Pulse: Sam Katz’s Power Lunch: Quick Study

Between meetings, Drexel president Taki Papadakis schools Sam Katz (over salads) on creating an A-list university

Some wonder why a new Drexel law school — though not Lauren Katz’s father (me) who is in the first class and loves it. Why did you go in this direction? After our medical school experience we saw the collaboration between technology and health care — in research and commercialization. Multidisciplinary integration was robust. We thought that a new law school could focus on technology, health care, and intellectual property issues, where we already had expertise. Add to that co-operative education that is the hallmark of Drexel, and which no other law school except Northeastern in Boston has. So our law program was designed with these unique characteristics in mind. Then we appealed to the legal community by arguing that we would create a freshly minted lawyer would be ready to work. We knew that the five [area] law schools were getting 15,000 applicants and admitting 4,000. What was happening to the other 11,000? We got 2,000 applications and only admitted 140 students and their quality — including Lauren — was outstanding, higher than we could ever have hoped. This School of Law, which took us two years to create and open, has been a tremendous success already.

How can you get stuff done so quickly? Around here everything usually takes forever. We work very fast here. We never use committees to do anything.

That’s not the academic way. Committees are places to bury decisions and give people the false sense that they are avoiding making mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes. So let’s make them up front and fix them. This is our philosophy.

What are the big mistakes that Drexel has made since you got here? Actually, we haven’t made any mistakes. It’s been a terrific run.

If that’s true, what is the key to managing the enormous amount of risk you seem willing to take? I took a lot of heat when I converted our library from books to online, but that has worked out remarkably well. We’re customer- (student-) driven and not faculty-driven. We have a one-stop shop to help our students solve their basic business issues, usually student finance, with the school. We took an employee engagement survey, not a satisfaction survey. I don’t want people to be satisfied. I want them to want promotions, better benefits, and higher pay. Corporations do these all the time — Drexel was the first university. Decisions are made overnight. If we have limited data, we make the best out of it and move on. Senior management at Drexel could work at the most prestigious universities but they stay here because they love the challenge. I went to the Inquirer editorial board in 2004 and told them we were going to open a law school in 2006. The staff read about that. Rather than complain, they rolled up their sleeves and we made it. Eighteen months later we received provisional accreditation. There is no other university in America like Drexel, and everyone here understands that.