During the 1940s-1970s, Carl Nelson was an imposing figure, literally and figuratively, in American academic accounting. With high expectations for his students, he taught several generations of accountants, practitioners, and professors. He made accounting exciting and provocative by encouraging his students to critique GAAP, to explore alternatives to conventional accounting wisdom, and to search for substance in transactions regardless of form. He urged his students to question every thing, regardless of who said or wrote it. As a classroom professor and a reviewer of academic works, he was at times a harsh critic. As an advisor to students, he was generally helpful, if not gracious. Carl Nelson was most assuredly a rare breed in accounting academe. This paper examines his controversial teaching approach and considers his legacy.
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