Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Moving Dickinson Law would be wrong

Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004



Moving Dickinson Law would be wrong


Since the proposed relocation of the Dickinson School of Law first surfaced, this issue has dominated my work. The more I read about the reasons, the more I look at the numbers, the more I talk to individuals inside and outside of the law school, the more convinced I become. The move is wrong for the Dickinson School of Law, it is wrong for Carlisle, and it is wrong for our commonwealth. Across Pennsylvania, communities have suffered the loss of jobs, the closing or transfer of traditional industries, and the loss of institutions that provided identity and stability and pride. Many times, these losses result from factors beyond our control.

However, it is a rarer circumstance where one Pennsylvania community proposes to relieve another of one of its most identifiable and prized assets. To add insult, since Penn State's budget includes a considerable annual state contribution, area taxpayers would in effect be subsidizing this transfer, and then paying the heavy price of the loss.

Pennsylvania has an array of successful economic development and incentive programs, but care is always taken to attract jobs from elsewhere. There are numerous restrictions to prevent moving jobs and plants from one part of the state to another. If it is bad public policy in economic development, it is equally poor policy in the educational arena. As least part of the motivation for this proposal is prestige. Prestige does not have tangible benefit. But it does impose costs to our community, and to the tradition of the law school. The dependence on rankings at the heart of the plan reinforces this notion.

Does Penn State need an on-campus law school? It seems that they have managed to build a reputation as a world-class university without one. Does the Dickinson School of Law need a new ZIP code to thrive, or merely survive? Only in the perspectives of those highly desirous of seeing this transfer occur.

Does Carlisle deserve to lose the law school? Of course not. If there had been any lassitude or take-it-for-granted attitude around, Penn State found the cure. The Carlisle community -- elected leaders, community, business, and professional leaders, concerned individuals -- has rallied in impressive fashion.

The current counterproposal seeks to satisfy every interest. Maybe if this controversy did not have the history it does, the matter could be solved just this easily. But before anyone is tempted to declare victory and head home happy, I must point out that when the move is made from theory to practical application, there are legitimate questions and substantial concerns about this last-minute pitch.

The good faith expressions and the commitments in the merger agreement from several years ago had an unfortunately short shelf- life. What sort of guarantees can be offered now that this does not merely achieve gradually what was first attempted in one gulp? The ?trust of Carlisle?? is going to require a lot more collateral before lending its confidence again. To a justifiably skeptical community, this looks more like a stay of execution than a commutation of sentence.

The roots of this debate were about ensuring the future quality of the Dickinson School of Law. It has always been about scratching together resources to the greatest effect. Suddenly, however, this proposal presents quantity as the answer. Two campuses. More students. More instructors. More capital costs. Is there really that kind of added market at the same standards? Are there analyses to prove it? If the resources are there to accomplish all these results, why have badly needed dollars not been deployed earlier?

DOES THIS dual site model work over the long run? Has the shotgun marriage of the traditional and the modern played out successfully over time somewhere else? Can the two campuses be truly equal in that they have unique appeal to sufficient numbers of qualified students? This is too consequential a course to determine casually.

At the heart of doubt is constant recollection that this is not an unavoidable dilemma we are confronting. It is a collision of community interests arbitrarily sparked. It is a decision that Penn State determined to force. However the board decides, we cannot forget that what is being addressed is a want, not a need. HAL MOWERY is a Republican state senator from Camp Hill.

No comments: