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Friday, April 25, 2008

Structuring a Tax Policy Workshop Series -- Penn

Michael Knoll, Chris Sanchirico, and Reed Shuldiner, co-hosts of Penn's Tax Policy Workshop Series, continue our series on how to best structure a tax policy workshop series:

At Penn, we have been running our tax policy workshop since 2002. Each year, we invite roughly half as many academic speakers as there are class sessions. That generally means we have only five or six paper presentations. The week before each speaker's presentation one of us presents a lecture on the topic area of the speaker's paper. Before attending that preparatory lecture the students have read a set of background materials. The readings are intended to situate the speaker’s paper within the existing literature or introduce the students to some of the tools used by the speaker. We find that providing both background readings and a preparatory lecture for each speaker greatly raises the level of student interest and the quality of student questions and comments at the speaker's presentation.

The day of the presentation, we take the speaker to lunch or coffee before the talk. At that point, we ask our own questions, provide our own comments and generally engage the presenter in a lengthy discussion of the paper. At the presentation itself, we rarely interject ourselves, but rather we try to leave the hour and half to student comments and to the comments of other faculty who might be in attendance.

After the presentation, we take the speaker out to dinner and continue our discussion from lunch, adding interesting topics that arose during the presentation.

Students are required to write short reaction papers on four of the five speakers. Later in the semester we give them the opportunity to rewrite one of the papers.

Each year we have run the workshop, we have added one speaker from the government. Usually, the government speaker is a current senior tax official with substantial policy experience. The government speaker is usually off of the regular calendar to accommodate the speaker’s schedule and late in the semester. Although we give the government speaker the option to present a paper or assign readings, that option is rarely taken. Accordingly, we do not conduct a preparatory lecture for the government speaker.

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