Paul L. Caron

Saturday, September 17, 2016

More On The Critique Of Florida's Graduate Tax Program

Florida Logo (GIF)Following up on yesterday's posts:

From a reader:

As an outsider who has watched this blog and seen this drama (and I use that term advisedly) unfold, I get the distinct impression that Prof. Rhee has an axe to grind. In any case, anyone who sits back and peruses this report from an informed perspective will see that this seemingly objective analysis is anything but that. Let’s consider a few facts:

1. Student body: an LL.M. is often a means to strengthen a student’s dossier in a specialty because the student did not feel, or was not, adequately credentialed or prepared to seek employment in that area. So, the idea of calling out an LL.M. program for matriculating students with lukewarm credentials is equally valid to observing that students who pursue post-baccalaureate certificates were weaker candidates for a PhD program than students who went directly from the BA to graduate school. That’s right, it’s altogether specious reasoning on Rhee’s part.

2. Enrollments and job outcomes: On the one hand, Rhee bellyaches about low enrollments and the quality of students, while complaining about job outcomes. Yes, he notes that legal education in general is in decline. There was a reason for that decline: larger trends in employment. Rhee seems to ignore his own admission by the time he gets around to reporting that only 31% of the 2016 graduates got the most prestigious jobs. Is Rhee serious? 31% sounds pretty damn good, if the target is “the most prestigious jobs.” From where I sit, and where the applicants to the LL.M. probably sit as they consider applying to the program, these students envisioned this program as a way of bolstering their chances of getting: 1) a job, 2) a better job, or 3) a really great job. As Rhee’s own figure shows, of those three options, roughly 1/3 of the students managed to pull off getting the third.

Is this Rhee’s idea of the kind of crisis that requires so much effort outside of his area of research?

3. Faculty: Rhee’s analysis of the tax program’s faculty is irresponsible, injurious, and pointless for a few reasons. As Dean Rosebury has pointed out, this program and faculty Rhee is slagging has been consistently highly ranked by its peers in the field. And this is a crucial point. Let the Tax LL.M. and its faculty be subjected to the judgment of its peers, not a colleague with questionable motives who teaches and researches in a different area of the law. How should we view Rhee’s dubious analysis in the context of the consistently high ranking of the program? Rhee knows best? It would appear not: Rhee’s statistical comparison of percentage of tax faculty seems not to have taken into account that the pertinent comparisons would be with other law schools that have similarly large LL.M. tax programs. Rhee, like any business-minded person, thinks mostly of the bottom line. But another vital question needs to be considered: how many faculty members are needed to meet adequately the needs of a large body of LL.M. students. This question is curiously absent from Rhee’s consideration and analysis.

Now for the question of quality. Tax is a highly demanding and technical area of the law. Maybe Rhee should be given a break for not understanding this as he does his math. After all, he does business law. What would matter most to a student who wants to practice tax, the student who pursued an LL.M. in order to go practice as a tax attorney in a real job, you know, in one of those prestigious firms, is a strong knowledge of the technical aspects of the frighteningly complicated tax code. It actually benefits these students—the ones who do not want to join Rhee on the faculty teaching business law—to have professors who keep up with all of the ins and outs of the tax code. Rhee prefers, however, that these students be taught by people who do more scholarship and are cited more. Because, well, he knows what’s best for these tax students whose employment he is so concerned about. Traditionally the strengths of UF’s tax program have been providing a strong technical grounding in tax law and in maintaining a healthy employment network in the state of Florida. Because, yes, this is a state university. Give that some thought, Rob.

Another crucial point that Rhee either elides or ignores is that the tax faculty is aging. Maybe he overlooks this point because he doesn’t want to be called out for ageism. Well, he should be concerned about that. And, here’s the thing: many of the tax faculty he has been complaining about have been at UF law for decades, serving the school and the community quite well, doing the things that they were hired to do. Prof. Rhee shows up recently and decides that these senior faculty must either play the game according to his rules, or he deems them to be a drag on the school. We can be sympathetic with the newcomer for not understanding the value of those contributions, but perhaps he should give himself some more time to become acquainted with the system he is criticizing. Let’s say he is right, and that LL.M. students are best served when their faculty spend time writing articles that get cited as much as he deems worthwhile. What do we now do with all of these pesky students? How do we run an online program while we write all of these articles which get the high citations counts?

In any case, Prof. Rhee’s flawed analysis of the economics of the tax program will be moot once the older faculty retire. Everyone knows that assistant professors are much cheaper than their established compatriots.

In conclusion, I think it is clear that Prof. Rhee has given very little thought to the implications of his lopsided and hopelessly flawed analysis. My take on Rhee’s analysis is it exhibits very little substantive concern about the actual education of the students but is mostly about the following: 1) money, 2) law school rankings (because the LL.M. program itself is fine there), 3) attacking tax faculty whom he does not value or respect. Where is all of this coming from? I think much of it is coming from a justly criticized neoliberal educational philosophy. Prof. Rhee and people who share this neoliberal agenda (both Republicans and Democrats) have concluded that education needs to be run like a business. As this analysis shows, Rhee views students as revenue streams. He wants to adopt a “Central Purchasing Agent Model.” He thinks that the alumni are a nuisance that need to know their proper place on the outskirts of the educational community (hey, they have jobs, right?). All of these ideas come from his business-oriented perspective, one that cares very little for the Florida community or proven methods of education. If Rhee wants to run a business, then he should go start one. He should not play businessperson from the safety of his professorial chair, showing no willingness to take any of the real risks as he pontificates about what is best for UF’s LL.M. in tax.

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This is so far the one thoughtful response I have seen. It is decidedly different from the mob-like responses that demonize Rhee by saying he has an ax to grind or that he is disgusting or should be fired. You would think people trained in law would adopt one of two lines of attack. The numbers are wrong or, as this reader does, the numbers miss the point. Panic does not change the reality. And the reality, as many of the tax profs will admit privately, is that the Program needs leadership and change.
On a different matter, who is the brave soul who leaked this the Caron? Is it the same person who whipped up the alums over a possible change in director or, God forbid, that tax classes be taught in rooms that fit the size of the number of students enrolled. Rhee had the guts to put his name on his report but not the person who wanted the world to know.

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Sep 17, 2016 8:41:40 AM

My thoughts are that Rhee leaked it. He put a line that said it was subject to Florida sunshine laws. Rhee wanted it out there.

Posted by: Becca | Sep 17, 2016 2:18:04 PM

I have to smile at Prof. Rhee's elitist tone. Expecting to see that he got his J.D. from HYS/Chicago/NYU/Georgetown, etc., I learned that in fact was, well. only George Washington.

Posted by: You Hoo | Sep 26, 2016 1:11:08 PM