Tales from (near) the Vienna Woods

Last Tuesday night I flew to Vienna to teach a 4-day, 3 hours per day International Tax Policy class to students in a new doctoral program at a tax institute among the economics and business programs at Vienna University. The students are mostly lawyers, but also include people with degrees in economics, business administration, and someone with accounting as well as law. We're halfway done now, with a break for the weekend. One of the best things about teaching this class is that there's no exam. Instead, the students will write papers. And while it's true that writing exams and grading them are the two worst tasks in a law professor's job, that's not even the main reason it's so incredibly refreshing not to have to do it. I've assigned a bunch of readings (all by me, including unpublished book chapter drafts, except for the Tax Notes versions of Kleinbard's Stateless Income), but I don't feel I have to lecture on them. If on a given day I think it would be more instructive or fun to discuss X, Y, or Z (provided they are pertinent to the class's topic), that's just fine. No one is wondering about whether that's on the test, or whether stuff in the readings that I'm not discussing is on the test. Obviously, the danger in such a situation is that the students will be unmotivated. But apart from the fact that they have to write papers, they're only in this program (3 years, but they're just starting) because they're interested in international business taxation, and in some cases possibly in academics or government policy jobs. They all have good work experience and would be insane to do this unless they were highly motivated. When I teach the Tax Policy Colloquium at NYU, I get the same benefit of students who can take an interest without having to worry about the exam. (I of course don't blame students for worrying about exams when given; it just makes the experience much worse both for me and for them, and makes it much less genuinely educational apart from the admittedly important motivation it provides to take a class seriously.) Of course, the colloquium is 14 weeks long, and the students have lots more going on, including other classes, family life, and job search. Plus, their opportunity cost is much lower, taking as given that they've decided to go to law school (or to add an LLM degree). Thus, the average level of commitment in the colloquium is bound to be less. But this is not to complain – I've been very happy with my colloquium students over the years, and I believe I've had some success, via various measures, in getting enrollees to self-select for being genuinely interested. It's been a true pleasure to get to know all these students (as one does a bit more in the colloquium than the lecture hall setting), and to learn from as well as teach them. Meanwhile I've been touristing up a storm, so to speak, in Vienna, to the extent that I am feeling run-down and borderline sick. On Wednesday, after arrival, I went to the Schlossburg Palace & its grounds, including the Vienna Zoo, followed by 3 modern art museums in a complex called the Museum Quarter, topped off with dinner at one of the stalls in a place called the Naschmarkt (best translated as Nosh Market). On Thursday after class, Demel's and Hotel Sacher's pastry shop followed by the delightful Albertina Museum (also with lots of modern stuff). I may go to an obscure American film there tomorrow (George Ray Hill's The Driver). On Friday after class, the Kunsthistorische Museum (main Vienna art museum for the Renaissance and surrounding periods) followed by the Natural History Museum, then dinner with my host at a very non-touristy and authentic Vienna restaurant right on the edge of the Vienna Woods. Today I took a train (1 hour each way) to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day trip. Charming town now that it has recovered from the horrid drabness and failure that the Communists imposed on it. Lots of charming and deliberately whimsical town squares, a few museums, a castle, some towers, coffee and a pastry on the town square, etcetera. Bratislava also has the Danube flowing through it, though it looked green rather than blue. At lunch, a very good Slovakian meal that (along with the pastry that followed) will also serve as my dinner. As it was sunny and nice and everyone around was having a beer, I decided to do so at lunch as well, although that's certainly not my usual practice (too much the puritanical American, I suppose). Pilsener Urquel was prominently listed on the menu, but I was wondering (since I've heard of it in the US) if it is below the top local standard. I asked the waitress she was good, and she frowned and said "It's Czech." So I got a Slovakian dark beer instead. Tomorrow, another art museum & park called the Belvedere, then maybe that George Roy Hill movie. This leaves only Monday and Tuesday after class (I leave early on Wednesday). I've brought work here, and I certainly could use the time doing it, but somehow when one's away from one's usual places and also has touring opportunities (cue the Puritanical sense of duty again, I suppose, although I really do enjoy it & find it interesting), I just can't find the motivation to do any of it.

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