The Dickinson School of Law's class of 2004 heard humorous and motivational speeches yesterday, but there was no mention that this year's graduation ceremony might be one of the last in this historic borough. The 179 graduates who sat in front of Old West on Dickinson College's campus surrounded by family and friends likely were thinking more about their own futures than that of their alma mater. But after the ceremony, the opinions were split on a proposal to move the law school to State College.
"Basically if they move the law school, Dickinson dies and Penn State gets a law school," said Ryan Boop of Sunbury. He noted that much of his opinion was based on tradition -- his father and uncle also are graduates of the school.
"I understand a lot of students are against [the law school staying in Carlisle]. It is landlocked and it can't really expand now [at its present site]. But I'd like to see an upgrade and expansion here," Boop said.
"At first I was opposed to the idea [of a move]," said graduate Cathy Rothaug, of Ridgewood, N.J. She said she changed her mind after seeing the recent third-tier ranking of the school. "I think a lot of alumni are opposed to a move, but just as many want it to change. School ranking is an important factor in finding a job."
Rothaug said she liked the Carlisle community and its proximity to Harrisburg. "There's not much around State College," she noted.
Dickinson School of Law merged with Penn State University in 1997 and at that time, officials from both schools vowed the 170-year- old institution would remain in Carlisle. However, law school officials now cite cramped classrooms, a boxed-in Carlisle campus and a recent third-tier ranking in the annual survey of colleges and graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report magazine as reasons to move the school to Penn State's main campus.
While Penn State officials have offered to build a $60 million law school at University Park, many government and business leaders who want the school to stay put are now trying to come up with a proposal for a new Carlisle facility. One study has shown an estimated loss of 227 jobs and $20 million in net community spending if the school is moved.
But those statistics don't have much bearing on graduate Michael Parker of Charlton, Mass., who said that while it was handy to have the county courthouse so close to the law school, he believed the school would fare better with newer facilities on Penn State's main campus.
"People are really split on the issue," Parker said. "Our school is growing rapidly and the draw of a big university setting is important."
Dickinson professor and library director James Fox said he and many of his colleagues have mixed feelings about moving the school.
"Certainly there are some [faculty] that want to stay and some that want to go," Fox said. "Everyone is basing their decision on what is best for the students. Still, most say Carlisle is a great place to live."
While he and other faculty members would have access to more academic resources on Penn State's campus, he believes students have fewer distractions here.
"Carlisle is a much better place to learn law," Fox said.