The news dropped on the Dickinson School of Law like a bombshell on Jan. 13, creating a stir of excitement on campus. The dean confirmed that DSL will merge with Penn State in July, effectively transforming it into a Big Ten law school with the potential to leap into the top tier of law schools as rated by U.S. News and World Report.
The accolades have been loud and prolonged, especially among Penn State graduates, and understandably so. Penn State is a widely recognized and respectable institution, and most small law schools can only dream of such a lucrative affiliation.
But as a third-year law student who chose to enter the Dickinson School of Law because it was a small, venerable private school with a long, honorable and distinguished history, I am vehemently opposed to the merger.
I oppose it because it will transform the Dickinson School of Law into an entirely new entity, and the identity and spirit of the old Dickinson will be forever and irretrievably lost. In fact, the proud, independent spirit of the school disappeared on Jan. 17 after the Trustees at Penn State voted to ratify the agreement that will swallow DSL. It will never return.
Regardless of how one personally feels about the merger, that fact alone is a terrible and tragic thing that has been studiously ignored or lightly glossed over by the law school administration. In reality, even though the name of ?Dickinson School of Law? exists on paper, it will henceforth forever be known as the Penn State Law School. Furthermore, despite all the soothing assurances we hear of how the school will retain its identity and location ?in perpetuity,' I predict that within a single generation DSL/PSU will no longer be located in Carlisle.
The Dickinson School of Law was founded in 1834, and through all that has occurred in history since that time, one factor remained constant, immovable, as though carved in stone. The Dickinson School of Law was a proud, private, independent institution. Although it lay briefly dormant during the Civil War, it survived the Spanish- American War, World War I, World War II and every war that followed.
It survived the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and the Baby Boom. It survived the flower-child, permissive, drug-induced turmoil of the Sixties and the polyester/disco culture of the Seventies. As a proud and independent law school, Dickinson survived every obstacle it encountered until it came face to face with the arbitrary power of the current Board of Trustees and Dean Peter G. Glenn.
Now, suddenly, in the winter of 1997, we are told and apparently accept without question that Dickinson will wither and die unless it merges with Penn State. The student body was not consulted. The law school's 5,000-plus graduates were not consulted. And save for a few select members, the law school staff was not consulted.
But would the Dickinson School of Law actually collapse without Penn State? I think not. Unquestionably, law school applications are down across the board. DSL may have had to bite the bullet and either accept fewer students or accept students that it would not have accepted a decade ago. But all things tend to unfold in cycles, and law school applications are no exception. In another decade or so, the number and quality of applications will likely rise to former levels.
The merger will drastically alter the law school's personality. If DSL/PSU does vault into the top tier of law schools as projected, it will attract an entirely new brand of cutthroat, backstabbing students. There will be no more sharing of the legendary ?Curt Toll outlines,? nor will students be able to leave their books, notes and outlines openly on study carrels for an entire semester, as they now do and have done for years. One day, the faculty and staff who survive the merger will mourn for the old days and regret that such traditions were lost. But such is the price of progress and recognition.
Finally, the merger is unfair to students such as myself who object to being alumni of a state-affiliated school. I believe that a legal education is a privilege and not a right. I strongly resent the possibility that my tax dollars will ever go toward educating more lawyers at DSL/PSU for a jaded and increasingly resentful populace already groaning under a massive glut of attorneys. We are told that no tax dollars will ever be used to fund DSL/PSU. In the short term, that is undoubtedly true. But who knows what will happen in 10, 20, even 50 years? DSL/PSU will then be a state- affiliated school, and conditions may some day dictate that it siphon tax money or close its doors.
So I salute you, Dickinson School of Law, and say farewell. There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, and the time for private, independent law schools is apparently over. But I am proud and eternally grateful that my class will graduate under the banner of the independent Dickinson School of Law. The tragedy is that we will be the last full class to do so.
The proud and independent spirit that we experienced here can live on only in our hearts, and so it will. Throughout my life, when asked where I received my legal education, I will answer with pride, ?I graduated from the now defunct Dickinson School of Law.'
Ira Wagler writes from Carlisle.