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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Structuring a Tax Policy Workshop Series -- Indiana

Leandra Lederman (Indiana) kicks off what I hope will be an extended discussion about how to best structure a tax policy workshop series:

Paul asked me to kick off a discussion about tax workshop series in which students participate; Indiana-Bloomington recently considered and adopted a proposal for a Tax Policy Colloquium, which we will launch next spring. Like colloquia at other schools, it will be structured as a class for students in which faculty will also participate. I proposed the colloquium partly because Indiana-Bloomington recently adopted a strategic plan that highlights the importance of scholarship and has among its goals (1) the inclusion of students in our intellectual community by bringing faculty scholarship into the classroom, and (2) the development of forums for intensive intellectual exchange within the faculty. My colleague Ajay Mehrotra plans to run the colloquium in alternate years. It will be open to our full faculty, and we will also invite our adjunct tax faculty, tax faculty from the Kelley School of Business, and faculty in other schools on campus who are interested in tax policy issues.

Indiana does not have a tax LL.M. program, so the colloquium will be structured with that in mind. Students will be required to write a short reaction paper in response to each paper that is presented in the colloquium, and, as is customary, those reaction papers will be shared with the presenters. Income Tax will be a prerequisite, and we are planning to experiment with an invitation/permission-of-the-instructor format, in order to recruit students with the interest and commitment necessary to make the colloquium a success. We also concluded that it would be best to have speakers only in alternate weeks so that we can first discuss the speaker’s paper as a class, to help prepare the students for the discussion with the speaker.

Perhaps the trickiest issue about a course like this is to balance pedagogical needs with the needs of presenters. With respect to the pedagogical component, I plan to encourage students to ask their questions first and faculty to hold their questions until students have had a chance to participate. In addition, I intend to try, as much as possible, to select papers that will be accessible to the students. For example, many individual federal income tax topics would be a natural fit, particularly for early in the semester. Ajay and I have also discussed assigning background reading to familiarize the students with the relevant literature. With respect to the presenters, for their experience to be a really good one, I think faculty participation is essential. Before proposing the colloquium, I ascertained that Ajay; Bill Popkin; and our Assistant Dean for Research, Archana Sridhar, who is a tax specialist, would all be interested in participating on a regular basis, and at least a few other faculty would be interested in attending periodically. To involve as many interested faculty as possible, we will try to select some papers that fit within their areas of interest, such as business tax papers that will interest Kelley School faculty, so long as the topics will be reasonably accessible to the students.

I have no doubt that this will be a learning process, but it is one that my colleagues and the students I have talked to are excited about. I look forward to hearing from others and learning from their experiences.

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