Penn State University, whose controversial plan to expand degree programs at its branch campuses is still under review by the state, is poised to grow on another front. It plans to acquire a law school.
Penn State and Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle announced yesterday that they hoped to merge. The move, which would be effective in July, has been endorsed by the law school's trustees and will be taken up on Friday by Penn State's directors, who are expected to do the same.
Acquiring Dickinson would mean Penn State could offer a law degree for the first time in its 142-year history without the cost of opening a new school. Dickinson would get an infusion of new technology and access to Penn State's vast resources at a time when law schools nationally are competing for a shrinking pool of students.
Penn State President Graham Spanier said last night that the marriage between the small private school with 511 students and his public university with 77,000 students would strengthen both institutions.
"We are doing in this merger what I think so many have urged, which is work cooperatively rather than compete," he said. "We aren't increasing the number of lawyers, we aren't increasing the size of the law school class, we're not asking for any additional taxpayer dollars to do this."
State Education Secretary Eugene Hickok is expected later this week to rule on Penn State's proposal to offer more four-year degrees at its branches and to transform a few into colleges, among them the Altoona campus.
Penn State said the move was an effort to better serve its students and the Commonwealth. But a number of smaller public and private colleges oppose the move.
Scott Sanborn, spokesman for a group representing 82 private schools in the state, said it was too soon to know how the Dickinson merger might affect other institutions with law schools, including the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University.
"You've got the same number, but now you've got a different management team," said Sanborn, of the Council of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Officials at both Pitt and Duquesne doubted that there would be much impact.
"They still have a law school and we still have a law school," Duquesne spokeswoman Ann Rago said.
Dickinson and Penn State had considered a merger for nearly three decades, but talks became serious in the last year, said Peter Glenn, the law school's dean.
No layoffs are planned, but both schools do expect to save on administrative costs, Spanier said. No faculty reductions are anticipated.
Dickinson, founded in 1834, would remain in Carlisle and would be called The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University. It is not affiliated with Dickinson College.
"This will give our students direct access to Penn State's enormous library collection, as well as to the libraries of the other Big Ten universities, which includes some of the best law schools in the nation," Glenn said.
"We will gain significant technological support from an institution that is leading the current information technology revolution taking place in the United States," Glenn said. "And our graduates will be from a school that has a broad name recognition."