Sunday, November 23, 2003

Law school exploring options

Centre Daily Times
(c) Copyright 2003, Centre Daily Times. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 23, 2003


Law school exploring options

By Adam Smeltz

CARLISLE Two days after state legislators criticized a possible relocation of the Dickinson School of Law, a school official said he interpreted the remarks as an offer to help map out Dickinson's future.

"And we welcome it," said LeRoy S. Zimmerman, chairman of Dickinson's board of governors, speaking after a board meeting Saturday.

He said he has "every reason to believe (Gov. Ed Rendell) will make his offices available to help us," including with fund-raising efforts, as Dickinson makes plans to expand.

The 169-year-old law school, part of Penn State since a merger in 2000, may eventually move from Carlisle to the State College area, depending on the outcome of expansion discussions that began this weekend.

Officials said there is no deadline for a decision.

Legislators already have sounded off about the suggested move to University Park, which Dickinson Dean Philip McConnaughay recently recommended in a confidential memo. Rendell and nine state lawmakers wrote in a letter Thursday that the university apparently had not considered the benefits of keeping Dickinson in Carlisle.

Unlike some state officials, Zimmerman said he did not perceive the letter as a threat to Penn State appropriations.

He and almost all 30 members of the board of governors began their first talks about Dickinson's new facilities Friday night and Saturday in Carlisle. They'll next meet sometime in January, Zimmerman said.

In the meantime, McConnaughay said, school officials "will almost immediately" begin to consult with students, faculty, alumni and Carlisle residents in committee-led discussions.

At hand are three options for growth: to expand at the current site, which features the historic Trickett Hall; to add facilities in the Carlisle area; or to erect an entirely new facility near State College.

Zimmerman, a former state attorney general and Dickinson alumnus, said school officials have received extensive correspondence from residents who don't want to see the school move.

"This is a great institution. It always has (been), and it always will (be)," he said. He said the board of governors has "a precious mission to protect," and will need to "energize" alumni and the business community to generate funds for expansion.

"At the end of the day, the alumni need to know about this. The community needs to know about this," Zimmerman said. "It's about money."

Dickinson law school, which Penn State says receives no state funding, has a traditionally strong performance record. And Spanier has said that a new location for Dickinson and its 650 students "was never contemplated when we merged."

But recently published rankings have Dickinson rated as a third-tier law school. Zimmerman emphasized Saturday that the school "has to stay competitive."

Part of its appeal, said second-year student Matt Miller, is its intimate environment and individualized attention.

"If it were to move," Miller said, "I'd like that to stay the same."

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