Sunday, December 07, 2003

Continuing to Pretend the Decision Hasn't Already Been Made

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Sunday, December 7, 2003

Review & Opinion

Law school considers options for expansion


The Dickinson School of Law of The Pennsylvania State University is confronting pressing issues with respect to its beautiful but aging facility. To continue to provide our students with the space and services they deserve, we need to consider a plan for renovation or rebuilding and expansion that will enable the school to enjoy another 170 years as illustrious and noble as its first. When we speak of the need for rebuilding and expansion, we are not talking about an increase in our student body. We are planning for a facility that anticipates no growth in student body size but one that allows for reasonable growth in our faculty and staff and for adequate classrooms, library space, common areas, rest rooms, courtrooms and an auditorium.

Dean Philip J. McConnaughay and senior law school staff have been hard at work for several months trying to ensure that our site in Carlisle would be adequate to accommodate an expansion. Land that would be needed for renovation and expansion has been rezoned, and we are in the process of acquiring contiguous property. The estimated cost of new buildings of appropriate size on our current site could be as high as $56 million.

Another possibility is relocating to the main campus of Penn State University. Penn State President Graham Spanier is willing to propose to the university's Board of Trustees that the university build a facility for the law school.

A substantial benefit would be that the law school no longer would have to pay for its own maintenance and utilities, as we do in Carlisle, at an annual cost in excess of $1.3 million.

President Spanier has said he also would support rebuilding on our current site at a level consistent with the law school's aspirations and realistic expectations, the same standard Penn State uses to help determine its financial contribution to capital projects on all of its campuses. All such projects typically depend on significant philanthropic support from alumni before they become feasible.

The dean initiated consideration of a main campus option for two reasons:

First, because we confront a multimillion-dollar investment that will define the physical embodiment of the law school for many decades to come, the best interests of the school and our future students and graduates require a careful and thorough consideration of all available alternatives.

Second, our merger with Penn State is predicated on the assumption that the future strength of our law school will result from the combination of our illustrious history with the academic prestige and intellectual capital of a major research university. The dean wanted to evaluate whether our presence on the main campus would make a difference in achieving this vision.

The dean undertook a preliminary assessment of possible relocation and provided a report to our Board of Governors, which retains authority over any change in the location of the school. The dean presented his preliminary assessment in order to learn whether the board was willing to consider the possibility of relocation.

However, a member of the board improperly leaked the report to the media before the dean and the board had any opportunity to discuss it. The ensuing news reports caused great concern within the law school and among alumni and local community leaders. The furor deprived the board and the dean of the opportunity to present the issue to all affected constituencies in a logical, appropriate way.

The evaluation process is under way. All voices will be heard and considered. In the upcoming weeks, the Board of Governors will solicit the opinions of alumni, faculty, staff, students and affected communities. It will consider possible relocation along with building and expansion needs generally. Everyone can be assured that it is the board's intention to exercise its authority carefully and as fiduciaries mindful of the best interests of the school and its present and future students and graduates.

LEROY S. ZIMMERMAN, Pennsylvania's first elected attorney general, is the chairman of the Board of Governors of The Dickinson School of Law of The Pennsylvania State University.

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