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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Spotlight_1_1Stephen W. Mazza (Kansas)

        • B.S. 1989, Samford
        • J.D. 1992, Alabama
        • LL.M. (Tax) 1993, NYU

                  

   

Mazza_1

It’s four degrees in Lawrence, Kansas as I write this: Four (4) degrees! For someone who spent the first 20-odd years of his life in Alabama, this is a shock. My people aren’t used to these sorts of temperatures. Momma’s folk are from Mississippi and Dad’s people come from the hills in central Italy. As the story goes, my great uncle arrived in New York in the late 1800s and was conned into traveling to Chicago with the promise of work. Abandoned in Chicago, he started walking south and didn’t stop until he found an area that reminded him of his farm in Italy: Huntsville, Alabama.

He started a grocery store, went into real estate development, and eventually became a slumlord. Grandad inherited the slum and Dad took it over in the 1950s. By the mid-1980s, the City of Huntsville had had enough and they acquired the property by eminent domain. With my career as a slumlord cut off before it began, I decided to go to law school.

I can’t think of anything in my background that triggered an interest in tax, so I guess I have to blame Jim Bryce and Norman Stein at Alabama for getting me started. Norm (as the students called him behind his back) carried on lively policy discussions with himself during the basic tax class and I soaked it all up. Jim was the perfect example of what I thought a tax lawyer should be (smart, detail oriented) and with his encouragement I decided to spend a year at NYU getting my tax LL.M.

The best part of my experience at NYU was working on the Tax Law Review with Deborah Schenk and Lily Khang, who was an Acting Assistant Professor at the time. Lily mentioned one day that I should consider applying for the AAP position. Having already accepted a job in Atlanta, I decided it was best to honor my commitment to the firm. While law firm life was fine, I’d often daydream about the life of a law professor. A few years later I contacted Deborah to see if NYU had an AAP position open. They did, and to my surprise and delight, I got it.

Those two years teaching at NYU were some of the best of my life. Getting to work with people like Deborah, Noel Cunningham, and Paul McDaniel was an honor. After filling in for Leandra Lederman (she and I were on the Tax Law Review together while at NYU) at Mercer Law School for a year while she visited at George Mason, I went in the market and found a position at KU Law School. I’ve been here ten years and couldn’t be happier. Martin Dickinson is one of the finest mentors and colleagues a person could have. The students, as well, are top notch, although occasionally they write some frightfully hurtful and inane things on my class evaluations: I know I’m a smartass, you don’t have to tell me; and why do you care whether I wear a blue oxford shirt to class everyday?

My decision to write a casebook early in my career turned out, I think, to be the right one. If anything, it gave me a chance to develop a wonderful professional relationship with Leandra. Although the annual supplements are a pain and the new editions are worse, it seems worth it. My scholarship focuses mostly on tax compliance, but at times it seems to be written primarily to offend Nina Olsen, the National Taxpayer Advocate. Over the past several years I’ve spend a portion of my summer teaching in KU Law’s Summer Abroad Program in Istanbul, Turkey, and this summer I’m off to China. The new dean at KU has also talked me into being the associate dean for academic affairs. I hope she knows what she’s getting herself into, because I don’t.

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