spea magazine

Just Curious: Q&A

Spreading the Gospel of Public Finance

Intermin Dean Kurt Zorn on teaching across the globe

Fast becoming one of SPEAís most sought-after international executive education topics is public finance taught by SPEA professors Alfred Ho, John Mikesell, and Kurt Zorn. We catch up with Interim Dean Kurt Zorn, who will teach public finance in Taiwan, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this month.

kurt zornYou are teaching public finance at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where there are no direct taxes on personal income or corporations (with the exception of oil companies) in an elective monarchy. Is it difficult to explain concepts like public debt, capital markets, fiscal federalism across cultures?
Certainly, itís a little more challenging than presenting to U.S. students who are used to these concepts. However, when you teach internationally, you start with the basics of budgeting and finance that transcend borders. Thereís a curiosity about the U.S.í and other countriesí tax and budgeting structure.

Do you teach in English in Abu Dhabi or do you have a translator?
I teach in English. The students have varied abilities, but most are able to understand Ė and often speak Ė English very well.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in teaching public finance across cultures, varying governance systems, economies?
My biggest challenge is ensuring that I explain things clearly to people who find these concepts foreign to them. So, really, clear communication can be the biggest challenge when teaching non-U.S. audiences.

What are the rewards of flying half way around the world Ė to Taiwan and China Ė to teach public finance?
Itís a great opportunity to learn about other systems of budgeting and finance. I also have the chance to learn about their culture and systems and get to work with very bright, motivated people. We banter back and forth quite a bit, which wonít surprise anyone who knows me. Itís a lot of fun!

What principals of U.S. public finance are of greatest interest to new democracies?
Over the years, I have found that Ė especially with new democracies Ė there is a curiosity about why the people in the U.S. voluntarily pay taxes. Many countries donít have a culture of tax-paying and they are often very curious about why we in the U.S. do.

Do you require your overseas students to read Fiscal Administration: Analysis and Applications for the Public Sector, by SPEA Professor John Mikesell?
I donít require the text when I teach in Taiwan, as itís a non-credit course where I am teaching concepts.

However, I do require the textbook for my public finance class at Zayed University. Itís a full, masterís-level course for credit. But I had pack the book in my checked luggage on the flight over to Abu Dhabi . . . itís too heavy to carry!

Kurt Zorn is Professor and Interim Dean at SPEA. His expertise includes state and local finance, transportation safety, economic development, and gaming policy. He holds a doctorate from Syracuse University.