Sunday, November 21, 1999

The Honeymoon Isn't Over Yet

The Sunday Patriot-News Harrisburg
Copyright 1999

Sunday, November 21, 1999


PSU, Dickinson Law union called a success Joint venture sees gain in enrollment, diversity, more programs, funding

Jan Murphy
Patriot News

As in life, some marriages work out, some don't. And so it is with Penn State.

The 2-year-old merger between Hershey Medical Center and Geisinger Health System last week went kaput. But the other merger, or acquisition as some call it, with Dickinson School of Law announced just days before the Penn State-Geisinger union, has proved a raging success by university standards.

?It's an ideal relationship. I believe that everyone involved on all sides is pleased with how it's going,' said university President Graham Spanier.

Peter Glenn, dean of the Carlisle law school, could not be reached for comment. In a presentation made in September to university trustees, Glenn said, ?We are proud to be part of this university. We hope that the university continues to be proud of us.'

Penn State sought out a law school to fill a ?hole? in its academic programming, said university executive vice president and provost Rodney Erickson. Since bringing the law school into the university's fold, programs involving the two schools have abounded.

There are joint programs now offered between the law school and university in the areas of public administration, business administration, environmental pollution and agricultural sciences. There's a fast-track program for university honor students to earn a law degree in six years instead of seven. And Erickson said more of these types of endeavors will come after the merger becomes official on June 30.

Other signs that the partnership has worked include a fourfold increase in fund-raising from 1997-98, the first year of the Penn State-Dickinson affiliation, to last year, he said.

Applications to the law school are up and so is the caliber of students applying, he said. Students continue to pass the state bar exam at rates exceeding the state average. The law school's population is becoming more racially diverse and it is attracting students from a broader geographic area.

Mike Floyd is proof of that. Floyd, a first-year law student, came to the law school from Texas.

After graduation, he hopes to land a job in the Northeast. If he has to go back, he said, ?At least I'll have a law degree from a school with national name recognition. It can't hurt. It can only help.'

John Porter, a 1983 Cedar Cliff High School graduate who is in his first year, sees the university's name and its alumni network as broadening his potential job market.

Since Penn State put its name on the law school, Rocco Iacullo, a third-year student and president of the school's Student Bar Association, has come to appreciate the bonuses he's received as a result.

The diversity of the first-year class has added to the learning experience at the law school, he said. So have the dozens of new computers and laser printers and expanded access to library resources. He said there are even JoePa dolls now available in the school's bookstore.

But he still refers to it as Dickinson School of Law, and notes that he applied to Dickinson when it was still an independent law school. His class is the last one that will be able to say that, he said.
?There's a greater willingness by the first-year class to call it Penn State Law,' he said. ?Dickinson had been a well-recognized law school in Pennsylvania. Penn State just helps spread that to other parts of the country.'

Dickinson alumni continue to have mixed feelings about that. While some applaud the move to make their law school a nationally recognized institution, other alums miss the small independent law school.

?Penn State Law is a very different institution than the institution it purchased,' said Ron Turo, who practices law in Carlisle a few blocks away from the law school where he earned his degree in 1981.

The school now has a broader mission than it did as an independent regional law school whose emphasis was on turning out lawyers to represent clients in Pennsylvania, he said.

?They're trying to compete with likes of University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, nationally recognized institutions and international law programs,' he said. ?That's fine, but that was not the primary focus and mission of Dickinson when it existed.'

The once ardent opposition by alumni to the university's affiliation with the law school has virtually disappeared, Spanier said. Many Dickinson alumni who were critical of the merger have since come to recognize it as a ?great thing,? he said.

?All the stars have been aligned right from the beginning,' Spanier said.

Both the university and law school are academic enterprises with similar values -- sharp contrast to the university's merger with a health care business like Geisinger, which Spanier described as more of a ?different mix of stars and planets.? Jan Murphy writes about education. She can be reached at 255-8246 or e-mail her at

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