Paul L. Caron

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Harrison:  Florida Is 'Modernizing,' Not 'Dismantling,' Its Graduate Tax Program

Florida Logo (GIF)Jeff Harrison (Florida), Please Don't Dismantle Tax!!:

In my previous post (more here) I praised the new Dean at UF. Someone, perhaps disingenuously, perhaps sincerely, wrote a comment (anonymously) asking me to list what her accomplishments are. ...  I responded with a list. ...

[O]ne of my answers was "modernize the LLM in tax."  To that I got this — yes, anonymous —  comment: "By modernizing the LLM program, do you mean by dismantling it and not hiring outstanding faculty to replace those that are retiring?"

This particular  phrasing has been used repeatedly by people who are being manipulated, in my opinion, to fight self-interested battles of those  terrified of changing a 50s style LLM program into a 21st Century LLM program to the benefit of all. Some of this has occurred evidently in a mass mailing. In fact, I expect to see  T shirts that say "Don't dismantle tax." The ANONYMOUS commentator is parroting a rumor possibly spread, encouraged, and, hatched by people at UF who are afraid of moving forward. ... Riling up students and alums to advance personal ends is pretty desperate.

1. Dismantling:  As far as I know there is no dismantling unless that means making the program more attractive and exciting. And, as far as I know, if any retiring people are not replaced it will simply reflect the fact that we do not replace all people who retire because of budget issues. ... 

2. Dismantling and not replacing are the same question but let's get real about the LLM at Florida. It is the third ranked LLM according to US News but in some other rankings it is much lower. I believe the Dean is struggling to make sure the US News ranking is maintained despite the loss over the past several years of some true tax stars and a serious case of inertia.  As for how outstanding the current faculty is, I cannot say since I do not pay much attention to the area. I am pretty sure there is definitely one outstanding scholar and perhaps more. A rumor is that two others, well-versed in tax,  are more or less excluded from being "official" which in both cases makes no sense to me. Just sliding those two over into tax to replace retirements would be a big step. I hope the Dean does this but I am happy to have no influence.

So if there is no dismantling of what is one of UFs highest ranked programs (whether reality based or not) what would be the interest in not hiring the best person possible? If we hire I am sure the sights will be very high and possibly higher than some would like.

Grad Tax Faculty Rankings, Legal Education, Tax | Permalink


sorry, I meant the law school generally.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 30, 2016 2:27:47 PM

UF ALUM. I will do what I can. First, though, the prestige of the program will always be reflected by the quality as perceived by employers. Thus, whatever facts you have been given would have to be connected to that to that perception. I don’t see that they are. The damage done to that prestige by those spreading the word – faculty and alums – about the decline of the program, regardless of the cause, will be substantial.
As to the facts, some may be true but are red herrings and some are false and some exaggerations. Instead it is a turf war which among law professors is usually about things that, unfortunately, have little to do with the welfare of the students. I have seen it dozens of times through the years. The last time was about a program we ran in Poland for Polish students. No benefit to our student at all but some profs wanted it so out came the complaints. Even if the informant is exactly right, where is the connection to our prestige other than their claims?
With respect to red herrings, does it matter who makes up the schedule if it reflects, as it nearly always does, exactly what the professors put down on a sheet each year saying what they will teach? I do not think Dean Mashburn has taken over anything to do with what tax courses will be offered and, as I understand it, the schedule Friel made up always had to do through the associate dean in the past. As for a falsehood combined with a red herring, the acting director is not a con law teacher but, even if she were, she will not make any policy decisions. If her appointment hurts our prestige it is because the informants say it does as opposed to applauding the interim appointment of a bright person with experience and a stong work ethic.
Yes, Friel did step down. If he did not he would have forfeited tens of thousands of dollars in sick leave payout. People had to retire by June 30 to take advantage of the program. In fact, what was worked out was a way for him to get the payout and still teach – a sweetheart arrangement made only for him as far as I can tell. Not that he does not deserve it.
The dedicated classroom sat 112. In recent years only one tax class needed a room that large. So it was used year after year, course after course at less than capacity while other classes that needed a large classroom could not be scheduled. It just makes sense to me to fit the size of the classroom to the size of the class. Another red herring. That is even more true today since the entering class is shrunk.
On the person who worked in the tax office. And here I am going on rumor so you might ask your source about this. It is my understanding that some months ago she moved to another state. The director wanted to pay her anyway and was stopped. She could have been replaced. Again you could ask the outgoing director where she lived.
It is true that classes will be 50 minutes, like the leading LLM programs in the country and that our own profs find perfectly acceptable when they visit other schools.
On the number of teachers. I covered this before. Two people who teach tax are not included in the listing of tax faculty. One was a recent hire. Some of the people listed as teaching tax do not only teach tax. Finally, the calculation does not include adjuncts, many of which are very important contributors.
Finally, I am told no decisions have been made about the suite of offices but everyone who currently has an office will still have one and all the functions done in that office will still be done. Does the actual physical space matter?
Unfortunately, alums have now been exposed to the underbelly of faculty politics. Professors define what they want independent of the welfare of the whole (a continuing theme on my own blog) and then will go to any ends to protect that turf. The costs are then passed on to students, taxpayers, and other stakeholders including alums.

