Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 28, 2008

Structuring a Tax Policy Workshop Series -- Loyola-L.A.

Ellen Aprill, Jenny Kowal, Katie Pratt, and Ted Seto, co-hosts of Loyola-L.A.'s Tax Policy Colloquium Series, continue our series on how to best structure a tax policy workshop series:

We all suggest Colloquium speakers, participate in the weekly Colloquium discussions, host the visiting speakers, and organize a faculty dinner for each speaker. Other Loyola faculty (tax and nontax, full-time and adjunct) and professors from other Southern California schools also attend the Colloquium. The Colloquium is open to Tax LLM students and JD students who have completed Income Tax I, but enrollment is limited. Interested students must submit an application (cover letter, resume, and transcript) to Katie and Ted. (Last fall, we selected a dozen students for the Colloquium.)

We invite a diverse group of tax scholars to present Colloquium papers. Also, we try to select an interesting cross-section of paper topics. (Some of the papers are quite complex, but we believe the students are capable and will learn from the challenge.) We also arrange for a formal Commentator for each presentation. Our Commentators typically come from Southern California (law schools or RAND), but we sometimes invite Commentators from outside Southern California.

At the start of the term, Katie and Ted give the students a 100-page Tax Policy primer (with article excerpts and material we drafted) to introduce terms and concepts. We also provide an overview of this introductory material in the first two Colloquium class meetings. In addition, we give the students a list of questions to consider as they read the Colloquium papers: (1) what problem is the author addressing? (2) what is the thesis of the paper? (3) which normative approaches or tools is the author using (implicitly or explicitly) to address the problem? (4) how does the author conceptualize the role of the IRC? (5) is the author’s proposal an ideal proposal or a real proposal? and (6) is the proposal politically viable?

After two weeks of course introduction, Colloquium speakers present papers in the weekly class meetings. (Our approach is to have a paper presentation each week, not every other week; we do not discuss the papers with our students before the presentations.) The students read all of the draft papers and submit three written questions to Katie and Ted before each presentation. The format for each Colloquium presentation is like a faculty workshop, but with a longer Q & A period; the Colloquium speaker presents the paper for about a half hour; the Commentator responds for 10-15 minutes; the discussion takes up the rest of the two-hour class session. The Colloquium students ask questions, comment on the papers, and participate fully in the discussions. Several of the fall 2007 Colloquium speakers remarked that the student comments were quite thoughtful and interesting.

The Colloquium students also write four reaction papers (of 8-12 pages each) over the term. Two of the reaction papers are pre-presentation papers and two are post-presentation papers. We assign the reaction papers based on the students’ preferences. (In our first class meeting, we distribute the list of Colloquium presentation topics and ask the students to rank the topics according to their preferences.) We try to allocate the reaction paper assignments evenly across the various papers being presented.

Grades are based on: (1) the four reaction papers, (2) the written questions submitted weekly, and (3) class participation. There is no final exam.

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