Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 16, 2016

Marty McMahon Responds To Critique Of Florida's Graduate Tax Program

McMahonFollowing up on this morning's post, Florida Law Prof Writes 24-Page Critique Of Graduate Tax Program: Go Online Or Shut Down — 'Hiring More Tax Faculty Is Like Hiring More Sailors To Man The Titanic Once It Has Hit The Iceberg':  TaxProf Blog op-ed: Dear TaxProf Community, by Martin J. McMahon, Jr. (James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar and Director, Graduate Tax Program, Florida):

As the Director of the University of Florida College of Law Graduate Tax Program, I can assure the TaxProf Community that the UF Graduate Tax Program is and will continue to be as strong as is has been for decades.  Once again this year, we have an excellent group of 85 full-time students and last year’s graduates have had success in seeking post-graduation employment as tax lawyers.  Our students, as they always have been, are being taught principally by a highly dedicated and knowledgeable full-time faculty that has produced many tax textbooks, treatises, and articles. We have, and will continue to have, a robust curriculum, including our specialized LL.M. in international tax, which currently enrolls twenty-two students from all around the globe. We have hired a respected consultant who is on-site as an interim director of Graduate Tax Admissions to modernize our application process and expand our outreach to prospective graduate tax students. Some recent retirements by long-time tax faculty members, who are continuing to teach as adjuncts courses in which they had a particular expertise, have opened up three faculty slots which we are seeking to fill this year, as was recently announced on Tax Prof Blog.

Professor Robert Rhee’s highly inaccurate and distorted memorandum critiquing the University of Florida Graduate Tax Program was prepared by him as an individual, not in any official capacity. He did not consult with any member of the tax faculty or directly ask any tax faculty member for any information regarding the long-standing success of the program before preparing and publishing his memorandum. Thus, his memorandum reflects very limited knowledge regarding the long-standing success of the Graduate Tax Program in educating young tax lawyers and helping them to find employment upon graduation.

Professor Rhee’s motivation in preparing and disseminating the memorandum was entirely personal. He holds a grudge against the individuals who teach tax here at the UF College of Law, as well as a number of professors who are not associated with the Graduate Tax Program in any way, because they openly challenged his judgement with respect to procedural matters and substantive decisions made by him in his role as the chair of the UF College of Law Appointments Committee in 2015-2016.  He has cherry-picked the data in a manner that is designed to present the Graduate Tax Program in the worst possible light, omitting positive data and making inapposite comparisons. The inadequacies of his analysis are obvious to any careful reader.  

I, and all of the other members of the University of Florida College of Law Graduate Tax Program greatly appreciate the assistance all of you have provided us over the years in recommending that your J.D. students who are interested in tax law apply to and attend the University of Florida College of Law Graduate Tax Program. All of you have sent us very well prepared students with a solid grounding in tax law, which has facilitated all of us here at UF in taking their understanding of the tax law to a higher level. With your help and with ours, they have all prospered in their careers as tax lawyers all over the country, whether working in Big Law, the Big Four, the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, tax boutique firms, on the Staff (and even as Chief of Staff) of the Joint Committee on Taxation, on the Staff of the Congressional Tax Writing Committees (including the current Majority side Chief of State of the Senate Finance Committee), or simply going home, wherever in the country or world that might be, to serve people by practicing tax law in a firm of any size.

With your help sending us students, the UF Graduate Tax Program will continue long into the future, as it has for decades, to provide a great tax education for bright young lawyers to become tax lawyers all over the country and the world.

UpdateMore On The Critique Of Florida's Graduate Tax Program

Legal Education, Tax | Permalink


From the faculty skills page, it seems Florida Law has 8 tax law professors and 12 constitutional law professors. That strikes me as heavily imbalanced towards con law, when you think about what lawyers actually advise their clients on. True, Florida is less unbalanced than most law schools, but that's to Florida's credit. And note that if you need people with research expertise to teach a different subject, it's easier to imagine a tax expert teaching con law than a con law expert teaching tax law.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Sep 16, 2016 11:28:07 AM

Everything that is wrong with legal education in this embodied in this letter: denial, refusal to change, empty bloviating, blustering salesmanship . . . I particularly love the call for everyone to keep sending them students (ie tuition conduits). Got that everyone, with your help, the Florida LLM program can be oversized and still profitable!

Posted by: JM | Sep 16, 2016 11:46:30 AM

Great article by a faculty member who is actually involved daily in the Tax program

Posted by: Lucy | Sep 16, 2016 11:55:56 AM

@JM Your input really was really thoughtful and really rebutted Marty's memo... Wait these students voluntarily decide to attend the program? Whoa just realized that.

Posted by: Douglas | Sep 16, 2016 1:30:57 PM

It's great to see the director rebut Prof. Rhee's misleading diatribe. Too bad JM has trouble parsing the text. Perhaps JM should go back to the blog where he usually holds court attacking the law school and legal education.

Posted by: Willliam Davison | Sep 16, 2016 1:53:18 PM

Wait, a petty and vendictive dean provides false and misleading information to one of her petty and vendictive suck-ups? What's novel about this story in academia?

