Penn State administrators sent memos this week to The Dickinson School of Law's board of governors outlining the benefits of moving the school from its Carlisle location to University Park, and the millions of dollars the university would provide to facilitate the move. The board has been considering the issue since November, when a confidential memo to board members from law school Dean Philip McConnaughay was leaked to the media. In his memo, McConnaughay set forth possible solutions for improving the law school's reputation and physical plant, including a move to University Park.
"My own ongoing review of this issue has only reinforced my opinion that the proud heritage of The Dickinson School of Law and the best interests of DSL students will be best served through the Law School's co-location with Penn State's University Park Campus," Penn State President Graham Spanier said in his memo.
Rodney Erickson, executive vice president and provost at Penn State, said in his memo that he supports McConnaughay's recommendation to relocate to University Park. The probability is high that relocating would improve in the law school's ability to attract and retain top faculty, enhance its educational programs, and restore and sustain its strong reputation and national stature, Erickson wrote.
"The current and future students of the Dickinson School of Law deserve the best possible chance to thrive as the next generations of attorneys," Erickson wrote. "I firmly believe there is a high probability that can be accomplished by co-location of the University Park Campus."
Erickson said in a telephone interview Tuesday that another compelling reason for moving the law school is the data showing that standalone law schools are not as successful as those located on university campuses. There are very few standalone laws schools in the top 100, he said.
"Standalone law schools have suffered disproportionately during the past fifteen years in the highly competitive market for top law students and faculty," Erickson wrote.
His conviction in relocation is so strong, Erickson said, that he intends to allocate $1 million in recurring annual funds to the law school's operating budget for the appointment of five or more new faculty members, should the board opt to move.
Erickson's memo also addressed a concern raised by opponents of the move -- a lack of professional opportunities in the State College area. There are quality externships on or near the University Park campus, Erickson wrote, including Innovation Park and the Penn State athletic department.
Although the number of school-year externships might diminish somewhat, Erickson said, "it is likely that the best Harrisburg area externships will survive a campus relocation with students adjusting to the travel-time difference with class schedule changes."
Gary Schultz, senior vice president of finance and business at Penn State, said in his memo to the board that should its members approve a move to University Park, Penn State will commit $60 million to cover the full cost of a new building for the law school.
"Penn State will undertake this commitment without any contribution from current or future operating funds of the Law School and without contribution from The Dickinson School of Law's existing endowment," Schultz wrote.
Penn State also would pay for all ongoing facility operating costs of the new law school building and landscape maintenance, which would result in an annual savings of at least $1.3 million, Schultz said. Law school students would enjoy the same access to parking and housing privileges as other University Park graduate students.
Schultz said in a telephone interview Tuesday that construction of a new building wouldn't necessarily mean tuition would increase more than if the building is not constructed. The university prioritizes its construction needs, Schultz said, and building a law school would likely mean rearranging capital funds and pushing back other capital improvements.
Penn State would commit $10 million to renovation and expansion of the law school if the board decides to keep the school in Carlisle. The size and scope of the expansion would depend on the amount of money available from other sources, such as the state and alumni.
State Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Lemoyne, announced at the May 14 board of governors meeting that Gov. Ed Rendell will release $25 million of matching funds for building and expanding at Carlisle, pending the passage of the state's Capital Budget. Mowery also announced that he placed a $30 million line-item appropriation on the Capital Budget for renovation and expansion of the law school.
The board of governors next meets June 11 and 12 and could take up the issue of a move at that time.
McConnaughay said Tuesday that the strongest argument for relocation is the benefits it would provide students. The challenges that lay ahead and the law school's ability to meet them resides in University Park, he said.
The administrators' memos were positive appraisals of the law school, McConnaughay said.
"I think the board should take away from the memo the incredible compliment the university is paying to the Dickinson School of Law and its heritage," McConnaughay said. "(The law school) has a remarkable heritage and the university's gesture is the single best way to preserve that heritage and strengthen it."