Sunday, July 31, 2016

So Many Questions

Here is what I believe to be a reasonable comment [in Roman]over on the tax prof blog about the tax (non) "issues" at UF and my responses [in italics].  Two comments: First, I think I have never seen any instances in which people who claim to have the best interests of a program at heart have done so much to communicate that it is declining. What are they thinking? 

Second, the information from the alum comes from inside the law school as does mine. I could be wrong, thus,  I want to invite anyone who wants to from the law school to correct me. I will turn over the blog to them. For most part all of these are turf protection statements and are not relevant with respect to the quality of the program. That is not determined by who signs off on schedules or what room a course is taught in. Instead it is based on the quality of the students and instruction.

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:
(Who presented them? Why does he or she hide?)

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.
All true as far as I know. But a little context. People who retired as of June 30 received a payout of all accumulated sick leave. I do not know how much his was but mine, if I had taken it, was 75K. If you retire after than you receive zero. Was this a factor? How could it not be? Plus, the adjunct deal that the dean gave him is the richest one I have heard of. Sounds like a win win for Friel and the School. He is still here doing what he is great at and he got the retirement pay out.

2. Professor Lidsky, a constitutional law professor, is now the Associate Dean for Graduate Tax.
Professor Lidsky is not a con law professor. In fact, she has held administrative posts before and is Dean for all Graduate Programs. She is bright, energetic, and experienced. But this statement suggests there is something wrong with Professor Lidsky. The tax program is lucky to have her. I understand this to be an interim post with a search taking place this year.

3. Professor Mashburn, a Senior Associate Dean, is now assigning graduate tax courses- which had always been handled by the Graduate Tax administration.
The way it works is this. Each year we write down on a form what we want to teach next year and, for the most part, that is what we teach. "Assigning" is a formality and such assigning always goes through the Dean's office. I do not know if Professor Mashburn will be the one who signs off but that, for the most part, except for the JD program, there is self-assignment.

4. The Tax Program has lost its dedicated classroom and the 60-minute hour class has been reduced to 50 minutes.
Two parts. The dedicated classroom seats 112. In recent years tax has had only one course that needed a room that large. On the other hand, there are other classes that are closed with students still wanting in them because of the "dedication." The classes, like all law classes will be 50 minutes, This is the same at other law schools which our faculty regularly visit with no problem. 

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.
I do not know all the details on this and I am struggling to figure out its relevance. I certainly hope someone with Friel's credentials was not doing this. If not, it is done by a secretary and does it matter where the secretary is?

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.
These numbers may not reflect much at all. For example, Hudson also taught other courses and I think Willis does too. In addition two faculty teach tax course but for some reason (to artificially depress the numbers?) are not listed as tax. There are critical adjuncts as well. I can think of no less than 10 people who teach tax. Plus, enrollment in some classes is very very low. This year 67 students will enroll and the acceptance rate was 80%. Student faculty ratio is a better measure of staffing adequacy.

7. The Tax Faculty is no longer called the “Tax Faculty”; rather, they are law professors who teach tax-related courses.
I am not sure this is an official designation. If it is or was, I did not know it. Everyone I talk to says "tax faculty" and not "law professors who teach tax related courses." But what difference does this make in terms of the quality of what happens in the classroom?

8. The Administration has promised the Program that they can keep the tax office space for one year.
I do not know anything about this but I am confident everyone will have and office and all the usual functions will be taken care of.

9. The Tax Program’s staff administrator position has been taken away.
You might be talking about the lady who was paid by UF but determined to be living in another state and I do not mean commuting from Waycross. I heard that position could have been filled by someone who actually came to work but simply was not filled by the tax faculty.  If it was taken away and if it was the lady who lived in another state (not even Valdosta) and simply was not filled, I wonder if the position was ever necessary.

10. ½ the Research Assistant budget has been taken away, and it appears a larger cut is coming.
I have heard nothing about this but, quite honestly, I do not know what research budget means -- time off for research, research assistants,??  The tax faculty already teach lighter loads than others. To the extent it brings their budget into line with everyone else, I applaud it since, as a group, they are no more or less  productive than the large bulk of the faculty.

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.

The best way to see it do well is to stop repeating those who say it is in decline. And think about modernizing seriously. This fall 80% of those applying were accepted and 45% or 67 students will register.  More attention needs to be paid to recruitment, tracking of graduates, and making the program accessible to those who cannot afford a year in residence in Gainesville. In terms of modernizing, most of the measures make the Program leaner and reduce duplication of efforts, both very much needed in light of declining applicants and students. 

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