ll never waste valuate mental energy thinking about whether to shave.
  • No speaker ever angered the audience by talking too short a time on the appointed subject; always quit early and they will love you.
  • If you command your material, you can speak on any subject for any length of time to any audience and make the talk interesting.
  • Never stop with abstractions when you can do back-of-the-envelope example computations to illustrate and illuminate.
  • Teach the entire course in the first lecture—the first part of the first lecture. Then go back and fill in details.

Two of Roman’s teachers at Carnegie got into a pissing match with each other, which resulted in Roman’s going to the University of Chicago (rather than UC Irvine) in 1965 for his first [and turns out, total-career] academic job.  He started there in the Graduate School of Business, now the Booth School of Business, as a mathematical economist, then became a computer scientist, and, finally, a professor of accounting.  The accounting faculty persuaded Roman that the he was a natural born accountant and hadn’t discovered that yet.  Turns out they were right.

He did some work in corporate finance, with Lawrence Fisher introducing the concept of duration into modern bond analytics.  The two of them are given credit for inventing the zero coupon bond in a 1971 journal article.

But coming to accounting relatively late in his career—early 30’s, not early 20’s—meant taking the CPA examination without having a college transcript showing required accounting courses.  Roman had taken one accounting course at Yale, where he earned his lowest grade in his Yale career.  The dean could not persuade the CPA authorities that teaching the courses should sub­stitute for having taken them, so Roman enrolled in his own courses and gave himself a passing grade.   Then he was allowed to take the CPA examination.   At Chicago, Roman directed the Institute of Professional Accounting for a decade in the 1980’s, which was the equivalent of be­ing the department chairman—being in charge of administrative matters such as coordinating recruiting, course scheduling, and promotion decisions.

He and his mentor Sidney Davidson did much empirical work between 1975 and 1980 on the likely impact of general price level adjusted accounting—so-called inflation accounting.

Roman developed a specialty teaching accounting to lawyers and testifying in court as an expert witness. His earned his second worst grade at Yale in the senior-year course we were allowed to take in the Law School. His most influential work in the legal work support area involves the analysis of the right interest rate to use for accumulating damages in ex post and ex ante analy­ses.  The key idea was Mark Wolfson’s and it appeared in a paper by Jim Patell, Wolfson, and Weil in the J of Legal Studies, which then Chicago Professor, later Judge, Richard Posner had accepted.

His research near the end of his career was on the financial [il]literacy of senior corporate execu­tives and board members.  One of his favorite article titles is ‘The Financial Illiteracy Defense,” where he showed how to defend senior corporate executives from charges of mal­feasance by de­mon­strating that you can’t expect them to know things that few executives knew about ac­count­ing.  He has attempted to raise the understanding of financial accounting on cor­porate boards and has barely moved the needle.  The New York Times front page quoted him only once in his ca­reer.  The article highlighted a result that only 30% of the senior executives and board mem­bers who took a multiple choice quiz knew enough to answer correctly a question about Retained Earnings.

He co-founded the Chicago-Stanford Directors’ Consortium, which convened for a week of class­es twice a year to teach corporate board members how to do their jobs better.  The Con­sor­tium began in 2002 and has at various times included Wharton and Dartmouth’s Tuck School.  The University of Chicago has been the only school to have been a member of the Consortium in every year of its existence.  Steve Kaplan of Chicago and Roman have been the only faculty mem­bers to have co-directed the program in every year [through 2017].

During his career, he served on advisory boards and committees to the Financial Ac­count­ing Standards Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Public Com­pany Account­ing Oversight Board.  He served on the Board of Directors and Audit Committees var­ious public companies including mutual funds affiliated with New York Life Insurance Com­pany.  He reports the work that gave him the greatest satisfaction was leading faculty gover­nance at the University of Chicago.*  For three different academic years, he was Spokesman of the Committee of the Council of the University Senate.

Roman wrote much with most of his energy going into the production of textbooks and profes­sional reference books.  He co-authored four textbooks, which appeared in forty editions in total, co-edited four professional reference books, which appeared in ten editions in total, and co-authored two research monographs.  He co-authored about one hundred journal articles and notes.  The most influential textbook’s co-authors were Sidney Davidson, Jennifer Francis, James Schindler, Katherine Schipper, and Clyde Stickney.  Roman’s name is the only one to appear on all fourteen editions, the most recent being 2014.  His most influential reference book is the Litigation Services Handbook, which has had six editions, with Roman’s being the only name on all six, the most recent being 2018.

In the 1990s, Roman turned his wine hobby into serious academic research and through a series of wine testings, including one at our 35th Reunion, gathered data that enabled him to publish refereed articles in serious academic journals. This research debunked some wine myths.   One of the articles appeared in a journal issue called “Wine Bullshit,” whose lead article was written by Princeton economist Richard Quandt. These, it turns out, did not impress his dean who re­marked, in camera, that “We did not hire you to do wine research.”  Look around and you will find that dean’s footprint nearby [a reference to his work at Yale].  Roman and Princeton economist Orley Ashenfelter co-founded the Oenonomy Society, an organization of economists who do wine research.  Orley’s research is more well known than is Roman’s.

He retired from the University of Chicago in 2008.  Since then, he taught at Harvard, NYU, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, SMU, Berkeley, Stanford, UW, and the University of California San Diego.  He often remarked that he can’t keep a job.

* Roman reports that at his first meeting of the Committee of the Council in the 1990s, he proudly announced that he’d been at the University since 1965.  With a twinkle in her eye, Janet Rowley soon thereafter said that she’d started at the University in 1940.  Roman thanks Janet for her support when he, several years later, said he wanted to be Spokesman.  In those days the women Spokesmen wanted that title; check with Lorna Straus and Katherine Schipper.