I have not heard any claim and I doubt anyone believes that "taking down" the tax program will enhance the reputation of the tax program.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 30, 2016 2:23:24 PM

Professor Harrison: I would also greatly appreciate if you can let me know what is wrong or not so accurate in what I wrote above, are these not the facts? This is the way it was presented to us, and this certainly doesn't look like the program is taking a step forward, it looks like UF's dean made a decision to take down the tax program and somehow believes this will improve UF's ranking.

Posted by: UF Alum | Jul 30, 2016 9:39:12 AM

Professor Harrison: to me, it looks like you dismiss what alumnus and others are saying way too easily without really gibing any thought to anything we have to say. I understand you want UF to focus perhaps more on your field of study, but I don't see how this will improve UF ranking, it will simply push the Tax Program down the drain.

Posted by: UF Alum | Jul 30, 2016 9:32:32 AM

More JD taking tax courses?
If what they want to do is improve the ranking for the JD program it shouldn't be at the expense of the Tax Program that has worked amazingly well for the past 30 years.

Posted by: alumni | Jul 30, 2016 5:25:07 AM

What about pushing out the nicest guy I've meet at UF? Professor Calfee was pushed out as Law Reviews advisor because she was trying to raid their endowment. Unfair and not right.

Posted by: FreeCalfee | Jul 30, 2016 4:16:47 AM

What about the tax admin staff? They helped us manage almost everything, went out of their way to help us, and especially for those that are international students. Is it true that responsibility is being shifted to the downstairs student affairs office? They are the worse department on campus I have ever had to deal with. They can't even remember our names, or even faces.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 29, 2016 8:34:32 PM

I have no connection to UF or to Tax. I do have experience, as a tenured faculty member at another law school, with the kind of damage that these kinds of whispering campaigns orchestrated by a few faculty who feel threatened by any change to the status quo, and who lack the courage to lead the charge themselves and therefore enlist alumni to do it for them by whipping them into a lather about minor changes they perceive as threatening their domain in any way can do to a law school as a whole (including the sacred cows such faculty seek to protect). So, to the UF alums: please do not allow yourselves to be used in this way. And to the UF faculty who are clearly behind this teapot tempest: please stop it. In the long run, you're doing more harm than good, even from the perspective Of pure self-interest.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 29, 2016 7:08:21 PM

UF ALUM. I never doubted that we were on the same side and if I came off being condescending it is because it gets under my skin when people do not question those who are stating facts that they get from those who want to win them over. I could go item by item but some of the details about some of the things you mention are a bit embarrassing. A couple quick notes. David Hudson did not only teach tax. Some people, at UF including perhaps our highest ranked teacher, teach tax courses but are for some reason not listed as part of the tax faculty. This evidently is at the tax faculty’s request but never explained. Moreover, a couple of the adjuncts are stars by anyone’s measure. So, you see the max number you cite is too high and the minimum number is too low. I do not want to make a big deal about this except to suggest that someone playing it absolutely straight with you would tell you this. Plus, the LLM class is smaller. Not half as large as usual but it is smaller and may shrink further. The staff administrator story is better left undiscussed.
I have two general observations. The first is that none of the things you list make the program less exemplary but they do integrate tax into our general offerings. I think this is important to lure more JD students into taking tax courses. Does it really matter what room people are sitting in? Does is matter who makes up the class schedule? After all, we are all asked what we want to teach before it is made up and that will continue. It’s not like someone on high dictates the schedule. The second is this: Has it occurred to you that every position taken by those who you get your information from involve maintaining the status quo that has existed for 30 years. Is it really possible that everything done like it was 30 years ago is consistent with having the highest quality program possible today? My hunch that this is not the case and what we are experiencing (or what the main complainers are experiencing) is simple resistance to change even if it mean throwing the Program under the bus.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 29, 2016 6:36:18 PM

