Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Can separate law-school campuses still be equal?

Centre Daily Times
(c) Copyright 2004, Centre Daily Times. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Viewing Harrisburg Can separate law-school campuses still be equal?

By Martha Raffaele

From state Rep. Will Gabig's perspective, a debate that raged for months over whether Penn State's law school should move from Carlisle to State College represented "a struggle for the soul of the law school." Gabig, a Cumberland County Republican whose district includes Penn State's Dickinson School of Law, is among a group of legislators and community leaders who have fought to keep the 170-year-old school in Carlisle, its original home.

On the other side are those who support law school Dean Philip J. McConnaughay's recommendation to move Dickinson to Penn State's main campus at University Park in State College. McConnaughay contends that a move to a new, state-of-the-art facility will improve its reputation.

In the end -- after Penn State President Graham Spanier presented a last-minute plan to divide the law school into two campuses -- Dickinson's board of governors decided to study the idea. The two campuses would complement each other under a single administrative umbrella.

But can one law school provide separate but equal programs? The prospect of a compromise hasn't completely appeased opponents of a move.

In Carlisle, Dickinson has built a reputation as a "people's law school," according to Gabig, graduating public servants ranging from district attorneys to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, a former governor. In State College, its orientation would likely be more academic than practical, he said.

Gabig said one campus will become dominant.

"I think this is just an attempt at the 11th hour to throw a monkey wrench into the decision of the board," he said.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who previously opposed moving the law school, now says he believes the school can function in two places, as long as Penn State spends equal amounts of money and maintains equal standards for the campuses, such as student-to-teacher ratios.

Rendell has pledged $10 million toward the $25 million cost of renovating Trickett Hall, which houses the current school. Penn State is matching that $10 million, and footing the entire $60 million bill for a University Park facility, which would open in 2008.

"I think a dual campus can work, particularly if the Carlisle campus begins to specialize in government law and public-service law" because of its proximity to Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., he said.

During a news conference to discuss the dual-campus proposal, Spanier insisted the university was "absolutely committed" to making sure both campuses could thrive.

"Penn State is probably the best university in the country that has models of operating at different sites simultaneously and trying to make them all be very successful," said Spanier, referring to the university's many smaller campuses across the state.

LeRoy S. Zimmerman, chairman of Dickinson's board, said it was important to find a proposal that reflects a consensus of the board. He had not formally polled members on the question of a campus move, but suspected that any vote would be close.

The board of governors is expected to consider an agreement to cement the dual-campus format by Aug. 15.

"When this vote is over, whether it's a joint or a dual campus or whatever, that's when the work begins, and in order to accomplish that work we do need consensus," he said.

More importantly, he hopes the skeptics can eventually accept that the board has truly abandoned the notion of moving.

"I know there are people that think this is some kind of Trojan horse, and I don't know what you can do with them," he said. "If you try to get over the emotional aspect and the trust issue, this is just a wonderful opportunity."

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