The marriage of the Dickinson School of Law and Penn State University was not made in heaven. In fact, it began unraveling not long after it was consummated in 2000. Blame the usual dynamics of marital discord: jealousy, misunderstanding, hidden intentions, charges of non-support.
Basically, the law school was looking for a secure future. Penn State was looking for a law school. The relationship soured when it became evident Penn State actual ly wanted the law school on its main campus in State College. Though the uni versity offered a compromise that would keep a second, somewhat smaller law school campus in Carlisle, the law school's board of governors rejected Penn State's two-campus proposal and thus went the marriage.
Now comes a plan that permits both parties to extricate themselves from their uncomfortable relationship, and from a source that strikes us as surprising.
Penn State says it would be inclined to cede the Dickinson School of Law to its unrelated neighbor, Dickinson College. The deal would hinge on settling up with Penn State on the $8.5 million it has invested in the law school since the merger and a $4 million loan.
The transfer also would require approval by the law school's board.
This idea makes infinitely more sense than the Penn State- Dickinson Law merger. In fact, we wonder why it was not seriously advanced as an alternative. Dickinson College and Dickinson Law are separate institutions, but they occupy adjacent campuses and have similar interests in meeting the academic needs of the future.
Dickinson College, founded in 1783, is one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the nation. The Dickinson School of Law, founded in 1834, is the oldest law school in Pennsylvania. It was part of the college until becoming independent in 1914, but in recent years the school has fallen in the shadow of more prestigious law schools. One of Penn State's big selling points for acquiring Dickinson Law was that it would make the investment necessary to make Dickinson Law a national leader.
But when it became apparent that Penn State believed a law school on its main campus would serve as a stronger magnet for aspiring lawyers with specialties in other academic fields -- leaving remote Dickinson with its general law and government law programs -- the Dickinson Law interests saw themselves at a disadvantage.
An affiliated Dickinson College and Dickinson Law would establish a more substantial academic presence in Central Pennsylvania, not quite on the scale of Penn State's many branches and disciplines, but substantial and future-oriented, nonetheless.
This is not a matter to be approached haphazardly, considering it will remarkably affect the roles of both institutions, but it strikes us as a logical next step, certainly more sensible than Penn State's grand plan for a two-campus law school divided by mission and miles.