For nearly 170 years, the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle has done quite nicely, turning out some of Pennsylvania's most respected lawyers and public figures. In 1997, when Dickinson Law merged with Penn State, university President Graham Spanier called ?it one of the finest law schools in the nation.?? Its students consistently ranked first or second among the state's seven law schools in passing the state bar examination.
But today we are told that the law school's facilities are ?inadequate,?? that it ranks in the ?third tier,?? that it can't raise enough funds to become first-rate, and that it needs to be moved to University Park to join 40,000 or so other students on the main PSU campus.
So what's happened over the last five years?
Well, for one thing, the cost of tuition at Dickinson Law has risen nearly $10,000, from $14,500 to $24,300 a year. The number of students is up from 530 to 646, suggesting that however inadequate it may be, Dickinson still attracts qualified applicants.
Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay, who appears to be pushing the move, complains that a six-year campaign to raise $16 million for an expansion netted ?only $9 million.??
But Penn State, which seems not to have provided a dime to its new law school, described at the time by Spanier as PSU's ?missing link,?? is prepared to spend $60 million to build a new law school complex in Centre County.
The most wounding comment of all -- made in a 28-page memo from McConnaughay to the university's board of governors that was leaked to a reporter last week -- concerned the law school's ?languishing reputation.?? It prompted one unidentified law firm to tell him that they wouldn't ?hire any longer from our law school because of our low rank,?? the dean wrote.
Could that ?languishing reputation?? have anything to do with Dickinson Law's association with Penn State, which appears to have done little more over the last five years for the law school than attach its name and raise tuition? After letting it founder, Penn State now claims the law school has to be moved to University Park to right it.
Such a relocation of this 169-year-old institution would amount to the theft of a significant regional asset, which should be resisted by all available means.
This move makes little sense other than as a blatant attempt to enhance Penn State's main campus at everyone else's expense. It would be bad for Carlisle, with which the school has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It would be bad for law students, who would be deprived of the wealth of opportunities for internships and clerkships in the Capitol Region.
And it would be bad for Penn State, which would lose its law school presence near the capital just as the state's courts are about to be centralized at a new Judicial Center in the Capitol Complex.
This power move is a good way for the university to turn midstate friends into opponents.
There's an element of the Hershey Trust fiasco in this ill- advised plan to abandon Carlisle that merits skepticism, if not outright derision. Does the problem lie with the law school or those running it?
The school's governors should put an end to this raid on a midstate institution and concentrate on making it better -- where it has been since 1834 and where it should remain.