AU professor recognized for impact on tax policy, practice

Kogod Professor Donald Williamson was named 2013 Person of the Year by the financial publication “Tax Notes.”

Williamson is one of 12 people to be named Person of the Year by “Tax Notes,” which covers federal tax laws, regulations and policy, including analyzing Congressional and IRS regulations, according to its website.

Williamson has worked at AU for almost 30 years and served as Director of the Master of Science in Taxation program for longer than 25 years.

Williamson did not know he won the award until Professor David Kautter emailed his congratulations.

“I was absolutely thrilled for Professor Williamson,” Kautter said in an email. “His impact has been enormous. Yet, too often, people like Professor Williamson who do the hard work often behind the scenes go unrecognized.”

Williamson’s work regarding Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations helped him win the award. One of his most recent projects was testifying at IRS hearings that would require income tax return preparers to be licensed, Williamson said. “Tax Notes” cited this testimony as one of the reasons for his winning Person of the Year.

“You need a license to cut someone’s hair— you don’t need a license to prepare their tax returns,” Williamson said. “The technical analysis of the law, I agree with wholeheartedly, but we need some regulation in this area.”

Kogod Dean Michael Ginzberg also recognized Williamson’s contributions to IRS regulations.

“Professor Williamson’s testimony was key to this different treatment being adopted by the IRS,” Ginzberg said in an email. “Professor Williamson’s work reflects the focus of our Kogod Tax Center, focused on issues of importance to middle income taxpayers and small businesses.”

Williamson currently serves as the Executive Director for the Kogod Tax Center. He helped
found the Center in 2011 to help graduate students understand tax law without going through law school.

“You’re not a lawyer, but you have all the skills that a lawyer has,” Williamson said. “This [method of teaching] is identical to law school.”

AU is one of the few schools on the East Coast to have a master of science program specifically in taxation, according to Williamson. Before the center, students would have to go to New York or Georgia to find anything close to the Kogod Tax Center.

“Certainly amongst the local schools, nobody has anything like this,” he said.

Before coming to AU, Williamson worked at the public accounting firm KPMG LLP. In 1985, the company was planning on transferring him to New York City, he said. Rather than move, Williamson started teaching. He’s been an AU professor for the past 28 years and also taught at the Washington College of Law for nine years.

Williamson said that he wants students to realize that “tax accountants aren’t nerds,” likening taxation to reading Shakespeare or James Joyce.

“There are dull accountants, but the tax law is not dull,” he said. “It’s very difficult to read, but you go over it and over it and over it, and you come to understand it.”

Williamson is teaching three graduate classes this semester. Although he considers teaching to be “an enormous rush,” there’s one thing he’d like to change about his schedule.

“I would like to finish my career teaching a course before dark,” he said with a smile.

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