Thursday, November 02, 2006

A MoneyLaw series: Evaluating and managing the university as a public utility

Ευρηκα! In the weeks since Bill Henderson declared that MoneyLaw needs a theory, I've trekked all over North America in search of everything, so it has seemed to me, except that theory. As I stepped once again into an airport, I realized that the answer arched overhead. Indeed, the answer had been with me all along.

Although I try to maintain a scholarly and pedagogical presence in many areas of law, my core zone of expertise is the law of regulated industries. This notoriously difficult and (for most legal academics) decidedly unexciting body of law, also known as the law of public utilities, governs the financing and regulation of society's most ambitious pieces of infrastructure. The regulation of the transportation, energy, and communications industries traverses every conceivable area of public and private law. A good public utility lawyer is not only a student of takings jurisprudence, but also a master of accounting and of macroeconomic theory.

The insight that struck me as I strode through yet another airport was that universities, including law schools, can and should be evaluated and managed according to principles that have been refined in the law of regulated industries. The contemporary research university is a public utility in its own right, and it deserves to be examined on the same terms as civil aeronautics, the North American power grid, and the World Wide Web. In this MoneyLaw series, I will undertake this project, which happily unites my interest in academic administration with the central intellectual challenge of my scholarly agenda.


Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Jim: I look forward to this. I hope you will go back to basic issues. Why regulate at all? More importantly, why subsidize the accumulation of human capital by people who attempt to internalize as fully as possible the returns to that investment (in the case of public schools, that is). And, of course, how do we avoid capture by the employees of the utility since they are 1)employees, 2) management, and 3) there is no independent board of directors.

11/02/2006 9:44 AM  

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