Philip McConnaughay arrived at The Dickinson School of Law in March 2002 with no plans to move the school. But McConnaughay, dean of the institution, quickly decided that moving the school near its home institution in University Park was a good idea.
The move, he said, would fulfill the promise of the law school's merger with the Pennsylvania State University and put it on an unparalleled path to success and acclaim.
"We could sustain it more reliably in State College," he said last week.
That was McConnaughay's contention this fall when he urged the board of governors to accept a Penn State offer to build Dickinson a $60 million home near State College.
McConnaughay, who had helped developed joint programs between the University of Illinois and its law school before he came to Dickinson, said that when he accepted his new post, he recognized a wealth of untapped academic partnerships.
He said he believed then and believes now that Dickinson could take much better advantage of its Penn State partnership -- even if the law school stays in Carlisle.
But Dickinson's best hope for a fulfilled relationship with Penn State lies in being close neighbors, McConnaughay said.
"I really initiated this assessment," he said. "I love Carlisle. It's a very fine community. I don't think it's a Carlisle vs. State College issue."
When the Dickinson-Penn State merger was announced in 1997, assurances came from PSU President Graham Spanier, then-Dean Peter Glenn and others that Dickinson would stay in Carlisle.
"No move was contemplated at that time," McConnaughay said.
Now, however, he said he sees the move as the solution to critical facility needs and the best way to boost the school's ranking.
In spite of improvements, Trickett Hall is too small to accommodate an expanded library, additional meeting rooms and offices.
The dean said he didn't agree with the ratings dip Dickinson suffered in reports published by the American Bar Association and Law School Admission Council as well as in U.S. News & World Report, but he couldn't ignore them.
In considering a move, he said, he saw a chance to tackle Dickinson's two greatest concerns.
The University Park facility apparently would cost Dickinson nothing and would free an annual $1.3 million from the law school's operating budget.
His assessment also showed that law schools on campuses of major research universities receive higher rankings. He said a shared setting offers law schools greater resources and makes recruiting easier. And a growing trend toward mixing law with other academic disciplines falls right in place when the programs are offered side by side.
But Victor Stabile, a 1982 alumnus and president of the alumni association's large capital-area chapter, said Penn State has underestimated the attachment that alumni have to the school as a Carlisle institution.
"I strongly suspect if there is a move to State College, a lot of the existing alumni will not support the school as they have in the past," he said.
A decision to move the school or build a facility in Carlisle rests with the board's 35 members. They're seeking alumni input at forums this month in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilmington, Del.
Alumni have received McConnaughay's report in support of the move. Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman sent them drawings for a proposed expansion of buildings in Carlisle. Zimmerman said Dickinson is buying surrounding property to prepare for local expansion.
Some alumni and students have said the proposal to move overlooks the benefits of staying in Carlisle: a quiet setting where students have easy access to professors.
But McConnaughay said the impression that law students would face ?clamor?? at University Park is mistaken. He said a law school there would be self-contained.
Others said McConnaughay has underestimated the value of abundant student internships at the midstate's federal, state and county law offices.
McConnaughay said the public outcry over a move has been beneficial.
"The vigor with which people are addressing this issue is a positive force. There is value in the attention now drawn to our law school about our needs and ambition," he said.