The "first-years" were unmistakable yesterday as classes started at The Dickinson School of Law. Clustered outside classrooms well before bells rang, the nervous scholars shared scuttlebutt they had picked up on courses and professors since arriving in Carlisle last week.
However, the freshmen turned confident in discussing a controversial -- and ultimately failed -- plan to move Dickinson to Penn State's main campus in University Park.
Adam Solander spent six years at sprawling West Virginia University earning bachelor's and master's degrees. He wanted to study law in a small-town setting.
"That was mainly what drew me to this school," he said.
News that Penn State had offered to build Dickinson a $60 million campus in State College also reached Aaron Kahn, of Washington, D.C., when he applied last spring.
He weighed the pros and cons of a stand-alone school and decided that studying will be easier in Carlisle, without the distractions he'd find in State College. But Kahn said he also knows that, in Carlisle, he won't get to rub elbows with University Park's science and engineering professors.
"The truth is, our reputation would be helped by going on main campus," said upperclassman Raymond Shank.
But Shank, a 1995 Cumberland Valley High School graduate, said he wouldn't have applied to Dickinson at State College because of his ties to the area and because Carlisle and Harrisburg offer internships that could lead to a good job.
Opponents of a move said internships in midstate courts and law offices couldn't be replicated in State College.
Penn State officials, when they proposed a move last fall, said State College could deliver equally valuable apprentice experiences.
They said moving Dickinson to the main campus would allow students to develop marketable law specialties by interacting with teachers in other fields. And a move could draw more top-notch students and boost Dickinson's rankings.
Then, in June, Penn State offered a compromise: Leave the school in Carlisle and build a second law campus at State College by 2008.
Dickinson's board of governors, which has say only over where Dickinson's primary campus is located, rejected the two-campus plan. The board voted instead to urge Penn State to back a $50 million renovation of the Carlisle campus.
Penn State trustees next month will vote on spending $10 million on that plan. The rest of the money would come from $15 million in alumni and local donations and a $25 million state grant.
Solander and others said a move to State College or a second campus there wouldn't have occurred until after they graduate.
But they admitted they are concerned over job prospects because of Dickinson's third-tier spot in U.S. News & World Report rankings.
?If the marketability of my degree goes up, by all means move it,?? said Luke Young, in his second year at Dickinson.
?But I'm conflicted from the moral standpoint,?? he said.
Young noted that local residents who rely on the school's free legal clinics would be abandoned in a move.
"They're indigent people. That whole resource would just be gone," Young said.
INFOBOX: LAW SCHOOL STATISTICS
* The 170-year-old school merged with Penn State University in 2000.
* Graduates include Tom Ridge, U.S. homeland security secretary; U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum; and Sylvia H. Rambo, the first woman to serve as chief judge of U.S. Middle District Court.
* Dickinson received 2,563 applications for the class of 2007.
* Enrollment in the three-year juris doctor program is 627, with 179 first-year, 211 second-year and 237 third-year students. Target class size is 180.
* Of the first-year class, 54 percent are male, 46 percent female; 45 percent are permanent Pennsylvania residents; average age is 24; minorities constitute 25 percent of the class, compared with 21 percent in 2003-04.
* Thirteen foreign-trained lawyers, from countries including Australia, Bulgaria, Italy and Thailand, enrolled in Dickinson's master's of law program.