I am back in Cincinnati after spending spring break in Malibu, California, teaching a one-week course
at Pepperdine University School of Law
. It was a spectacular week in all respects.
The course, Selected Advanced Topics in Federal Income Taxation, went very well. Although we designed our Tax Stories book to be used either as supplemental reading for the basic tax course or as the text for a tax seminar, I never before had the opportunity to teach a tax seminar. We made good use of the extra time in the seminar format to explore the chapters in depth and to listen to several of the Supreme Court oral arguments from the Tax Stories website. The compressed nature of the course forced us to read several chapters together, and the pairings -- particularly Glenshaw Glass and Murphy; Kirby Lumber and Crane; Davis and Earl; Welch and INDOPCO; and Schlude and Knetsch -- allowed us to draw some connections that frankly I had not noticed before. Re-reading the book from cover to cover made me appreciate anew the great job that the chapters authors did in making the cases come alive and in explaining to students the importance of the cases in the development of the tax law. I am convinced more than ever that the book delivers on the claim I made in the Introduction, Tax Archaeology:
In tax law, as in other subject areas, there are certain landmark cases that set the law on a path that continues to shape much of the current developments in the field. In these seminal cases, the tax law was faced with a fundamental choice, the resolution of which would influence the tax law for generations to come. In Tax Stories, we look at eleven pivotal cases in the development of the federal income tax. These stories provide fresh insights into both particular doctrinal areas of tax law as well as issues of wider application across the tax law.
From my law school rankings work (What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Texas L. Rev. 1483 (2004); Ranking Law Schools: Using SSRN to Measure Scholarly Performance, 81 Ind. L.J. 83 (2006)), I knew that Pepperdine during the remarkable deanship of Ken Starr has made the biggest jump in the U.S. News rankings of any law school, moving from Tier 3 (2004) to the cusp of the Top 50 (55 in 2010 -- 7th among the 20 California law schools, after Stanford (3), UC-Berkeley (6), UCLA (15), USC (18), UC-Davis (35), and UC-Hastings (39)). Seeing the school up close for a week convinces me that Top Law Schools is right in predicting that, "[w]ith its strong academic programs, knowledgeable faculty, and beautiful campus, Pepperdine Law School seems a likely candidate for a continued rankings boost."
The Pepperdine faculty is particularly strong, with world class scholars and committed teachers. There is a vibrant intellectual life at the school, which I witnessed first hand at the Fifth Annual Louis D. Brandeis Lecture at the Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics by Sanford Levinson (Texas). But I was most struck by the palpable sense of community that permeates the school, a hallmark of its distinctive mission to integrate the Christian faith in all aspects of life at the school. I saw this play out in countless ways among faculty, students, and staff throughout the week. One vignette: my last class was a 4 1/2 hour marathon beginning at 8:30 on Saturday morning. Because I felt sorry for the students having to get up so early on a Saturday to listen to me for so long, and to thank them for their hard work all week, I planned to bring some breakfast food and coffee to kick things off. But as often happens with me, my best intentions came a cropper as, despite getting up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare for class, I ran late and did not have time to pick up the breakfast on the way to school. But one of the students came armed with a delicious array of organic pastries and muffins from a Malibu bakery. I felt ashamed, and at the break asked the student to let me pay her for what must have been over $100 worth of stuff. She refused even after I repeated my offer several times, saying "This is Pepperdine -- we take care of each other."
The beauty of the Pepperdine campus and Malibu is simply breathtaking. For example, here is the view from the law school:
And here is the view from my bedroom:
But in the end, my sweetest memory of this special week is simply the gift of time with my son (a college freshman) and daughter (a high school senior). I cherished our leisurely dinners of fine food, laughter, and conversation, during which I reveled in the marvel of the wonderful young adults my kids are growing into. As the hokey Bob Carlisle song puts in, "With all that I've done wrong I must have done something right." I want to thank Dean Starr and the Pepperdine faculty for this wonderful opportunity.