CARLISLE The just-launched merger with Penn State University is, without doubt, the biggest change for The Dickinson School of Law since it became independent of neighboring Dickinson College in 1890.
But the charter for this new age, several law school trustees said, goes far toward preserving the character of the 163-year-old institution.
And that, as much as anything, allowed a solid majority to finally fold the school's ?Proud and Independent?? banner Jan. 11 and leap for what members see as a golden opportunity.
?The merger was viewed positively by the majority of trustees throughout [the negotiations], if it could be worked out in a way that protected the things that were important to the law school,?? said Carlisle attorney and board member Dale F. Shughart Jr.
For Shughart, whose father, former Cumberland County Judge Dale F. Shughart Sr., was law school president from 1962-93 and whose name is synonymous with the school, some of those ?important?? things were: Retaining the Dickinson name, keeping the school in Carlisle and winning a guarantee that it will be Penn State's only law school.
The agreement also caps first-year enrollments at 180 through the 2004-05 school year, guaranteeing the school will stay at its present size. Dickinson has 517 students enrolled in its three-year degree program. Allowing the law school to keep and continue to grow its own endowment. Retaining a separate law school board so that people considering the school's interests first will continue to influence important decisions.
With those things affirmed in the merger agreement, Shughart said, the advantages of affiliation became even more attractive.
Penn State, according a report on the merger from law school President Robert M. Frey, ?will provide goods and services valued at more than $1.1 million to enhance our technological capacity and to bring us into the Penn State technology network.??
Law school trustee Ward Bower said it took a ?sea of change?? in the dynamics of the legal business to get trustees ready to make the switch a change, some note, that has been discussed with varying degrees of seriousness for more than 20 years.
The setting, he said, has a lot to do with growth in the number of law schools, an over-supply of lawyers and projections of fewer future applicants. Law school applications nationwide have dropped 35 percent from 1990-91 levels.
Add that up, said Bower, and ?the days of the independent law school may be numbered.??
?Over time, Penn State's academic reputation has enhanced considerably,?? Shughart said. ?This became attractive to The Dickinson School of Law at the point that Penn State became one of the top universities in the country.??
?In the face of increasing demand for high-cost technology, for costly, labor-intensive clinical education, and high-quality faculty to cover ever-expanding fields of law, it is especially difficult for smaller, independent schools to keep their tuition low,?? Frey stated. ?We are no exception.??
It was perilous to reject the Penn State bid now, the trustees felt.
?I think that if current trends continue,?? Shughart said, ?at some point, maybe 10 or 15 years down the road, we could have faced some serious problems.??
Dissenters to date, school officials and trustees have steadfastly refused to say exactly how many ?no?? votes were cast were most concerned about the school's loss of independence.
?Virtually everyone has a certain sadness that what we considered our proud independence is something that we're saying goodbye to,?? said Shughart. ?But things change. And now is the right time to make the change here.??