Friday, January 19, 2007

Perfect Product Development

In past postings I have said that I thought a Moneylaw school would probably not have as many ancillary products/programs as currently exist. On a couple of occasions commentators have taken issue with my position and, reflecting about it, I am not sure I have stated or, perhaps, even thought it out with sufficient care. Here I hope to do that.

When I say “programs” I mean everything outside the standard three year program. This would include student run publications, LLMs, certificate programs, centers, institutes, foreign programs, and probably some things I do know exist.

My objections are not to programs per se but to the lack of care taken in establishing them and, far, far more importantly, the virtual impossibility of discontinuing them.

In fact, consider this. Auto makers with massive market studies make mistakes with respect to their product lines. So do clothes designers, pharmaceutical manufactures, and restaurants. Yet law professors, to hear them tell it, get it right nearly every time they introduce a new product. There is a possible explanation. In conventional markets, demanders and suppliers occupy different sides of the market. Law faculties tend to occupy both sides of the market – they supply the programs that they demand and are lucky enough to pay for what they demand with the money of others. Think I’m wrong on this? If so, when is the last time you heard someone proposing a new program say, “I am not personally interested in this but I am proposing it because I believe it is something the school ought to do.”

Let me give an example or two of how this plays out. One is about the life of a program. The other is about the difficulty of reexamination. At Florida we have a summer teaching program in France. It is far from our worst (or best) program and I use it here as an example. The director (who goes every year) takes another professor and 20 or so students who respond to what seems to me to be a massive advertising campaign. The program was approved at a summer faculty meeting over ten years ago with 17 people in attendance. (Our faculty numbered over 50 at the time.)When a lack of a quorum was mentioned, the dean replied that everyone knew about the meeting and could have come if they cared. The meeting likely had been selected so supporters would outnumber detractors. They did, but barely. Years later the program still exists. The costs and benefits of the program and its quality have never been seriously examined. The enrollment remains low and there are many other similar programs offered by other schools that our students could attend. In effect, it was established and continues to exist on a whim and it can hardly be something that elevates the School in any ranking or offers an opportunity to students that they could not get elsewhere.

On the inertia problem. A few years ago a former dean appointed a committee to review all of our programs and to make recommendations on whether any should be discontinued. Among those appointed to the program were some faculty with the most to lose if any serious changes were make and some faculty of the Making Nice, Knowing Better, Doing Nothing ilk. (I should add that instances in which others might think in terms of recusal are looked upon as opportunities on my faculty and perhaps others, but I do not know.) The committee worked and argued and worked and argued some more. That dean moved on and was replaced. The new dean wanted no part the controversy that is invariably necessary to bring about change. He distanced himself from “program review” and turned a deaf ear to complaints that the directors – within in his administration -- of the programs under scrutiny had not reported their full costs. (A charge he later conceded was true but the administrators remained.)

After two years, a report was written. The faculty voted not to consider it but to allow it to serve as something for the Dean to keep in mind. To say that the report was tame is an understatement. No programs were to be discontinued. There was a mild suggestion that one program should be increasing transferred over private funding. Years have passed and nothing became of it. In fact, in 25 years, as far as I know not one program of any kind had been eliminated or, for that matter, come close to it except for one that involved summer study in Poland. (Potentially the most important for the students.)

Once a program is established, people become attached it and are deeply vested. Efforts to examine a program are taken personally. Any attempt to overcome the resistance to examination is met with the charges of “uncollegiality.” “Owners” avoid evaluating other programs for fear theirs will be the next to come under scrutiny.

I have no doubt that a Moneylaw approach to programs requires a periodic evaluation with a real possibility that a program will be discontinued regardless of which faculty are affected and choose to play the “collegiality card.” Until law schools adopt this approach, they are all suspect to me.

Is it different at other law schools? I doubt it but if it is, please weigh in. Otherwise I will interpret your silence as agreement.


Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Well, Jeff, I agree w/you that programs that aren't doing what they're supposed to do should be up for potential shut-down, and I did shut down two of them while I was a dean. (Not the most popular of moves, even though one was a summer program with very few students and one was an institute that was doing a lot of great individual programming but not a lot of institute-type programming.) To its credit, UHLC adopted a strategic plan that, in part, agreed to criteria to initiate AND to terminate programs, centers, and institutes. See, at 13. This plan is worth a look.

