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Karie Davis-Nozemack, assistant professor of law and ethics
Karie Davis-Nozemack, assistant professor of law and ethics

Faculty Profile: Tax Law Expert Davis-Nozemack Shifts Focus from Clients to Students

Some university professors follow a direct route to their positions: undergraduate degree, doctoral degree, assistant professor, and so on. Other professors come to teaching in a more circuitous route—via other careers—and often use these varied experiences to inform their teaching. Karie Davis-Nozemack is one such professor.

Having practiced law for seven years, teaching was a fortuitous accident that she didn’t see coming. “I was sitting on the board of a non-profit organization, and another board member—the associate dean of a local law school—asked me if I had ever considered teaching,” she says. Not long afterward, she was working as an adjunct professor while also continuing with her law practice.

 “I didn’t realize how much I loved it until my husband pointed out that on the days I taught, I came home in the best mood,” says Davis Nozemack, who now teaches courses involving the application of law and ethics to business at Scheller.

Navigating Gray Areas

Her years in the work world taught her a key lesson about teaching: no one can know everything so the best a professor can do is teach her students to think. Or, in Davis-Nozemack’s words, “to be wise.” This skill is particularly helpful when it comes to Davis-Nozemack’s specialty: tax law.

“Tax is a form of business strategy, and the strategy a company takes has important ethical implications,” she says, pointing to one of her areas of specialization. To see how tax strategy and ethics intersect, she says, one need only look at the fallout faced by Apple last year when it became public knowledge that by shifting its intellectual property to Ireland it reduced its tax burden dramatically.

“Tim Cook was hauled in front of a congressional committee and grilled over a perfectly legal tax strategy,” she notes. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s without consequence.

Indeed, Davis-Nozemack predicts that tax strategy will soon become part of the “sustainability” discussion. “We talk about making products more green and being good corporate citizens, but this doesn’t apply just to supply chains or operations,” she says.

“Companies are now being asked, ‘what kind of corporate citizen are you?’ and increasingly their tax strategy is included in that equation.” According to Davis-Nozemack further government tax regulation is not necessarily the answer because for each new law written, an army of lawyers works to find loopholes. Instead, she says, looking at taxes as an ethical issue may just be the most efficient way to approach the gray areas that will always exist in the law.

Her research has been featured in publications such as the Journal of Taxation, the University of Virginia's Tax Review, University of Minnesota's Law and Inequality.

Importance of Writing

One way she prepares her students to think through these complex issues is through writing. “Employers tell us they want students to be able to communicate well,” she says. As such, she uses writing assignments to both improve students’ actual writing style, but also to help students learn the skills that go into being a good communicator.

“Students need to learn how to review large amounts of information, spot issues, ascertain the important facts, and synthesize their findings into bite-sized pieces,” she explains.  The best way to learn these skills, she says, is by writing.

“When you have lots of students in a class, the tendency is to rely on multiple-choice exams. But they don’t test students on the full range of abilities we want to teach them,” Davis-Nozemack says.

She feels so strongly about the value of writing she developed an Open Source software called Essay Wizard that gives students scenarios, and then, using Davis-Nozemack’s grading rubric, prompts students with a series of questions to ask themselves as they write their essays. “The students get feedback as they are writing,” she says, “and it has greatly improved the quality of the essays I get from them.”

Although Davis-Nozemack continues to keep up her law license, it doesn’t appear she’ll be leaving teaching any time soon. “I liked practicing law because it’s all about strategy,” she says, “but I love the energy and give-and-take of teaching.”

In particular she finds herself energized by the atmosphere of creative invention woven throughout campus. “Our students feel that they can, and want to, change the world,” she says, “I feel blessed to have been called here to be able to guide and direct them.”

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