With only three days before The Dickinson School of Law board of governors meets to vote on a Penn State proposal to build a second law-school campus in State College, some board members still have doubts about the plan. Yesterday, a board committee voted 4-1 to recommend that the governors take more time to study the plan.
Several board members said Penn State hasn't made the case for a two-campus school and a vote to approve the proposal would be hasty.
Penn State, however, wants a decision by Sunday so that its trustees can take up the matter next month.
Law school board members said some of Penn State's terms are nearly impossible to accept: In return for renovating Dickinson's Carlisle campus and building a law school in State College, Penn State would get the right to close the Carlisle campus if, after 10 years, the two-campus plan fails. Or Dickinson could regain its independence from Penn State.
"What are we going to get back? A law school that is considered inferior and is going to be faced with a new, stronger competitor?" said board member H. Laddie Montague Jr.
Penn State administrators insist the terms are fair: They plan to spend $10 million to upgrade the Carlisle campus and $60 million on a new facility in State College.
"We must have long-term operating flexibility," said Rodney Erickson, vice president and provost.
Penn State has operated the law school since it merged with Dickinson in 2000. Its mark on the law school's identity is apparent from admission brochures and bumper stickers to the renaming of the Dickinson Law Review to the Penn State Law Review.
The board of governors has the sole authority to close the Carlisle campus.
Board member Hubert X. Gilroy asked what Penn State would do if the board rejected the proposal.
"If it's not approved, it's still our law school and we're still going to support the law school in the best way we can," said Wendell Courtney, Penn State's lawyer.
Penn State pitched the two-campus plan in June after it appeared that its first proposal, to move the entire law school to State College, was unlikely to win Dickinson board approval.
The two-campus plan would still give Dickinson a University Park presence, which officials say would enhance academics and improve Dickinson's third-tier spot in college rankings. Internships in midstate courts and law offices would still be available.
Penn State said staff and resources at the campuses would be equal. Students at one site could take classes from professors at the other via computer.
"I've always looked at Dickinson as being bigger than Carlisle. I don't think that Carlisle can compete with the opportunities that are out there" in a university setting, said governors board member J. Rodman Steele Jr.
Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman said Dickinson professors widely support the proposal.
The Dickinson general alumni association, like some board members, thinks a decision Friday would be premature.
"There's not been a credible, educationally based justification for this proposal," said Luci Jankowski McClure, president of the association.
She told the board committee that American Bar Association rules would limit teleconference classes between campuses. Students may earn only 12 of the required 88 law credits in such classes, McClure said.
And Penn State could adjust tuition rates to better attract applicants. Dickinson is the only Penn State graduate school that does not give state residents a tuition break, McClure said.
Board members said they will take that and other factors into account before voting at their meeting on Friday in Carlisle.
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The board of governors of The Dickinson School of Law has limited control over the school, which became the Penn State law school in 2000. But the board can veto any plan to move the school's primary location from Carlisle.
If the board accepts Penn State's proposal to improve the Carlisle campus and build a second, equal Dickinson law facility in State College, it must agree to give up its power over the school's location. Penn State is demanding that change because it wants the right to shut down the Carlisle campus if, after 10 years, the two- campus plan falters.
The board will vote at a public meeting at 10 a.m. Friday at Dickinson's Trickett Hall, 150 S. College St., Carlisle.