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Building a Bridge Over the River

By Robert C. Pozen

More than a river separates Harvard Law School (HLS) and Harvard Business School (HBS), so well-intentioned discussions about making them neighbors in Allston are not enough to encourage the two graduate schools to work together in a collegial manner. The barriers to interdisciplinary work have little to do with site location. They need to be addressed by policy changes at the University level.

Harvard’s graduate students are disadvantaged by the low level of cooperation between the two graduate schools in several ways—direct conflicts in calendar, limits on cross-registration, few joint activities for the J.D.-M.B.A. program and insufficient integration of different types of course materials.

HLS and HBS start on different dates and have different vacation weeks and different daily blocks for classes. These calendar conflicts create huge problems for students trying to take courses in both schools; these problems could be resolved by a uniform calendar established by the University for all of its graduate schools.

In addition, neither HLS nor HBS generally allows cross-registration in any of its required courses for first-year students. This is a substantial barrier to interdisciplinary work since many advanced courses at both schools assume knowledge of material taught in the first-year courses. Moreover, individual professors have sometimes not permitted cross-registration in their advanced courses.

Only students in the joint J.D.-M.B.A. program are allowed to take first-year courses in both schools. Yet this program is really a mechanism for saving tuition and time in obtaining two graduate degrees, rather than a real interdisciplinary exercise. Students must gain admission separately to HLS and HBS, which then offer no special set of truly joint courses for the J.D.-M.B.A. program.

One of the critical constraints on joint courses is the different approaches to course materials in the two schools. HBS focuses primarily on case studies, though some HBS case studies have notes attached and some HBS courses assign supplemental readings. The advanced courses at HLS use more textual material as well as judicial opinions and statutes. While case studies provide very helpful insights into the application of substantive principles, it is quite difficult to infer those principles from case studies in technical areas like accounting.

Similarly, there is a low level of cooperation between the faculties of the two graduate schools—on combined scholarship, dual appointments or jointly taught courses.

There is surprisingly little interdisciplinary research between the faculties of HLS and HBS, with the notable exception of a recent seminar on corporate governance. This is a shame because there are many other areas where interdisciplinary research would be fruitful, such as international finance. Among the causes is the incorrect assumption by many HLS professors that their HBS counterparts would not be willing to discuss normative policy issues—for example, what the rules of the business world should be.

Nor are there currently any faculty members with appointments in both HLS and HBS. Indeed, there are very few faculty members who have ever taught courses in both schools, although a few HBS professors may be in residence at HLS during the 2004-2005 academic year. Some younger professors have been discouraged, in terms of tenure possibilities, from teaching courses across the river. To counter this parochialism, Harvard University needs to provide faculty members with concrete incentives to engage in interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Thus, regardless of site location decisions, the President of Harvard should appoint a high-level task force with a mandate to enhance interdisciplinary work among all graduate schools in the University. The agenda of the task force should include prompt implementation of the following action items for the Law School and the Business School:

1) Establish the same calendar at HLS and HBS for the academic year and the weekly scheduling of classroom hours.

2) Allow cross-registration, within reasonable limits if classes are oversubscribed, for all courses in both graduate schools.

3) Establish a joint admission process and a special set of interdisciplinary courses for the J.D.-M.B.A. program.

4) Promote centers for interdisciplinary research in fruitful areas like corporate governance and international finance.

5) Encourage joint appointment of faculty members, who would teach courses and have offices in both graduate schools.

6) Give young professors at HLS and HBS extra credit in the tenure process for participating in joint-teaching or scholarship programs.

The implementation of this six-point agenda would improve the quality of the academic experience of Harvard graduate students, while increasing the cross-fertilization of ideas among the faculty members of two of the greatest graduate schools in the world.

Robert C. Pozen ’68, a former Crimson editor, is Olin visiting professor of law at Harvard Law School and Massachusetts secretary for economic affairs.

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