CARLISLE, Pa. The Dickinson School of Law would become a two-campus school under a Pennsylvania State University proposal the law school's board of governors accepted over the weekend, but only if the school receives state money for new construction at its current Carlisle campus.
Under the proposal, which still needs final approval by the law school board and university trustees, Penn State promised to keep the Carlisle campus open for 10 years - but made no promises beyond that - while establishing a second campus on the main Penn State campus in State College.
The law school board debated for five hours Saturday before voting, 17-14, to accept the Penn State proposal. Opponents said they feared Penn State would close the Carlisle campus.
Board member Joan Maher argued that Penn State really only wanted Dickinson's accreditation so it could open its own law school. Penn State officials, however, said they planned to keep the law school in Carlisle well beyond the 10 years called for in the agreement.
"I'm absolutely delighted that we have finally reached this point," Penn State president Graham Spanier said, adding that Dickinson would be among the country's largest law schools. "I think it will prove to be one of the major developments in legal education."
"It's discouraging. I think the board was bulldozed, intimidated," State Rep. Will Gabig (R., Carlisle) said. "There hasn't even been a demonstration... that Pennsylvania needs a new law school."
H. Laddie Montague Jr., chairman of the law school board, said he hoped that a final agreement would be drafted in about two weeks and that another meeting would follow.
"I think as things progress, there will be more harmony," Montague said.
The proposal would give Penn State "unfettered" control of the law school by Aug. 1. But Penn State agreed that the plan would be invalidated if Gov. Rendell fails to provide $25 million for construction at Trickett Hall on the Carlisle campus.
Established in 1834, Dickinson has been largely under Penn State's control since a merger between the two schools in 2000. Penn State was one of only two Big 10 universities without a law school, and Dickinson, the state's oldest law school, was struggling to survive in an increasingly competitive higher-education market.
Under the merger, Penn State and its board of trustees oversee the Dickinson School of Law's day-to-day operations, from hiring faculty to approving new courses. The law school's board of governors has an advisory role but retained authority over the law school's name and location.
In the fall of 2003, law school dean Philip J. McConnaughay proposed closing the Carlisle campus, saying relocation to State College would improve the law school's reputation and provide more joint-degree programs with Penn State. After major opposition in Carlisle to the loss of the law school, the board voted in June to study a two-campus option recommended by Penn State president Graham B. Spanier.