CARLISLE Discussions about Dickinson School of Law becoming affiliated with Penn State or some other university have floated around Trickett Hall on campus from time to time.
But outside of the two institutions' highest echelons, yesterday's announcement that Dickinson's trustees have agreed to join Penn State came as a surprise.
Most of those who had anything to say about the merger including one man who knew all about it were pleased.
?Strength plus strength equals strength,?? said former state Attorney General LeRoy S. Zimmerman, a 1959 graduate of the Carlisle school who, as a member of its board of trustees, was well aware of the merger plans.
?This proposed merger is a combination of two great institutions, both with rich traditions and high academic qualities,?? Zimmerman said. ?I think the combination will . . . place Dickinson on the cutting edge of legal education for the 21st century.??
Less bullish, but just as hopeful, was Superior Court Judge and former Cumberland County District Attorney J. Michael Eakin, one of those who just last night heard about the proposed merger.
?I'm hard-pressed to say anything about it, because this is the first I've heard about it,?? Eakin said. But ?they've always had a decent board . . . and I'm sure they wouldn't do it without great thought.
?If nothing else, it will improve our football team,?? Eakin quipped.
?I'm surprised,?? echoed Carlisle attorney Christopher Houston.
?That's a big change . . . but in a sense it's probably a positive,?? he added, ?because Dickinson has always had a primarily regional appeal, and this should help expand its presence, if you will.??
Not everyone was supportive of the change. Dickinson officials refused yesterday to say what Saturday's vote count was, but it was clear that the decision was not unanimous.
Former Cumberland County President Judge Dale F. Shughart, who ended a 31-year tenure as president of the law school in 1993, is recuperating from surgery and could not be reached for his reaction last night.
Dickinson trustees accepted Shughart's resignation from the board at the same meeting at which the Penn State merger was approved, sources said. They added, however, that his resignation and the merger weren't related.
Several faculty members declined comment on the announcement last night, referring all questions to school administrators.
But for most alumni, it seemed like acceptance at first glance.
?I think it's great,?? said Burke McLemore, a Harrisburg attorney and president of the school's 5,000-member alumni association.
McLemore said it is important to him that the school, as proposed, will maintain a great deal of autonomy in its operations just as Hershey Medical Center, a branch of Penn State, seems to enjoy.
Within that context, he said, the Penn State connection should only enhance Dickinson's long-term strength and stature.
?Most of us went to Dickinson because it was a good regional law school,?? McLemore said. ?This [merger] gives us a national exposure.
?On balance, looking at the survival of the law school and the long-term growth of the law school, I think this is a good thing.??