A plan to move The Dickinson School of Law out of Carlisle ended yesterday. The school's board of governors voted unanimously in a closed- door session to consider building a second, $60 million law campus in State College while upgrading the Carlisle site for about $25 million. That decision is expected to be made by Aug. 15.
"The decision to close Dickinson in Carlisle is off the table. The school is not moving," said Tom Ridge, Homeland Security director and a Dickinson board member, after yesterday's three-hour meeting.
The board meeting had been expected to end with a vote on whether Dickinson would stay in Carlisle or move to State College. Penn State President Graham Spanier changed the agenda when he put a two- campus proposal on the table Friday night.
That followed months of a moving-or-staying debate, during which some of the board's 35 members had lobbied others to reject the proposal to move to State College.
Spanier denied that withdrawing the original proposal was a loss for Penn State.
"It's a plan B that I think turns out to be the best plan," Spanier said.
He also denied charges from many alumni and local officials that despite promises to keep Dickinson in Carlisle, Penn State had planned to move Dickinson to State College since the schools announced their merger in 1997.
"None of us ever contemplated we would be at this point," Spanier said.
Discussions opened up in November to improve the law school or move it because the campus needs renovations and its national ranking has slipped.
Ridge praised the decision to keep the school in Carlisle and said board members would keep an "open mind" as they consider the latest option.
"This is a great law school, both for the education it offers and the opportunities it provides," he said. In the midstate, students have access to county, state and federal courts as well as job opportunities at the many law firms, he said.
The new plan would educate 300 Dickinson students at Trickett Hall in Carlisle and 450 students at a law facility in State College.
The board of governors' meeting was closed to the public, but board members said later that the talks inside Trickett Hall were not heated.
"Lawyers don't necessarily yell and scream. There were long speeches with lots of words filled with emotion," board member Jason Kutulakis said.
He said Ridge did not deliver prepared remarks. "He participated. He asked questions," Kutulakis said.
There was a feeling of celebration after the vote and one of relief that the board and Penn State are "united in going forward with what's best for students," he said.
The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle have tried to open board meetings to the public since last fall. The newspapers have asked the state Supreme Court to permit an appeal of a Commonwealth Court decision that allows the board to meet behind closed doors.
Outside the meeting, some board members who opposed a move said they think the new plan is a compromise that can work -- with revisions.
Despite mixed feelings about the importance of national ranking, members said opportunities with a two-campus school could boost Dickinson's third-tier rating. They welcomed a plan that would meet the school's goals without uprooting it, but said they would insist on a guarantee that Dickinson could not be transplanted.
"There'd have to be a lot of safeguards built into the arrangement," board member Hubert X. Gilroy said.
Member Robert M. Frey, who was chairman of Dickinson's trustees when the school merged with Penn State, said he still has questions. But he's sure the campus with the greatest number of students will be perceived as the main campus, he said.
Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman said the arrangement would not resemble law schools like Widener University School of Law, which has a branch campus in Harrisburg.
He is to choose board members this week who will study the plan and give a report this summer. But he said it has already been decided that there would be one budget for both schools, which would "take care of the issue of whether [Carlisle] would be a second- class place."
Dean Philip McConnaughay said the two programs would have to be equal to boost rankings. He said Dickinson would be rated using one consolidated report that reflected both schools.
If one campus had fewer resources than the other, "it would sink the ship," he said.
McConnaughay said the 15-to-1 student teacher ratio proposed under the two-campus plan is an improvement over Dickinson's current 19-to-1 ratio.
Gov. Ed Rendell pledged $10 million toward renovating Dickinson's Carlisle campus. That would be matched by $10 million from Penn State. Local grants and financing could raise $5 million or more.
Reporter Joe Elias contributed to this report. ELIZABETH GIBSON: 249- 2006 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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PHOTO;FILEART; MICHAEL FERNANDEZ; Caption: Penn State President Graham Spanier described the new proposal as ?plan B.?? (The Associated Press, 2003); Tom Ridge praised the decision to keep The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, saying it is ?a great law school.?? (MICHAEL FERNANDEZ, The Patriot-News)