Losing The Dickinson School of Law would be one of the hardest hits that Carlisle has faced, Mayor Kirk Wilson said yesterday. The blow would hurt all aspects of the community, he said. The law school's board of governors voted Saturday to open a second campus in State College by 2010. The proposal will go before Penn State University trustees Friday.
The law school merged with Penn State in 2000. In November 2003, Penn State officials proposed moving the school to its main campus in State College. After law school officials and community leaders rallied against the move, Penn State suggested campuses in both State College and Carlisle.
Penn State University has said it will maintain the Carlisle campus at least 10 years.
"I think there's the possibility it could be a viable law school beyond that period, and I would expect that's what most of the community of Carlisle is hoping for," Wilson said. "While we never really had a say, the future -- 10 years plus -- is really out of the hands of the community, and it's strictly in the hands of the president and the board of trustees. It's disappointing. The whole process has been frustrating."
Third-year student Robert Michaels, from Endicott, N.Y., said yesterday he thinks Penn State's decision was a good one, but he believes the intent was to move the law school to State College all along.
"I would bet [President] Graham Spanier and Penn State would close Dickinson in 10 years," Michaels said. "If we don't see the rankings improve and we made an honest effort, I think we should think about closing Dickinson at Carlisle, but I think Graham Spanier never wanted a law school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania."
Michaels, a Penn State alumnus, said he isn't sure where he would have studied had there been two law school campuses when he started.
"I would like to think I would have chosen Carlisle, but it would have been a tough choice."
Penn State's actions in the past year and a half don't bode well for Carlisle, said former state Rep. Al Masland, a 1982 graduate who is now chief counsel at the Pennsylvania Department of State.
"There's been no indication from Penn State that they have any real interest in remaining here," Masland said. "My fear is the 10- year minimum is really a 10-year maximum. All of my fears stem from the totally inept way that the university has handled this from the start. Their temperament had ranged from antagonistic to paranoid."
Losing the law school would be heart-wrenching to Carlisle, because it's so central to the community, Masland said. "The list of benefits is almost innumerable, and to tear that out of an old borough is devastating."
Dickinson School of Law's location in Carlisle was one of the prime attractions to Skip Ebert, now Cumberland County district attorney.
"It was one of the few law schools that wasn't in a big city, and I thought that was valuable," Ebert said.
The law school is older than Penn State, Wilson pointed out. "Maybe they should move Penn State down to Carlisle."