Without even realizing it, Assistant Professor Alice E. Keane, J.D., LL.M, followed what seems to be a predetermined path to practice law and eventually teach business law classes in Governors State University's highly esteemed College of Business.
Both of her parents earned doctorate degrees and worked in education. Later in life, Keane’s father—Illinois State Rep. James F. Keane—represented a portion of Chicago’s South Side and southwest suburbs for fourteen years. Keane’s family legacy was a nice bookend to her natural love of the law and the inner workings of government.
As the child of a lawmaker, Keane had a first row seat in a real-life civics class, and her father saw the spark in his daughter. “He said I’d make a good lawyer because I always negotiated with my siblings,’’ Keane said, reflecting on childhood squabbles with younger brothers and an older sister.
In fact, Keane’s negotiation skills served her well as a courtroom litigator, as well as Deputy General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Revenue Income Tax Litigation unit. She earned a law degree at University of Illinois, where she graduated magna cum laude.
She went on to earn her Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from Georgetown University and was tapped to deliver the commencement speech.
Since then, Keane has served several professional associations, including the Illinois State Bar Association and Chicago Bar Association, and taught numerous continuing legal education courses.
After two years as an adjunct professor, Keane joined the GSU Accounting faculty full time in 2016, parlaying her love of teaching with an affinity for tax law. In the classroom with GSU business law students, Keane said she feels like she’s living a dream.
GSU Newsroom: What inspired you to study tax law?
Keane: I’d always associated tax law with doing my taxes, which was mind numbing, but I had a professor at the University of Illinois who helped me understand policy behind tax law. There are lots of rules, but why those rules are the way they are is what’s fascinating to me. The legislators use tax laws to govern behavior. They provide incentives to act in certain ways and disincentives to act in certain other ways.
Before the tax code was computerized, it filled two giant books. One day a professor told us to take book number one and turn to page 1500 and look down the page. There was a paragraph about owning a boat between 15 feet and 50 feet that’s operated out of a harbor in the United States. The professor explained that the average size of boats owned by congressmen and senators was between 15 feet and 50 feet. The clause was their way of giving themselves a tax benefit for owning a boat. That’s just one example of how the tax law can be used to change behavior or not change behavior. By changing the tax laws, people can be influenced to act in a way no one expects, and it happens very, very frequently. It’s really the study of human nature.
GSU Newsroom: How did your research about the Affordable Care Act end up in in a family law journal?
Keane: Taxpayers and ‘Dependents’ Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) discusses the duties that taxpayers have under the Affordable Care Act to either ensure their tax dependents have health insurance or pay a penalty. The ACA mandates everyone buy health insurance or be fined.
Say you are taking care of a family member, maybe a brother, and he doesn’t have a job. You support him for half a year while he is looking for a job. If that person doesn’t have health insurance, for tax purposes, I found that they are your responsibility. I wasn’t expecting that. I ended up publishing the research in the Illinois Bar Journal. I thought tax professionals would find it interesting, but family law attorneys also found it very interesting and scary for their clients.
This was important research because it’s an unexpected tax liability that most people don’t think about when they are trying to help out a family member.
GSU Newsroom: How does your GSU classroom experience compare with other schools?
Keane: Governors State students blow me away. They are incredibly hard working and incredibly bright, and they don’t take their education for granted. In many cases, they are the first in their family to get a degree and are frequently paying for it themselves. My younger students are so enthusiastic, and the older students who have come back to school are determined to make something out of this education.
My night classes start at 7:30 and end at 10:20. The students have had a full day of work or a full day of taking care of their families. They're tired, but they come in and work like crazy.
Sometimes, I ask them to do jumping jacks or throw candy to a student across the room if they raise their hand to answer questions. I hope they think it’s fun.