Posts tagged ‘Johns Hopkins’

The Power of Institutional Focus

Ilya Somin wonders why some top universities don't have law schools:

It recently occurred to me that there are several big-name
universities that don't have law schools, even though a law school
established at any of those institutions would probably do well.
Princeton arguably heads this list, along with Brown, Johns Hopkins,
Rice, and Tufts. Brandeis University also doesn't have a law school
(ironically, for a prominent university named after a Supreme Court

Why these universities haven't established law schools is a bit of a
mystery (at least to me). Law schools tend to bring in net revenue for
the university. This is even more likely to be true at a big-name
institution that can quickly attract good faculty and students. If
Princeton were to establish a law school tommorrow, appoint a credible
dean, and provide adequate initial financial backing, they could very
quickly turn it into a highly successful (and profitable) enterprise.
Many good students would come just because of the Princeton name, and
most outstanding scholars who are not already at top 20 or top 30
institutions might well be willing to move to Princeton if asked.

Princeton, by the way, does not have a law school or business school or medical school.  It really tries to hold itself up as primarily and undergraduate institution, and works hard to be the premier undergraduate school in the country.  It has graduate schools only in disciplines for which there is an undergraduate degree (e.g. math, economics, chemistry, history).  I have always suspected that they maintain these graduate programs mainly because they have to to attract top academic talent to be available for their undergraduates.  Unlike any other university with which I am familiar, and certainly unlike Harvard where I also attended, graduate students at Princeton feel themselves to be second class citizens.

Somin acknowledges this a bit when he says:

Various commenters suggest that these universities choose not to
have a law school because of their desire to focus on undergraduate
education. That may indeed be the right explanation, though several of
these institutions (including Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and Rice) have
other professional schools on campus. But it doesn't strike me as a
very compelling reason not to establish a law school. If the law school
were to drain resources away form undergrad education, there might
indeed be a conflict between the two. In fact, however, a law school is
likely to bring in net revenue that could be used to improve
undergraduate education. Moreover, some law school professors
(especially at elite schools) teach courses that undergraduates might
be interested in taking, as sometimes happened at Yale, when I was a
law student there.

Even if a law school adds resources to undergrad education instead
of draining them, it's possible that its presence could detract from
undergraduate education in some other, more subtle way. But it's hard
for me to see how. If Yale Law School were closed down tomorrow, would
undergraduate education at Yale improve? Are undergraduates at Yale
currently worse off than at Princeton in some way traceable to the fact
that Yale has a law school and Princeton doesn't? Possibly. But I
remain skeptical.

I would argue that there is an important difference that you can't just get at through incremental analysis.  That is, that the management and faculty of Princeton have a culture and focus on undergraduates that universities like Harvard do not have.  Somin is right that grad schools bring in lots of money -- and so the sum of a med school and a law school and a business school and all that tuition and grant and consulting money (not to mention resultant faculty egos) is hugely distracting for an institution.  Particularly in the case of Princeton where it does not really need incremental money anyway.  Take my word for it, having attended both Harvard and Princeton, there are enormous differences in their institutional foci which have real impacts, both substantial and subtle, on undergraduate life. 

I would love to do a poll.  Ask the faculty of both Harvard and Princeton, "Which would you give up first, your university's graduate program or undergraduate program,"  I bet I know what the answer would be.

But what do I know - we Princeton grads are all nuts, anyway.