Monday, June 8, 2015

Should Harvard Hire More Janitors?

Tyler Cowen is skeptical that Harvard should let more students in the door.
Academic research is often a superstars market, where a relatively small number of people at the very top produce a disproportionate share of the value. We should keep their working conditions and environment as high quality as possible, no? Above all, that should apply to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, and a few others too.
On Twitter, Claudia Sahm remarks [emphasis added]:
I more than agree with her. I think the entire ecology of elite institutions contribute to their productivity. From the world-class professors to the world-class students, to a dedicated alumni association, to a supportive press, the web of activity contributes a 12th man effect to any organization that combines ability with prestige. In other words, consider the possibility that the elite aren't necessarily elite because the individuals within are a standard deviation better than the next best alternative, but rather because over time they've managed to muster the suite of resources needed to to optimize the productive output of the firm.

In yet other words, LeBron doesn't wash his own jock strap.

It's a bit tough to say from afar what the telos of Harvard is. Is it to produce excellent graduates? Is it to maximize its endowment? Is it to produce timeless, powerful research? Is it to raise the relative status of higher education in toto? Is it different things to different people?

A diverse constituency will often clamor for contradictory policy. Negotiating conflicting demands is difficult enough for actual residual claimants. I have a strong hunch that this task is made no easier when demands are made from the comfort of an op-ed desk.

Should Harvard admit more students? Or hire more administrators? Or seek more donations? I can't say for sure, and I'd urge you to consider whether or not you've access to relevant information to do so either. It's tough enough to point this decisions in the direction of euvoluntary exchange without unsolicited commentary.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?