Saturday, September 25, 2004

Dickinsons courting a return to old days ; Law school began as a department of college in Carlisle

Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Dickinsons courting a return to old days ; Law school began as a department of college in Carlisle

Of The Patriot-News

If Dickinson College merges with The Dickinson School of Law, the law school would have to regain its academic accreditation and hire a new dean. "If an affiliation were to occur ... Dean [Philip] McConnaughay would step down to allow the college to appoint its own dean," law school spokeswoman Kelly Jones said.

American Bar Association spokeswoman Nancy Slonin said the law school would initially operate on a provisional basis.

According to Bar Association guidelines, it would take the law school a year or two to regain its accreditation.

The university and Dickinson College announced last week they were discussing the idea of a merger between the Carlisle institutions.

But with no timeline for negotiations or process set between Penn State University and Dickinson College, a Dickinson-Dickinson merger could be months or years away -- if at all.

"At this point, Dickinson law school is still a part of Penn State. Officially, there are mutual loyalties," said LeRoy Zimmerman, chairman of the law school's board of governors.

Nonetheless, a Dickinson-Dickinson merger already has preliminary support.

Law school and college alumnus Sid Kline Jr., a college emeritus trustee and a member of the law school board of governors, said a union ?has the potential to be a win-win situation for both institutions.??

John Curley, chairman of the Dickinson College trustees, and other college and law school officials point to other private liberal arts colleges that have their own law schools -- Willamette University in Oregon and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, for example -- as models for a successful Dickinson-Dickinson union.

No doubt, though, if the college were to acquire the law school, it would have to launch a multimillion-dollar renovation of law facilities.

"There's sort of a checklist of things we have to look at ... how it would work without hurting the college," said Curley, a Penn State journalism professor and former Gannett Co. CEO.

But already law school students are troubled by the uncertainty of their school's future. "It's totally up in the air," said Jason Evans, a student.

Evans fears that if the two Dickinson namesakes merge, Penn State would likely establish its own law school and compete for the student pool.

"Nobody's going to end up happy in this," Evans said.

Penn State spokesman Steve MacCarthy said the university has not ruled out that option, but has no immediate plans to establish a law school.

In 1997, when Penn State announced its merger with the law school, President Graham Spanier said the acquisition filled a void. He said Penn State preferred to take over a law school rather than build its own.

Last fall, Penn State proposed moving the law school to State College, partly to boost its national rankings and increase academic choices for students.
Penn State later suggested renovating the Carlisle law campus and opening a second law campus in University Park. If the idea failed, Penn State would still improve the Carlisle campus.

The law school board of governors, which doesn't run the law school but can veto any plan to move it or change its name, last month rejected the second campus idea.

The cross-curriculum opportunities Penn State wanted for law students could be offered at the smaller Dickinson College, college and Penn State officials said.

The college and law school already have ties.

The law school opened as a college department and then became independent. Even after merging with Penn State, the law school continued its college connections. The schools offer a program letting students earn undergraduate and law degrees in six years instead of seven.

Robert M. Frey, an alumnus of both schools, said that in the event of a split, law students would likely be able to continue earning joint degrees at Penn State Harrisburg.

A former chairman of the law school trustees, Frey was pivotal in the Penn State merger.

Now, he may see it unravel. But a Dickinson-Dickinson merger is "an interesting proposition [that] may well work out," he said.



* The Dickinson School of Law's board of governors will discuss a Dickinson College/law school merger publicly. The meetings, once closed, opened under an amendment to the state Sunshine Act.

* The Legislature said the board is affiliated with a public university and should be subject to the act. It's unclear if a merger would again close board meetings.

* The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle had tried to force open board meetings and won their case in Cumberland County Court but Commonwealth Court overturned the decision. An appeal was dismissed.

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