NU Unveils New Grad Degree That Combines Law, Social Science

Laura Schocker

By Laura SchockerThe Daily Northwestern

Starting next fall, Northwestern graduate students hoping to combine law and academic careers can participate in the newly revamped J.D./Ph.D. joint degree program.

“The biggest change,” said John Heinz, a law professor who was involved in structuring the changes to the program, “is that Northwestern now becomes, I believe, the only university in the country where students in the joint program can get full financial support, not just for their graduate work, but for law school as well.”

The program is designed for future full-time academics who will benefit from both a J.D., or law degree, and a doctorate. Financial aid is assigned on an individual basis, but if students do not pursue academia after graduation, they will have to repay the university.

“The program is intended to produce professors, not lawyers,” Heinz said. “Getting both degrees, in my opinion, only makes sense if you’re going to be an academic.”

Other changes include providing more structure to the five-year program and starting summer programs.

“(Summer programs) will help students to write their dissertations and give them a step up on their research,” said Heinz, who added that the changes have been in progress for about a year.

Law Prof. Lee Epstein, who also was involved in making the changes, said she agreed with Heinz.

“There’s tremendous value to having different degrees because you’re getting two skill sets,” Epstein said. “All students will be getting training in their home fields as well as law.”

One of the main goals was making the program different from other J.D./Ph.D. programs, Epstein said.

“It’s going to be a unique program with a distinct Northwestern imprint,” Epstein said.

Students are now applying for spots in the program for next year.

“We have about 65 applications at this point,” said Simon Greenwold, associate dean of NU’s Graduate School.

Each student submits one application, but the student must be accepted into both the Law School and the specific department of the Graduate School in order to participate, Greenwold said. Most students are expected to stay within the social sciences.

“That’s where the interests of the faculty are,” he said. “We don’t want students in French Literature. That’s not what we’re promoting.”

The revamped program will draw different applicants, Greenwold said.

“The whole idea is to recruit a better, more interesting kind of student,” he said. “This program bridges the disciplines in a creative way. It highlights the interdisciplinary excellence of Northwestern.”

Greenwold said the new program will benefit the students as much as NU.

“It definitely opens up your opportunity to an academic career,” Greenwold said, adding that NU’s own law school prefers to hire professors with a doctorate. “You come across as that much more attractive.”

Greenwold added that the program offers students the social benefit of having a support group of peers.

“Getting a Ph.D. takes a long time,” Greenwold said. “Now these guys are going to have a built-in cohort from the start. They’ll work together throughout.”

Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]