Sunday, January 16, 2005

Dickinson OKs dual-campus law school plan - Big Mistake

Centre Daily Times
(c) Copyright 2005, Centre Daily Times. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Dickinson OKs dual-campus law school plan

By Anne Danahy

CARLISLE In a vote that opens the door for a second Penn State law school campus, the board of governors of The Dickinson School of Law approved an agreement Saturday to renovate its location in Carlisle and eventually create a campus at University Park.

But Penn State agreed that the plan would be invalidated if Gov. Ed Rendell failed to provide $25 million in state funds for new construction at Trickett Hall on the Carlisle campus.

The 17-14 vote during the special meeting of the board follows more than a year of discussions about the possibility of a law school campus at University Park. It came after almost five hours of discussion Saturday and several attempts by opponents of the plan to stop the motion.

In the end, those in favor had enough votes to pass the memorandum of understanding, which calls for up to $40 million in upgrades to the Carlisle campus, a second campus at University Park and a new board.

H. Laddie Montague Jr., chairman of the board, said he hopes that a final agreement will be drafted in about two weeks. Another meeting will be called once that happens.

"I am happy with it because I think the right result was reached," Montague said after the meeting. "I think as things progress there will be more harmony."

The agreement says that Penn State will operate the law school in Carlisle until at least June 30, 2015. After that, the university could close the Carlisle law school by giving one year's notice to the board.

Schultz read from a letter from Rendell to Penn State President Graham Spanier, dated Friday, that says Rendell's administration is committed to the vitality of the law school and is willing to provide financial support if an agreement ensuring the long-term presence in Carlisle is reached.

But some opponents of the two-campus plan said the decision amounted to the end of the Carlisle campus, and others asked that negotiations continue.

Sandor Yelen, a board member from Wilkes-Barre, said that if the section of the agreement that says the Carlisle campus could be closed was removed the proposal would have had no trouble passing.

"You're asking us to give up a contract that says in perpetuity in exchange for a contract that gives you the right to close this campus in 10 years," Yelen said.

Penn State and the law school became affiliated in 1997. That agreement said the law school would stay in Carlisle.

The $40 million the university could end up spending on renovating the Carlisle campus includes $10 million from Penn State and $25 million in funds from the state. That state money would be administered through the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority. Penn State has reached a tentative agreement with that authority about how the money would be released.

Montague said Saturday that he was instructed that the authority did not want the details of the tentative agreement released.

Opponents tried several strategies to prevent the agreement from passing, including arguing that a two-thirds majority was needed to approve the agreement. But the board voted 21-9 that a simple majority was all that was needed.

LeRoy Zimmerman, a member of the board's negotiating committee, urged the board to look at the agreement in a positive way. He said it would mean a permanent presence in Carlisle and a new campus. He said he interpreted the 10-year provision as an opportunity to demonstrate that the Carlisle location is an important part of the law school.

"I am convinced that we can make this work if we work together," Zimmerman said.

In late 2003, Penn State proposed moving the law school to University Park. That idea met with strong opposition, particularly in Carlisle, and was followed by the idea of a two-location law school. In August, the board of governors tabled that idea and instead voted to renovate the Carlisle campus.

In September, university officials announced that an end to the affiliation with the law school was under consideration, with a possible law school affiliation with neighboring Dickinson College being considered. But in November, the law school's board of governors formed another committee to again take up the idea of a two-campus school.

Proponents of the two-campus plan have said it will help attract top faculty and students and offer students the opportunity to work with faculty members from other colleges. Opponents have expressed concern about the potential negative impact on Carlisle.

Carlisle Borough Council President Frank Rankin said after the meeting that he was very disappointed in the decision and that he had not been allowed to speak during the meeting.

Rankin, representing a community task force and the Borough Council, said the potential for the Carlisle campus to be dissolved eventually, the change in the law school's governance, and the potential economic impact if that location was closed were concerns.

The memorandum also includes a total restructuring of the law school board to seven members. Spanier will appoint three current members. Montague will take one seat and will appoint three current members, and if any of those four seats come open, the members of that group will appoint the replacement.

The board of governors also voted 14-12 to approve a motion that when Montague appoints three additional members to the new board, at least two of them will be members who voted against approving the memorandum of understanding.

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