Friday, April 11, 2014

Why Does UCLA Now Have Two Institutes of the Environment?

My tenure at UCLA is at the Institute of the Environment.   This Institute conducts research and offers many undergraduate classes focused on the intersection of environmental science and environmental policy.   Yesterday, it was announced that the UCLA School of Law is launching the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.   Everyone at UCLA is grateful to Dan and Rae Emmett for their generous gift to UCLA.

But, I'm an economist and I ask questions about the use of scarce resources and the incentives of a non-profit organization to optimize.    Why does it make sense to have two Institutes on the same campus that study the same issues?  Yes, I understand that the Emmett Institute has a legal focus but at the end of the day their researchers are really talking about economics and policy.  

I could go a step further and ask why does UCLA have three Institutes of the Environment?  The Luskin Center for Innovation is doing excellent work on related topics.    

A good sociology study could be written on universities and the coincidence of wants.  Donors want to create something new.  Entrepreneurial faculty want to be Kings and recognized for what they created.   As these "marriages" between donors and individual faculty take place, new centers continually pop up.

Rather than creating just a few centers of excellence and building them up (like the University of Chicago), it appears that UCLA continually  expands in terms of breadth. Are there costs to such "horizontal growth" (which is sometimes called sprawl)?