Tax Prof Makes Policy More about People than Numbers
In her scholarship and classroom teaching, Professor Katie Pratt shows that tax policy is more about people than numbers.
Focusing on what she calls “scholarship with a heart,” Pratt explores the consequences of tax policies on health issues affecting wide swaths of the population. Her work is uniquely interdisciplinary: a member of the American Public Health Association as well as the National Tax Association, she studies and writes about the use of taxes on soda and junk food to control obesity, as well as the tax treatment of medical expenses for gender reassignment and fertility treatments.
The school’s Sayre Macneil Fellow, Pratt is an expert in income taxation and tax policy, and the co-author of a popular textbook on income tax. She writes on the intersection of tax law and population health, tax expenditures and federal budget issues, with the goal of improving policy.
As much as she loves researching and writing on pressing tax policy issues, she loves teaching and mentoring her students equally. She says the greatest honor she’s received in her career is the Excellence in Teaching Award she received last year from students.
Teaching Contracts gives her a welcome opportunity to make a difference in the lives of first-year law students. In the course, Pratt focuses on what she calls students’ “process skills,” such as learning how to read and brief cases, synthesize and structure complex material, and apply the law to reach well-reasoned conclusions. “No matter their starting point, my goal is to reach everybody in the course.”
She also makes a point of offering each student individual time to talk about how law school is going and to give individualized feedback on the midterm exam. “A number of students have told me they would have quit law school but the help I gave them in their first year of law school,” Pratt adds. “That’s meaningful and humbling to me.”
With its many pro bono and clinic opportunities, including tax opportunities, Loyola is exceptional at helping students make a difference in the world, Pratt believes. In her classes, she encourages students to think about their vocation as lawyers-to-be. “It’s important for them to think about why they’re in law school and be true to themselves.”
Her focus on blending scholarship and teaching extends to the Tax Policy Colloquium, which she co-convenes with her tax colleague, Ted Seto. In the colloquium, prominent tax and public finance scholars visit Loyola to present scholarly work-in-progress. JD and Tax LLM students in the course, along with professors in the audience, comment on the weekly papers.
Students prepare by studying the experts’ papers in advance and submitting written questions and reaction papers. The Colloquium meets weekly during the fall term and typically brings in nine experts on a wide range of tax policy topics. “It’s really an all-star cast of scholars,” she says about the presenters.
The dual goals of the colloquium are to help students develop their critical reasoning and writing skills, and to help the presenting experts fine-tune their scholarly work-in-progress. Pratt believes the course also helps students’ feel more confident about their ability to mix it up with intellectual heavyweights. “It’s wonderful to see the very obvious growth in students’ confidence during the term,” she says. “They become completely comfortable with challenging and critiquing established experts.”
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