Professor Harrison: First, try and be less patronizing and more respectful. If anyone is being blindly loyal, it's you to the dean.
Now, here are the facts as presented to us, alumnus:
1. Mike Friel stepped down as the Associate Dean and Director of the Tax Program a couple weeks ago; he will remain as an adjunct professor this fall and for up to 3 years.
2. Professor Lidsky, a constitutional law professor, is now the Associate Dean for Graduate Tax.
3. Professor Mashburn, a Senior Associate Dean, is now assigning graduate tax courses- which had always been handled by the Graduate Tax administration.
4. The Tax Program has lost its dedicated classroom and the 60-minute hour class has been reduced to 50 minutes.
5. Control of student records, registration, and admissions have been removed from the Graduate Tax Administration and is now in the purview of the general law school.
6. Based on recent retirements (Dilley & Hudson), leaving faculty (Marian who maybe saw what was coming), and planned retirements, the Tax Program will be down from 10 to five faculty members as of next year.
7. The Tax Faculty is no longer called the “Tax Faculty”; rather, they are law professors who teach tax-related courses.
8. The Administration has promised the Program that they can keep the tax office space for one year.
9. The Tax Program’s staff administrator position has been taken away.
10. ½ the Research Assistant budget has been taken away, and it appears a larger cut is coming.

Are these not true? How is this modernizing and improving the best program UF Law has to offer? Please explain, I honestly want to know. I love this school, it did great things for me and I want to see it do well.

Posted by: UF Alum | Jul 29, 2016 5:14:14 PM

I am not a graduate of the UF Tax Law Program (I received my LL.M. in Taxation from NYU), and i would like to learn how to modernize the UF Program as Professor Harrison states.

Posted by: Bruce Bokor | Jul 29, 2016 1:23:53 PM

Two more comments. First, wrt “irony.” Actually, I was a late comer to this discussion. It was actually opened up by a mass mailing by a former alum basically making the case that was made to him or her that the program was being dismantled or something like that. (Never saw the actual letter.)
For UF Alum. That is an interesting narrative and I understand your affection for the tax faculty. But here are some facts:
1. The acting director is not a con law teacher. She does not teach tax but is the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. When the Tax Director resigned on short notice I believe it was logical to shift the responsibilities to the Associate Dean who, no doubt, will have amble help from the regular tax staff and tax faculty unless they are pouting.
2. She is Acting Director while there is a search for a nationally recognized scholar to become the new director.
3. I just checked and the tax suite of offices is still the tax suite.
4. All the usual courses are on the schedule for next year.
5. Everyone who taught tax last year, including the departing director who has a sweetheart of a deal, is on the schedule to teach next year.
If the same people are teaching the same courses, I do not understand your concern. Again, blind loyalty makes one vulnerable to being used.

Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Jul 29, 2016 11:17:25 AM

Professor Harrison: You have no idea what you are talking, I am sorry but that is the truth. And one example for what your beloved dean did is putting a con law professor to run the tax program... wow, what a genius move. She also decided to take away the designated tax program office space, class and admin team. Brilliant move!

Posted by: UF Alum | Jul 29, 2016 6:46:19 AM

The irony is that before Jeff Harrison publicized these internal policy discussions at U.F., very few people outside U.F. even realized there might be problems in their tax program.

Don't think about polar bears.

Posted by: irony | Jul 29, 2016 5:19:59 AM

I am not sure why those who feel the tax program is being mistreated never offer actual evidence to support their beliefs. My point is a simple one and it is not at all about funding. I am in my faculty office nearly every day. So far I have not heard any member of the faculty, including those that teach tax, publicly express concern about the rigor of the program. In fact, I have not heard one of them say publicly what the changes actually are that threaten the core of the program, including its rigor. Where does that leave me? The only explanation is that through whispers and private meetings loyal alums are being exploited to fight the petty turf wars for a couple of faculty members – a very sad state of affairs. People who sneak around and rile students and alums almost always make a case that cannot stand scrutiny.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 28, 2016 10:04:56 PM

Alumni are upset because the things that are being changed are the things that we believe make the Florida’s Grad Tax Program unique. Since its inception, Florida’s Grad Tax Program has hewed to the philosophy that proper training in the field of taxation requires immersion in the Code and regulations, and that such an experience can only be had if students eat, sleep, breath, and dream tax law on a full-time basis for at least a year. As one member of my firm put it, it’s like the Marine Corp of tax schools – it’s small and tough, but alumni are few and proud. Changes in the faculty are inevitable, but changes to the core values of the program are not. Tax law has only grown more complex since the Grad Tax Program was established in 1979. If full-time immersion in the Code and regs. was necessary for proper training of a tax lawyer then, it is even more so now. Florida should not dilute its brand by sacrificing rigorous training in favor of revenue and rankings.

Posted by: Brandon Dixon | Jul 28, 2016 8:25:53 PM

res ipsa.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 28, 2016 5:58:19 PM

Professor Harrison: After reading your posts about the tax program, and respectfully of course, I would like to say you have no idea what you are talking about. BUT that is okay, since you are not a tax professor, and you are probably upset that the tax program and its amazing faculty enjoyed its (justified) reputation and received much more funds than you and your friends from the faculty who are not tax professors.

Posted by: UF Alum | Jul 28, 2016 5:26:08 PM