CARLISLE, Pa. The independent governing board of Pennsylvania State University's law school has voted to study the option of creating a law school with campuses in both Carlisle and State College rather than moving the school entirely from its lifelong home in Carlisle.
A proposal to move the 170-year-old Dickinson School of Law - Pennsylvania's oldest law school - from the central Pennsylvania community of Carlisle has set off a contentious debate between university officials and community leaders.
School officials contend that they have outgrown the current location and need a new, state-of-the-art facility, but Carlisle community leaders say the local economy would suffer if the school moves.
Under the dual-campus proposal, which was approved for study by the board on Saturday, Penn State would pay for a $60 million facility in State College and would provide $10 million toward the cost of renovating the Carlisle campus. Gov. Rendell has also pledged $10 million toward renovating the Carlisle campus. In addition, $5 million more would come from other sources, including fund-raising.
LeRoy Zimmerman, chairman of the board, said he thinks the dual-campus proposal may be the best answer for everyone. "It's a win-win in every respect, in my opinion," he said.
Penn State president Graham Spanier also is endorsing the dual-campus proposal. "It's a Plan B that I think turns out in the end to be the best plan," he said of the proposal, which was announced Saturday after a two-day closed meeting at Dickinson.
During the 2003-04 school year, Dickinson enrolled about 640 students. Under the dual-campus proposal, the Carlisle location would enroll about 300 students, while 450 would be enrolled at Penn State's main campus.
Zimmerman said he would appoint a committee in the next several days to work on a formal proposal. That proposal will be given to the board of governors by Aug. 15, after which there will be a vote.
If the board of governors signs off on it, the plan will be presented to Penn State's board of trustees Sept. 10.
Although the board's vote delays a final decision, it should allay any fears that the Carlisle campus would close, said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, a former governor who graduated from Dickinson in 1972 and is a board member.
Noting the community's proximity to Harrisburg, Ridge said that maintaining a Carlisle facility would give students access to internships with the state courts, the legislature, and government agencies.
"The notion that we would move the law school part and parcel to Penn State University was something that the board rejected," Ridge said.
Carlisle Mayor Kirk Wilson, however, said he still thought keeping the whole school in Carlisle was the only option. "It's a David and Goliath situation," Wilson said. He said he looks at the school as "the heart and soul of the community."
The law school was founded in 1834 as a department of Dickinson College, a private liberal arts college. It became independent in 1890 and remained so until 2000, when it merged with Penn State. Under the merger agreement, the school's board is authorized to change the campus location at any time.
Supporters of a move say that staying in Carlisle would require millions of dollars in maintenance and building renovations. They say moving to State College could bolster the school's reputation and allow students to take advantage of a wide variety of joint-degree programs.
Opponents maintain that the move would deliver an economic blow to Carlisle. Some legislators have tried to block the move, saying Penn State officials promised not to move the law school when the two institutions merged.