Last fall, state lawmakers wrote to Penn State University President Graham Spanier asking him to publicly state his support for keeping The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle instead of moving it to University Park. They finally got a response.
But legislators yesterday said the April 9 missive fails to respond to their request and appears to be timed to protect funding for Penn State as state budget talks get under way.
Spanier sent the letter to 45 House and Senate members, saying he aimed to clarify a proposal to move Dickinson.
"Unfortunately, some misinformation has accompanied the public discussion of this issue, presumably because of the understandable anxiety associated with the possible relocation of [Dickinson]," Spanier wrote.
Talk of moving Dickinson began in November. School officials said the Carlisle facility was outdated and that moving to Penn State's main campus would improve the school's profile.
Lawmakers, including Gov. Ed Rendell, and community and business leaders have opposed a move.
Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle, introduced a bill last month that would make a move illegal.
In yesterday's budget talks, Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, introduced an amendment that would make $2 million in proposed funding for Penn State contingent on Dickinson staying in Carlisle.
In his letter, Spanier wrote that some lawmakers have been mistakenly told that an agreement between the law school and Penn State at the time of the 1997 merger prohibited a relocation. He wrote that a move can occur with the consent of the law school's board of governors.
"Sadly, the president has resorted to word games," said Maher, whose father was a Dickinson dean and whose mother is a member of the board of governors.
He and other lawmakers said that law school and Penn State officials promised in 1997 that Dickinson would remain in Carlisle.
The governors board has suspended discussion of the issue until Commonwealth Court decides whether board talks must be open to the public. The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle have argued the meetings should be open.
Spanier also wrote that, while Penn State will try to address the interests of the law school and the community, its primary clients are the students.
"The university doesn't have clients. It has a state charter. It has impacts, social and economic," Gabig said. "It's the duty of the elected officials ... to ensure that they're not doing damage to the social and economic standing of the community."