A controversy that began with a memorandum leaked to the media and followed by months of debate will culminate Saturday when the Penn State Dickinson School of Law's board of governors decides whether to move the school from Carlisle to University Park. The board has been discussing the law school's future, including relocation, for several months. The issue became public in November after a confidential memorandum from law school Dean Philip McConnaughay was shared with the press. The memo suggested ways to address the concerns about the school's outdated physical plant, including moving the school to University Park.
The ensuing months brought a multitude of memos and passionate arguments by those for and against the move. Vocal board members have outlined various concerns, including a lack of professional experience for students if the law school were to relocate to State College. Others have said a move from Carlisle represents a violation of the merger agreement negotiated between Penn State and Dickinson in 2000.
Penn State administrators, however, have promised $60 million for a new law school building at University Park and other financial incentives to recruit faculty should the board opt for co-location. Should the board decide to remain in Carlisle, Penn State would commit $10 million for renovation and expansion.
After months of listening and lobbying, board members are expected to vote Saturday morning at Trickett Hall in Carlisle. Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman said he and his colleagues have heard from all interested parties, including the Carlisle community, alumni and students, and are ready to make a decision.
"I think that most board members feel we have more than enough information," Zimmerman said.
The decision-makers Whatever happens Saturday, Zimmerman said he senses the vote will be close.
Zimmerman said he has not polled the board and, as its leader, has tried to stay above the fray.
"I have said consistently that the board of governors does not owe a fiduciary duty to anyone except the institution of the law school, and its students today and its future students," Zimmerman said. "That's where our responsibility is and that's where we must focus."
Some board members were more vocal than others throughout the last seven months. Carlisle attorney and board member Hubert Gilroy wrote an eight-page memo to the board outlining the reasons he will vote to keep the school in its present location. Gilroy said there is no doubt that existing facilities need to be renovated, but said relocation to State College "is not required, nor is it advisable."
Camp Hill attorney and board member G. Thomas Miller also advocates staying in Carlisle. He said he doesn't foresee any drastic improvements in its rankings if the school moves to University Park.
"I think the students will have many more opportunities at the broader aspects of legal education, both academic and practical, especially practical (in Carlisle), than they would at University Park," Miller said.
Of the board members the Centre Daily Times was able to reach, several declined to comment.
Carlisle attorney Jason Kutulakis said he did not want to reveal his vote, but said he and his fellow board members are aware of the impact their votes will have on thousands of students for hundreds of years.
"I think the board is resolved to go forward and build a new structure, whether it's in Carlisle or University Park, and that's exciting," Kutulakis said. "And that's the message that needs to be sent to everyone."
Government leaders Government reaction to the November memo has ranged from vitriolic to diplomatic.
After chastising Spanier at Penn State's February appropriations hearings, Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, proposed an amendment to the university's funding in order to keep the law school in Carlisle.
Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Lemoyne, spoke to the board in May and outlined reasons for keeping the school at its current location, including the possibility for expansion in Carlisle. Mowery also announced that Gov. Ed Rendell will release $25 million of matching funds for the law school to stay in Carlisle, pending the approval of the state budget.
Carlisle officials and community members say the borough would take a huge financial hit if the board votes to move. Borough Manager Fred Bean said Tuesday that the community is nervous, and hopeful the vote will go its way.
"Hopefully, we've made the best case we can to keep the law school in Carlisle," Bean said.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, said he hopes the board does what is in the best interests of the law school and its future students.
"That should be the driving issue of where you locate it and any decisions you make," Corman said.
State College Mayor Bill Welch said he would be delighted to have the law school at University Park.
"I think it would benefit campus and community and most importantly, present and future students at the Dickinson School of Law," Welch said.
Faculty and students James B. Thomas, dean of the School of Information Sciences and Technology, and Judy Olian, dean of the Smeal College of Business Administration, each said co-location will provide numerous opportunities for collaboration between University Park faculty and law students. Students will also have the opportunity to earn joint degrees, such as a J.D. and an MBA.
"There's so many synergies and points of intersection between business and law," Olian said.
Carlos Ball, professor of law at Dickinson, agreed, saying relocation is a wonderful opportunity for students to interact with faculty at University Park and improve the law school's national reputation.
While moving would represent a major change for future students, several University Park students interviewed said they don't see it affecting them.
Junior Wendy Zhu, however, said having the law school on campus would make a difference in her plans. A chemical engineering major, Zhu said she would take law classes because she is interested in pursuing a career in intellectual property and patent law.
Patrick Stafford, a senior majoring in engineering, said he is also considering a law career.
"I think it would probably be a good idea to bring it closer," Stafford said.