CARLISLE - The dean of Penn State Dickinson School of Law is recommending that its governing board move the school to State College within five years, citing a need to expand and concerns about its "languishing reputation," a newspaper reported Wednesday. The Sentinel of Carlisle based its report on a confidential memo written by Dean Phil McConnaughay in preparation for a meeting of the school's board of governors on Nov. 21 and 22.
The potential move has upset two local attorneys who are graduates of the Carlisle school.
"I'm definitely against it," said Brian Senft, a former York County deputy prosecutor now in private practice with Nealon and Gover P.C. "Dickinson has a history in Carlisle long before Penn State came along."
The law school, which merged with Penn State in 2000, received a third-tier ranking in an annual survey of colleges and graduate schools compiled by U.S. News & World Report.
The school's "languishing reputation" prompted alumni from one law firm to inform the dean that the firm would no longer hire any Dickinson graduates "because of our low rank," McConnaughay wrote.
"I'm not sure where the hell that came from," Senft said of the "languishing reputation" characterization. "I thought from the results of the last bar exam, they held their own."
Senft, a 1999 graduate who was hired by the York County District Attorney's Office, said he is unaware of any Dickinson graduates having difficulty finding employment as attorneys.
The memo also mentioned that university officials have had difficulty raising enough money to finance an expansion at the existing Carlisle campus. A six-year campaign to raise $16 million "yielded only $9 million in cash," according to McConnaughay, who said he did not want to finance the expansion by increasing tuition, which is currently $24,300 a year.
The law school would relocate to Penn State's main campus by the fall of 2008 if the proposal is approved. The new facility is expected to cost more than $60 million, but the university is prepared to pick up the cost if a design is completed within a year, McConnaughay's memo said.
Ed Paskey, a former York County deputy prosecutor now in private practice with Kagen, MacDonald and France P.C., said the law school will lose its "mystique" and "tradition" if it moves to State College.
"Being associated with Penn State instantly raised the rankings," said Paskey, a 1997 Dickinson graduate, said. "And the move certainly is going to make it more attractive to some students.
"But part of the reason a lot of us went there was the tradition and the small-town location. It is easier to focus in a small town like Carlisle than in State College.
"I was there when they decided to join Penn State. A lot of people were upset about that because they thought they were selling out."
Paskey said the assumption among the staff and student body when the school merged with Penn State was the law school "would be relocated to the main campus."
When the law school merged with Penn State, the students were promised "the school was going to retain the same mys- tique and tradition," Senft said. "Obviously, that's not going to happen now."
McConnaughay responded to the newspaper's report Wednesday by issuing a statement that said he could not comment on the memo until after university officials and the board considered it and made a decision.