STATE COLLEGE A decision on whether to relocate The Dickinson School of Law to Penn State's University Park campus could come during next month's meeting of the law school's board of governors.
If the decision is to move the school from the community in which it was founded 170 years ago, Penn State
President Graham Spanier said, law school students could begin attending classes in a new, $60 million facility on the University Park campus in 2008.
Spanier and Philip McConnaughay, the law school's dean, met with the Centre Daily Times editorial board Monday morning to discuss the proposed move of the law school and what it might mean for law students, the local campus and Carlisle.
Spanier and McConnaughay both favor moving the law school to University Park, saying a closer association with a major research university such as Penn State would allow the school to offer a broader range of programs and to attract the best students and faculty.
Adding more than 500 law school students at the local campus would push the campus to its enrollment cap of 42,000, imposed because of concerns about the effect of more students on the State College community. Spanier said that limit would be kept in place, which may mean adjusting the enrollment profile of other departments.
University Park students would see few or no increased costs from adding the law school, Spanier said, but in order to fund a $60 million facility for the school, other capital construction projects now being considered could be delayed.
The relocation of the law school is being contemplated in part because its ranking compared with other law schools has slipped in recent years. Spanier and McConnaughay said many top-ranked law schools are now affiliated with major research universities.
Moving the school to University Park would strengthen that affiliation, they said, and allow for collaboration with other university departments and colleges.
"A university setting really allows us to replicate, as closely as possible, in the context of an educational experience, what lawyers experience and do in their daily lives," McConnaughay said.
He referred to the experience of the Detroit College of Law, which became affiliated with Michigan State University in 1995 and moved to the Michigan State campus in 1997. Since then, the school has established law clinics in conjunction with other university departments.
"An environmental law clinic operated in conjunction with environmental-related departments at Michigan State, a family law clinic operated in conjunction with the department of social work, a small business entrepreneurship clinic operated in conjunction with the business schools -- and those sorts of synergies are just unavailable to us meaningfully because of the distance between the law school and the rest of the university campus," McConnaughay said.
Faculty would benefit from that close association as well, he said. Law-school faculty could have professors from other departments lecture to their classes, or they could conduct symposiums together examining problems that span several disciplines, McConnaughay said.
There are strong feelings among some members of the law school's board of governors to keep the school in Carlisle, Spanier acknowledged. Penn State has agreed to provide $10 million to renovate or expand the Carlisle campus, regardless of whether Dickinson stays there or relocates.
If the law school moves, the $10 million would be spent to renovate the Carlisle facilities to house law school programs that Spanier termed "significant."
That proposal, he said, has not been met with great enthusiasm in Carlisle, where officials and residents strongly want the borough to remain home to the law school's primary campus.
Carlisle Borough Manager Fred Bean said the community, as well as local officials, said Spanier should keep the money and use it to start a continuing-education center in State College.
"If they move this law school, it's going to tear the fabric of this community apart," Bean said. "Spanier doesn't truly understand how important this law school is to the community."
McConnaughay said renovations at the Carlisle campus could turn it into a center for continuing and executive education, where professionals could pursue law-related enrichment classes or earn a law degree through an extended program. It could be a government center of sorts, McConnaughay said, harnessing opportunities available in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.
McConnaughay also said that it was possible that perhaps up to 60 students may be in residence, either for a year or a semester, as they take advantage of extended programming and "externship" programs available there.
Both Spanier and McConnaughay said they do not know how the board of governors will vote when it meets June 11-12. It is a divided board, they said, with strong feelings about the move on both sides.
Should the board vote to keep the law school's primary location in Carlisle, Spanier said the university will accept that decision.
Still, he said, it does not eliminate the possibility of the subject resurfacing in the future.
"That would depend on the changing viewpoints of the board over time," Spanier said. "But this is the moment for an informed decision. We really hope they can look forward 20, 40, 60, 100 years and think about the legacy they leave and what is the right thing to do for the thousands and thousands of graduates who will move through that law school in the future."