Joint Degree Programs Help Bring the University to the Law School
By Michael Rodman
|Students gather on the grounds of the Kennedy School of Government. This year, the law school began offering a joint degree program with the JFK School.|
Harvard Law School is a big place. With more than 260 courses and 18 different research centers and programs, there are arguably more opportunities for students to pursue a wide range of academic interests at HLS than at any other law school. Students can take courses ranging from Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution to Wills and Estates; they can study cyberlaw at the Berkman Center or English law at the Selden Society.
The law school's strength comes not only from its size but also from its connection to a large university that includes schools focusing on business, government and public health, among others.
While some students take courses at other schools as a way of indulging personal interests, for others it is part of a serious and formal course of study. In 1969, the law school began offering a joint degree program with Harvard Business School. Under this program, students spend one year at the business school, one year at the law school and then two years jointly enrolled at each school—an arrangement that shaves a year of time and money from what it would ordinarily take to earn the degrees separately. These students also participate in a seminar that focuses on issues where law and business intersect.
This year, in addition to the business school program, HLS is offering a new joint degree program with the Kennedy School of Government. In the past, students interested in a public policy degree in addition to a law degree had to cobble together a schedule that often included a leave of absence at each school.
Similar to the J.D./M.B.A. arrangement, students enrolled in the new Kennedy School joint degree program will spend one year at each school and then the later years jointly enrolled. The total length for the Kennedy School joint degree will be four years. Despite this increased level of coordination, students will still have to apply to and be accepted independently at each school.
"What we're trying to accomplish with the joint degree program with the Kennedy School—and what we hope to accomplish with other joint degree programs as well—is not merely enabling students to take two degrees, but enabling them to interrelate what they are learning at each school so they come out with a joint product that represents even more value than each degree taken alone," says Professor Todd Rakoff '75, dean of the J.D. program.
Professor Detlev Vagts '51, who has taught the J.D./M.B.A. seminar since the program was conceived, believes the joint degrees also help increase students' attractiveness to employers. "It is a plus when employers know that you can write and add," says Vagts.
In addition to the programs with the business school and Kennedy School, HLS is currently developing a coordinated degree program with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—specifically the departments of economics, government and history. Professor Howell Jackson '82, associate dean for research programs and a graduate of the J.D./M.B.A. program, says that those seeking to become law professors are coming to see the value of having a Ph.D. as well as a J.D.
"Given the growing level of student and faculty interest, we're creating a series of connections that are integrating us into the fabric of the larger research university," says Jackson.
Bert Huang, a third-year law student also pursuing a Ph.D. in economics, says that in some instances the school is playing catch-up with the ad hoc programs students have already created. "We've simulated a program—not supported by the university in any way—of lunch seminars and hearing each other's papers and alerting each other to resources around the university," he says. "But I think to set up something that's formal and financially supported and institutionally encouraged is very important. It sends a strong message."
Vagts believes the new push for joint degree programs will help knit the university together. "There is a sense that [Harvard President Lawrence Summers] really wants to get the disparate parts of the university closer together," says Vagts. "The each tub on its own bottom [approach] is a little extreme from his point of view."
According to Jackson, faculty benefit from these enhanced connections as well as students. In the case of the J.D./Ph.D. program, faculty members at the law school will be able to forge closer ties with their arts and sciences colleagues as they jointly advise students and serve on dissertation review committees together.
In many cases, interested faculty have been instrumental in helping students navigate their way through the administrative, academic and financial thickets that can hinder attempts to assemble individual concurrent-degree programs. Huang notes that he likely would not be on the path he's on without the assistance of Professors Steven Shavell, Louis Kaplow '81 and Christine Jolls '93.
While some of these new programs come in response to student demand, in other cases the school is trying to encourage interest, such as with a proposed joint degree program with the Harvard School of Public Health. Although not many HLS students currently take courses at the school of public health, Jackson notes that "headlines in the daily newspapers indicate there are always important legal aspects to public health issues, and health care law is an increasingly important area of practice."
As students' interests change—and as the practice of law evolves—the law school will continue to strengthen its academic connections with other schools, according to Rakoff. "Harvard University has a wealth of excellent departments and schools," he says. "We're trying to make it possible for our students to access that wealth in a more convenient and meaningful fashion than was previously possible."