The summer of 1979, a 21-year-old Victor Stabile climbed up into The Dickinson School of Law's clock tower and gained a new perspective. "That law school appeared the center of the entire country, in whichever direction you looked," the alumnus said. "It was like a trip through history to be able to go into that tower. ... Dickinson is the oldest law school in Pennsylvania ... older than the University of Pennsylvania. ... It was always proud and independent." The law school merged with Penn State University in 2000 and surrendered that independence, but the schools agreed the law school would always remain in Carlisle. That changed during the past year. Last November, Penn State proposed relocating the law school to State College. Law school officials and community leaders rallied against a move, then Penn State suggested a two-campus setup, one in State College and one in Carlisle.
The Dickinson board of governors rejected that and talk surfaced of a potential partnership with Dickinson College, which is adjacent to but not affiliated with the law school.
Things changed again Saturday, when the governors agreed to re- examine the two-campus plan.
The latest twist brought mixed reactions yesterday from students, alumni and borough officials.
The negotiations over the law school's future have been "a very hurtful and emotional process for people on both sides," said Stabile, president of the law school's Capitol Area Alumni Club.
"If I had my druthers, I'd like to wind the clock back to the date when Penn State was committing to Carlisle and making Dickinson the best facility possible," said Stabile, who graduated from the law school in 1982. "If that's not possible, you do the next best thing."
Saturday's announcement didn't change Dickinson College's position, college representative Christine Dugan said. "We're stepping back to let the board of governors and Penn State resolve their relationship. ... It's really between the two of them. We're just kind of watching at this point with everyone else."
Robert N. Michaels, a third-year law student and a Penn State alumnus, thinks Saturday's resolution "is probably the best thing they could have been done at the moment," he said. "I think they tried to mend the fences and bring both sides back to the table."
"I would like to see a dual-campus proposal which does guarantee some equity, which isn't a precursor to an outright move to State College," Michaels said. That would mean senior faculty, financial resources and comparable numbers of students in both places, he said. "State College has its benefits and Dickinson has its benefits, and you have to allocate accordingly."
Third-year law student Joseph Hartye of Hollidaysburg said dual campuses would hurt the law school in the short run, with professors torn between two locations, but help in the long term.
"I don't think the school's going to go away without Penn State, but I think it's a good partnership," Hartye said. " As long as they're serious about keeping a viable part of the school in Carlisle. ... There's not many [law] firms in State College. There are a lot in Harrisburg, plus state government. A huge part of getting a law degree is getting to work for somebody and internships."
The two-campus approach beats no Carlisle campus, but keeping the law school in the borough would be best, Borough Council President Franklin Rankin said. Moving even part of the campus would hurt Carlisle financially, he said.
"It's been a long road. I think one of the biggest disappointments in this whole process has been the loss of credibility that many people have in Penn State University and its leadership," Rankin said.
He's skeptical of Penn State's motives on the two-campus proposal, he said. "We hope they do move forward and do what they said they were going to do: improve the facility and the groups, etc., so it is a first-rate facility for the students." Then, even if Penn State later cut ties, the law school wouldn't be devastated, he said.