It's a happy occasion when a beneficent man of means extends a hand to students who are eager to learn and, ultimately, prosper on their own.
On Thursday evening, University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, Miami Law Dean Patricia D. White and other personalities congregated in the Storer Auditorium to celebrate the launch of a first-of-its-kind triple-degree program and the man who made it possible. The $1.5 million gift by Steven Mariano, the CEO and chairman of Patriot National Insurance Group Inc., will enable students who were undergraduate business majors to earn three degrees – a J.D., an LL.M. in taxation, and an M.B.A. – in four years.
The triple-degree program is "unique in the country," Dean White told the crowd, and blends "an extraordinarily powerful combination of skills."
She named four heroes of the program – Christopher Callahan, a third-year law student whose "brilliant" idea she said it was and who is the first recipient of a Mariano Scholarship; Sandy Abraham, the Executive Liaison for Interdisciplinary Programs and Initiatives, a position created, Dean White said, "to make these things happen"; Christopher Pizzo, J.D. '09, former president of the Moot Court Board, whom she described as a "distinguished graduate" who "liked the law school" and wanted to do something for it; and Pizzo's cousin, Steven Mariano, a "highly successful entrepreneur" who, although not a UM graduate, echoed Pizzo's desire to help Miami Law and its students.
It was Pizzo, who had become chief of staff at Mariano's Patriot National, who set up a meeting with Dean White to discuss Mariano's desire to contribute to the law school, and the triple-degree program is the result.
"Thanks to his generosity, that program is now up and running," Dean White said. Then, in a comment that drew appreciative laughter, she added, "Steve is a businessman – he's not a lawyer. Fortunately for us, he's made more money as a businessman than he would have as a lawyer."
Taking the podium, President Shalala said that Mariano's gift had served to underscore the law school's progress since Dean White assumed its helm in 2009. "I love innovative deans," the president said. "That kind of strategic investment is what transforms institutions."
President Shalala said Dean White had "helped to raise the law school's profile, and she's done an absolutely terrific job."
When his turn came to speak, Mariano said he was "very happy to be here to fund this new endeavor," which he predicted would not only be a "triple threat" in the employment arena but also provide graduates of the program with "more letters of the alphabet behind their names than anyone else."
He urged students to ensure that they are as ready as they can be to enter the workforce. "You need to be prepared for the unexpected," Mariano said, noting that credentials like multiple degrees can only add heft to a job candidate's resume. "This is what people like me will be looking for," he said.
The event at the Storer, which was attended by dozens of students and members of the faculty and staff of the law and business schools, was capped by an address from Professor Patricia A. Brown, director of Miami Law's Graduate Program in Taxation and former Deputy International Tax Counsel for Treaty Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In her lecture, titled, "Making Deals That Don't Make Headlines: My Ten Years as the U.S. Tax Treaty Negotiator," Professor said that any person or entity – such as mutual funds or pension plans – that invests in any of the approximately 80 countries covered by U.S. tax treaties has most likely "received tax treaty benefits, either directly or indirectly."
Professor Brown noted that tax treaties are, first and foremost, contracts between countries that are negotiated "to allocate taxing rights with respect to income that both countries otherwise might tax, resulting in double taxation."
She said the reason that people do not know more about tax treaties is that the Treasury Department "has been pretty successful about keeping politics out of the tax treaty process." One of the benefits of a low profile, she said, is that activists and others – she mentioned the riots surrounding the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999 – often have no idea of the identities of the principal players in the treaty field.
"Control your public profile," Professor Brown said. "Don't let the guys in the black hoods know who you are."
She had another piece of advice for potential trade negotiators. "You really have to listen to the other side," Professor Brown said. "What the other side is going to tell you is what they want."
Mariano JD/MBA/LLM in Taxation Triple Degree Program inauguration.