1/20/2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Nancy: To me that is a major feather in your cap but, frankly, I would expect no less from you. I wonder how many schools have automatic reexamination. I mean a real reexamination by disinterested parties.

1/20/2007 12:20 PM  
Blogger Alfred L. Brophy said...

Professor Harrison says:
My objections are not to programs per se but to the lack of care taken in establishing them and, far, far more importantly, the virtual impossibility of discontinuing them. ... Auto makers with massive market studies make mistakes with respect to their product lines. . . . Yet law professors, to hear them tell it, get it right nearly every time they introduce a new product.

This leads me to a question: what's the evidence that law schools hang onto programs that aren't needed (or aren't making money)? Based on Nancy Rapoport's comments above, sounds like schools do evaluate and shut down programs that don't make sense (financially or educationally). That's been my limited experience; the two schools where I've been a tenured professor have both re-evaluated and altered their summer programs, based on need and finances.

Basically, I don't see the same crisis that Professor Harrison does. He may be right. I don't know. Seems to me the way to figure this out is looking at some longitudinal data on summer programs.

1/20/2007 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to be that there are lots of counter-examples historically. There are examples of institutes that followed fads in law and died away over time (e.g., air law (subset of property, not environmental), space law, etc). There are dozens of foreign study programs that died away because of lack of student interest or because of changes in government or funding (Prague had one through your neighbor to the north that is no longer, for example). There are also dozens of programs started without faculty interest, because a dean decided they were for the best interest of the institution given their location near an area of strength (indeed, schools hire scholars to fill these institutes in health law, banking law, insurance law, entertainment law, high-tech law, entrepreneurial law etc) or because a donor strong-armed the dean into forming a center of interest to the donor (Bob Barker's animal law funding comes to mind). I'm not sure why the Dean-started institutes are any more valid than the faculty-started institutes. They usually just puff up a non-existent strength (like when Chicago-Kent had one of the top-ranked IP programs about 10-15 years ago because of a reputation for being at the forefront of technology through electronic casebook sections etc, even though they didn't actually have a full-time faculty member researching and writing in IP).

1/20/2007 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I hope you are all right. It is oddly comforting to me to think Florida is out of step with the rest of law schools. That means we might actually change someday.

But before we get started praising ourselves, it is no challenge at all to discontinue a program when the faculty proponents leave or retire. That, in a way, makes my point. Nor can I get exited about ones that end when the money runs out. Cutting a program when no students sign up is also not a sign of close scutiny and objective evaluation. There is no choice!

I'd like to hear about programs that were discontinued because they simply were regarded as not in the best interest of stakeholders.

If I appeared to, I do not mean to single out summer programs. Here we have more LLMs than I name, several certificates, all manner of centers and institutes.

It is true that my sample is small in terms of law schools that I know about but the issue is not how many have been discontinued but how many have been compared to how many should be ended (and for that matter started but are not.)

1/20/2007 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My school is more like Florida than the ones the other commentators write about. We end programs when faculty lose interest. I like Harrison's idea of a periodic review by people not involved in the program being reviewed. I could not tell if that is what Houston does.

1/20/2007 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have about the same level of insight as others on this. I have held positions at three schools, including one as a dean. I have found the inertia problem to be pervasive. Programs linger well after their usefulness has ended mainly because of resistance by faculty. Some do end but is usually only after those most interested move to something new.

1/20/2007 10:48 PM  
Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Both of my decisions to terminate the two programs were decanal, so I don't know if Houston would terminate any programs based on the criteria in the strategic plan. The institutes & programs created while I was dean (one about criminal justice, which also added a JD/PhD in Criminal Justice, and one on energy, which morphed from an energy-and-business focus into a ramping up of the energy, environmental, and natural resources proram) were primarily faculty-driven.

I've seen Houston's faculty make really good decisions about maintaining some institutes even with the departure of certain key faculty members, because those institutes made sense for the school.

1/21/2007 8:14 AM  

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