It is interesting that the dean in the other post on this site says that, although she didn't "commission" the memo, she knows the data will be helpful going forward. Classic. She didn't commission, but cooperatated and encoruaged. And she is going to rely on self-created false and misleading information going forward. Classic. The program is sunk. Especially that the dean seems to stand by the false data degrading the current LLM students. Horrible. At least Prof. McMahon showed some true leadership with his post. The Dean could learn a lesson or two.

Posted by: Steve | Sep 16, 2016 7:10:03 PM

It would be interesting to know whether UF has actually done anything resembling a cost-benefit analysis of its tax LLM. For example, does UF actually know whether the tax program pays for itself? Is it really subsidized by the JD program? My hunch is that very few law schools actually even try to think systematically about whether a given program pays its own way or not, or whether, if it doesn't, it makes institutional sense to subsidize it.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Sep 16, 2016 7:12:32 PM

Today, Prof. Lidsky and Prof. McMahon held an emergency town hall meeting for the Tax LLM students. They showed great compassion and concern to a room packed with students who feel hurt and betrayed. Other professors have gone out of their way to support and calm the students as well. Of course, the dean didn't attend. She couldn't take 5 minutes to show support of the tuition paying students. Where was she? She was attending a faculty committee meeting that most dean's wouldn't insist upon attending. She has insisted that the facukty appointments committee schedule every meeting around her schedule so she can strong arm and bully the hiring process. I guess this is her M.O. Harm, hurt and alienate. Ignore the consequences. Repeat.

Posted by: Becca | Sep 16, 2016 7:36:37 PM

I believe Rhee's report is a cost benefit analysis and, subject to debate, shows that the tax program loses money. Of course all public education loses money which leads to the question of whether a program that teaches students how to assist those with money on how to avoid paying taxes should be subsidized. On a different note with respect to the con law as opposed to tax teachers. Con law teachers usually teach one section of con law and 300 students take the course. Tax teachers generally teach only tax and right now there about 85 llm students. Some JD students take tax but on a faculty-student ratio, tax is far more fully staffed than con law.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Sep 17, 2016 8:48:33 AM

Today, at a public meeting with members of the board of trustees, the tax alumni advisory board, and some members of the tax faculty, Assoc. Dean Liz Lear clearly, distinctly and without equivocation denounced Prof. Rhee's memo. Dean Lear, who suggested that she was there on behalf of the Dean who had to leave early for another appointment, expressed her utter disgust and disappointment with Prof. Rhee's actions. She further promised to work with others to prove that the data was fake and purposefully misleading. She was visibly upset by the havoc and harm that Prof. Rhee has caused. There was discussion that this false information was peddled and spread around the school last academic year by Assoc. Dean Mashburn. This fake information was debunked, but still used by Prof. Rhee in his efforts to tarnish the tax program, it's professors, it's students and its alumni. It was great to see an official member of the administrator stand up for the tax program and against Prof. Rhee. Good job, Dean Lear!!! Cheers!

Posted by: Jenna | Sep 17, 2016 4:21:24 PM

Professor Harrison, you find it disappointing that the citizens of Florida are subsidizing classes on how to assist those with money to avoid paying taxes. Since the large majority of work done by any law school's graduates will be to assist those with money, are you suggesting that states should shut down their law schools and let private universities perform this task instead?

Posted by: PaulB | Sep 17, 2016 5:21:45 PM

I am wondering if there is an objective voice out there who could describe these meetings?

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Sep 17, 2016 8:03:58 PM

The main point of Prof Rhee's memo was that demand for the tax LLM has been falling, and a decision to not replace three retiring faculty members is an easy way to start to bring costs in line with demand. This would also allow Florida to return to its traditional standards of selectivity for the program (currently 80% acceptance rate!), so that it does not become a "unseemly cash grab" from students who are incapable of truly benefiting.

Not only is this perfectly sensible advice, it is the only responsible course of action. I stand by my criticism of Prof. McMahon, not because he defends his colleagues, but because he stands in the way of a responsible adjustment to a program that needs to be smaller.

Posted by: JM | Sep 19, 2016 6:23:18 AM

The hard work of Prof. Friel, Prof. McMahon and all the tax faculty have proved successful and helped thousands of tax lawyers from all over the world. The tax program has reached preeminence nationwide and worldwide, and it serves as a high aggregate value flag for the law school and the university itself. The program certainly can improve, but the attacks it has been suffering seem to be motivated by really cheap reasons. Referring to tax education as a tool to help wealthy people avoid taxes is a simplistic and sensationalistic argument. Tax education is essential for social and economic development.

Posted by: Gabriel | Sep 19, 2016 2:38:59 PM

@JM, seriously? Replace 3 most reputable professors in the field and let some apparently very narcissistic and self-proclaimed business expert decide about the destiny of the one of the best tax programs in the nation?
Sorry, but the entire LLM class disagrees with you. We are proud and happy to have these renowned experts and to learn from them! And not from somebody Mr Rhee or his "benefactors" whoever they might be want to see here.

Posted by: nopasaran | Sep 22, 2016 10:46:02 PM

Professor Rhee's 24 page letter about the quality of the University of Florida's LLM in Taxation program reminds me of the on-line movie review that goes on and on about why Steven Spielberg is a bad director. At first I thought the letter was Professor Rhee's "Johnny Paycheck" moment. In any event, I would be happy to send Professor Rhee a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" so long as he promises not to swat at the Amazon delivery drone.

Posted by: BB | Sep 24, 2016 11:51:47 AM