Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Board ready to decide fate of law school

Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Board ready to decide fate of law school

Of Our Carlisle Bureau

Nathan Waters is ready to vote. For the last four months, he and other members of The Dickinson School of Law board of governors have listened to constituents, and weighed concrete offers and counteroffers and not-so-tangible pros and cons.

?" can't stand any more information. I have looked at all that I'm going to look at," said Waters, a former trustee.

This weekend, the board will make its decision: Will the law school retain its 170-year home in Carlisle? Or will it establish a base with its parent organization, Penn State University, and move to State College?

The decision -- like the discussion -- will likely be lively, spirited and split.

?They've set aside a lot of time. I expect there will be a lot of debate,?? said board member and former trustee Anthony C. Falvello of Sugarloaf.

The board will meet Friday night and Saturday morning, then vote. Saturday's meeting will be only the fourth the board has held since November, when it received the proposal to replace Dickinson's aging buildings with a $60 million facility at Penn State.

From the onset, the proposal has caused division.

Scranton attorney Zygmunt Bialkowski Jr., a board member, said the money that Penn State has promised for a State College facility appears guaranteed, making the idea of moving more attractive.

"I don't want to see a [Carlisle] project get started and halfway through the project you don't have the money to finish it," he said.

Law school and university officials feared that board members who live near Dickinson would bend to local pressure to keep the school in Carlisle or allow personal feelings to color their decisions.

Board member Hubert X. Gilroy, who lives across the street from Dickinson, said that hasn't been the case.

Gilroy said he originally considered voting in favor of relocation but that the $25 million pledged from the commonwealth leveled the playing field.

"I frankly determined that if the only way we could get the money was to relocate to Penn State, I envisioned [making] a very difficult decision for me, personally," he said.

Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay has argued that a move to State College would improve Dickinson's national rankings.

Board member Jason Kutulakis of Carlisle said the Newtown-based Law School Admission Council, which administers the Law School Admission Test, and other law school advocacy agencies scorn rankings.

"Our office believes rankings are totally invalid," said Carl Monk, executive vice president and executive director of the American Association of Law Schools.

For some, the debate comes down to internships vs. academic opportunities.

Dickinson alumni claim internships available in the area often lead to permanent jobs and can't be duplicated in State College.

McConnaughay, on the other hand, claims those internships are overrated. He has said large Pennsylvania firms have become less interested in hiring Dickinson graduates.

Bruce Ficken, a partner in the Philadelphia office of Pepper Hamilton, a firm with 400 lawyers and offices in five states, said firms such as his continue to recruit at Dickinson.

"You will see Dickinson grads at the highest levels of those firms," said Ficken, a 1973 Dickinson graduate.

Board members said no certain setting can guarantee Dickinson's success.

"It's going to boil down to a philosophical decision," Bialkowski said. "In terms of the heritage of the law school, to me, the biggest heritage is the reputation of The Dickinson School of Law, not its location."

Still, every board member is a Dickinson graduate and each can recall time in Carlisle. Some said they never imagined having to decide whether to pull up the school's roots.

"It's something I think about a lot. I hope we make the right decision," Falvello said.

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