It is disappointing that, after months of debate, we appear to be no closer to a decision concerning the future of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. On Monday, a committee composed of members of Dickinson's board of governors recommended that the board spend more time investigating the proposal for two campuses -- one in Carlisle and one in State College -- rather than vote on the plan Friday.
We have to wonder what can be learned through further consideration that could not be learned in the past two months.
In a split decision, four committee members voted to recommend the plan be studied further, one voted against that recommendation, and one committee member abstained. At least board member Leslie Anne Miller, who opposed the recommendation, took a stand on something.
The law school's future has been in turmoil since it was learned early this year that Penn State was considering moving the operation to the University Park campus.
In a meeting with the Centre Daily Times, Dickinson Dean Philip McConnaughay and Penn State President Graham Spanier said their intent was to maintain a presence in Carlisle -- a site for legal professionals to gather for seminars and workshops -- but to move the primary law-school operation to State College. Those officials pointed to the benefits of "co-location" with Penn State's other colleges and disciplines, creating the opportunity for shared research and education.
In Carlisle, business and political leaders have reacted strongly, opposing the prospect of losing such an established local industry and community icon.
That polarization led to a compromise proposal, announced just as the board of governors was set to formally address the situation in June. The new "dual-campus" plan would have Penn State spending $60 million to build a new law school at University Park and contributing $10 million more toward improvements to the Carlisle campus, where there would also be an active law school. The governor pledged $10 million in state taxpayer money for the Carlisle school, where improvements would cost $25 million.
Since then, we've been awaiting word on the perceived viability of that plan. Instead, when the Dickinson board meets Friday, it is unlikely a decision will be made.
If the board can't come to a consensus about the future of the law school, it must at a minimum set a rigid timetable for resolution.
Step one: Vote on the dual-campus concept. If that plan is rejected, decide which campus best suits the needs of the law school; if the dual-campus plan is approved, get busy making it happen.
As we've maintained, the decision must be made in the best interest of future students and the long-term stability of the law school.
Either the best option is to keep the law school in Carlisle, and spend enough money to adequately update and improve the facilities there to attract the top students and faculty, or to move the law school to the University Park campus, again in an effort to attract the top students and faculty, and scale down or discard the Carlisle site.
To us, the dual-campus plan appears to be an overly costly attempt at allowing all parties to get what they want -- which is not the way to resolve this issue.
Still, in June, we urged the Dickinson committee to return with specific pros and cons about a dual-campus setup and make a concrete recommendation for the board of governors: Move forward with the proposal or reject it. One or the other.
That didn't happen.
Now, the full board must make the hard decision its committee could not.
And it must do so in a timely fashion.