UNIVERSITY PARK Although it has yet to decide whether or not to move the school from its Carlisle location, The Dickinson School of Law's board of governors did some house hunting Saturday.
Board members gathered for a private meeting Friday night and toured University Park on Saturday, scouting four potential locations for the law school. The decision about the school's future ultimately rests with the board.
Dickinson's governing body has been discussing the law school's future -- including relocation -- for several months. News of a possible move from Carlisle to State College surfaced in November after a confidential memorandum from Philip McConnaughay, the law school's dean, was leaked to the press. The memo outlined suggestions to address the concerns about the school's facilities, one being the possibility of moving the school to University Park.
"We are confronted with an important issue, and we want to make an appropriate decision with all the facts in front of us," board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman said.
Although the Commonwealth Court ruled last month that the board is not required to open its meetings to the public, officials allowed the press to accompany the board on its University Park bus tour.
Four potential sites were identified, including Parking Lot 83 North, University Drive and Park Avenue, and two locations within Innovation Park.
University officials said there are pros and cons with each site. For example, the Lot 83 and University Drive sites would be close to the new Smeal College of Business Administration building and other key campus locations. An Innovation Park site would be near the airport and Interstate 99.
The tour's final stop was the recently completed Information Sciences and Technology Building. Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finance and business, said university officials thought that if a new law school building would be built at University Park, it would more or less have to be a landmark facility similar to the IST Building.
University officials estimate a new law school building would need to be about 215,000 gross square feet and would cost about $60 million. By comparison, the IST Building is about 199,000 gross square feet and cost about $58 million.
McConnaughay said Saturday that the tour was for the board members to better understand the physical layout of University Park and what it would mean to have the law school at the campus.
Board member Helen Balick said the tour was well-orchestrated, but she said it wasn't appropriate for board members to share their opinions on the sites.
"I think everything is on the table at this point," Balick said.
Dickinson's board has a multitude of factors to take into consideration.
"We're looking at our students," McConnaughay said. "As educators, that's our principal concern."
In addition to preserving the school's long heritage, McConnaughay said, the board is not unmindful of the long-standing, good relationship it has with the borough of Carlisle.
Penn State President Graham Spanier said his role is to make sure the board has all the options on the table. He said board members and administrators alike have the goal of making the law school as strong as possible.
"It is my belief that we can accomplish more here than in its current location," Spanier said.
The timeline on deciding the law school's fate is still uncertain. McConnaughay said he is hoping that the board will have the information it needs to make a decision in the next couple of months. Zimmerman said the board doesn't want to be rushed into a decision, but a decision, he said, should be made sooner rather than later.
The board also heard an outside opinion on relocating a law school from someone very familiar with the situation. Terence Blackburn, dean of the Michigan State University College of Law, oversees the former Detroit College of Law. That law school became affiliated with Michigan State in 1995 and moved from its downtown location to East Lansing in 1997. The city had condemned the downtown land to build Comerica Park, forcing the college to make a decision to relocate in the city or closer to Michigan State.
Blackburn said the affiliation with a major research university has led to collaborations and partnerships, such as dual-degree programs and joint certificate programs.
Blackburn admitted the decision to vacate Detroit met with resistance from alumni and government leaders, as has the current situation in Carlisle. But, he said, the lesson to be learned is that law school leaders must ask the right questions.
"You don't run a college for alumni; you run it for the next generation of students," Blackburn said.