Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Let's Slow Things Down Here!

Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


WISE TO WAIT ; Through deferral, law school's best options can be considered

Of the Patriot-News

A decision on whether and where to move the campus of the Dickinson School of Law wisely has been deferred by the school's board of governors until the issue can be explored more deeply. And what will be found, we believe, is that as compelling a case as can be made for moving the law school to brand-new quarters on Penn State's University Park campus, the advantages of staying put in the Capital Region will prevail.

Everyone agrees that the law school, which merged with the university in 1997, is in dire need of new facilities, having outgrown historic Trickett Hall in both enrollment and classroom technology.

And the university points out that law students today want to spend some of their time studying in other disciplines, such as business and environmental sciences, related to the type of law they plan to practice. Students in those other disciplines also might elect to take law courses.

Yet, moving the law school to University Park would deprive law students of the access they now enjoy to myriad local, state and federal courts, as well as the state Capitol, all within a half- hour's drive of the Carlisle campus.

Additionally, while University Park offers the widest range of graduate studies, Penn State maintains several graduate degree programs in the Capital Region, at Penn State Harrisburg and the College of Medicine at Hershey. Better coordination of interrelated studies involving these three institutions is a low-cost solution to one of the law school's key shortcomings as identified by the university.

The leak of a confidential memo outlining the proposed move triggered a civic and political firestorm that almost certainly would have doomed the idea had the board of governors voted during their meeting over the weekend. But it's difficult to believe, in any event, that the governors would have wanted to make such a momentous decision in the law school's 169-year history on the basis of so little information and consideration.

More facts, more weighing of the options and especially more thought about the nature of the legal education Dickinson should offer are indispensable to a decision that will chart a course for the institution for many decades to come. A key question for us is what effect growing enrollment, as has occurred since Penn State absorbed the law school, has on the effort to restore its academic and legal reputation, which are said to have declined recently.

We urge the governors to make this six-month to year-long investigation as public as possible, for the stakeholders include many more people than those with direct ties to Dickinson Law.

And they need to look outside the school for factors that bear on a good legal education: For example, plans for a judicial center to be built in the Capitol Complex to bring all three levels of state appellate courts under one roof. Abandoning the close proximity of the Carlisle campus and the capital would be a terrible mistake. If the law school were already in University Park, surely it would be trying to figure out some way to establish a presence in Harrisburg.

The good news is that Dickinson School of Law already has such connections. And with much thought, imagination and a helpful Penn State administration, the law school can position itself to have a distinguished future without sacrificing those virtues that have served it well for so long.

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