Professor Olson’s kindest act of mercy

I don’t know if it was grandiosity or naiveté, but I just can’t imagine what came into my mind when I registered for Corporate Income Tax I. Because congress acts at the behest of special interests and does so by committee, the code of internal revenue is a prolix and illogical beast. I felt I was more or less following the material during class, and in that I was entirely mistaken. Like all law school classes, the grade was entirely determined by a single essay final exam where we write in blue books (blank notebooks supplied by the exam proctor). I would guess it was a two or three hour exam. The question would state a single corporate financial series of financial activities, and we were to fully discuss all the tax implications thereof.

During the exam, I thought things were maybe a bit shaky, but I thought I was doing ok until I got to some capital gains issues that I recognized were governed by an IRS statute or regulation nicknamed the “section 1231 hotchpot” where various transactions were grouped together for tax purposes. A couple of minutes into that I realized I was completely at sea. For perhaps the only time in law school, I had no idea what to put down in the blue books. My mind has blanked out the traumatic memory of what happened next, but I must have scribbled something out and turned in the bluebooks.

Now Hamline law school had a first floor area leading to some offices and classrooms and a large stairway going to the second floor with the law library and professor’s offices. I was walking on the first floor a few days later when I heard a voice from above bellow out “KNUTSON!” I looked back and up and saw Professor Olson from the second floor railing. He shouted down ranting “Your handwriting is horrible! I could barely read your [tax] exam! Good God, its unreadable!”, and so on. Well, my handwriting is indeed bad, and when I didn’t know what I was doing I imagine it got much worse. When the grades went up, I found I received a C+. This was an act of infinite mercy as I worried I had written an F exam (Well, perhaps there was partial credit for identifying the Hotchpot issue). This wasn’t the main reason Professor Olson was one of my favorite professors, but it didn’t hurt. I will also note that I did earn a four credit A, fair and square, from him in Corporations, and chose not to take Corporate Income Tax II. 😉

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