Lauren Cunningham

Cunningham, associate professor of accounting, serves as the director of research for the Neel Corporate Governance Center.

Accounting & Information Management, Neel Corporate Governance Center - Faculty

Lauren Cunningham, associate professor of accounting, was drawn to UT by Haslam College of Business’ researchers working on audit and corporate governance. But what excited her more was the exuberance for UT itself.

“I had met several of their doctoral students at conferences and was impressed by everything they loved about UT,” Cunningham says.

Cunningham now teaches her own doctoral accounting seminar, where she enjoys the flexibility to mold the coursework around the students’ interests.

“I also love teaching master’s students,” she says. “Many, but not all, have had internships, so my class provides a bridge to help them think about how to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to practice.”

Cunningham’s classes use cases and an immersive group project where students plan an audit of a publicly traded company using only publicly available disclosures. 

“Their creativity and hard work always blow me away,” Cunningham says.

Outside the classroom, Cunningham serves as the director of research for the Neel Corporate Governance Center. She spends much of her time in this role working with the American Corporate Governance Index, a joint project of the Neel Corporate Governance Center and The Institute of Internal Auditors.

For the past two years now, the project has surveyed chief audit executives (CAEs) at U.S. publicly traded companies, asking them to anonymously evaluate their companies’ corporate governance. Their responses are aggregated into a scoring index, grading the companies.

“In 2019, we found that, on average, corporate governance in the U.S. received a C+ rating from CAEs,” Cunningham says. “But interestingly, we found that during 2020 that grade improved to an average B- rating. The improvement appears to be driven by regulated companies, so we expect it may reflect how regulation can be particularly effective during times of crises, like we saw in 2020.”

Cunningham also plans the center’s Distinguished Speaker Series, hosting a variety of professionals and regulators, including Haslam alumni. Additionally, she coordinates an interdisciplinary brownbag series for corporate governance research.

“This allows us to present our early-stage work and get feedback before we submit it to a journal,” Cunningham says. “It’s really interesting to hear what others are working on and to get feedback from such a variety of perspectives.”

To hear these speakers’ viewpoints is especially important for students, she says.

“Students love hearing about our alumni’s professional careers because it helps them imagine what their futures may look like,” Cunningham says. “I love bringing in professionals because it shows the students that what they’re learning in the classroom actually has value for their careers after graduation.”