Sunday, June 06, 2004

Our View Dickinson board must look beyond politics, emotions

Centre Daily Times
(c) Copyright 2004, Centre Daily Times. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

Our View Dickinson board must look beyond politics, emotions

Penn State officials have put forth their reasons for wanting to move The Dickinson School of Law from Carlisle to State College. Business leaders and community members in Cumberland County have offered their concerns about what such a move would do to their region and have said that the best thing for the law school and its students would be to remain in Carlisle. Sorting through the statements, rhetoric and impassioned pleas is the job of the Dickinson board of governors. By Saturday, we should know their decision.

Penn State should move forward and make that decision work for the law school and the university as a whole.

As you read on these pages last Sunday and Monday, Penn State officials think a return to glory for Dickinson can be best accomplished by a move to State College.

Penn State President Graham Spanier and Dickinson Dean Philip McConnaughay said in a meeting with the Centre Daily Times editorial board that "co-location," having the law school situated on the university's main campus, would help attract top-notch faculty and prospective students and would allow for shared research and teaching opportunities between the law school and other university departments.

Penn State has proposed building a new $60 million law school at University Park, and also putting several million into the facilities at Carlisle. Penn State would create in Carlisle an executive-education center for individuals who come from the professional ranks, or short-term programs for students spending perhaps a semester there while doing the bulk of their work in State College.

Political and community leaders in the Carlisle area have countered that investing more money in the current location rather than moving the law school would allow Penn State to achieve its goals for improving programs and recruiting students and faculty. They also say that Carlisle's proximity to Harrisburg and state government, and Washington, D.C., and federal government, give that area a distinct advantage over Centre County.

State Sen. Harold F. Mowery, R-Lemoyne, has provided one of the louder voices in opposition to the proposed law school move.

Mowery said investing in Carlisle rather than building a new school at University Park would allow Penn State to control costs and, by extension, minimize the impact on tuition, already expected to jump by about 4 percent next year.

"There are pluses and minuses on both sides," Mowery said. "I like Penn State. I enjoy their football team. I had an insurance agency in State College some years ago, and I like the community. But I just feel that the money that would be spent to build a signature building ... there's just not a strong enough reason to do it."

While Penn State's logic for pursuing the move is sound, neither Spanier nor McConnaughay offered proof that their goals couldn't also be achieved by increasing economic and academic support for Dickinson in Carlisle.
But Mowery and others have no counterargument for the contention that linking Dickinson geographically with main campus would improve learning opportunities for students and also provide for shared research opportunities for faculty. They pointed to Penn State's world-class distance-learning programs, saying technology could accomplish the link without moving the school.

And much of the argument against moving the law school has been generated from an emotional attachment to the current site. Dickinson is one of the oldest law schools in the country and has been a fixture in Carlisle, therefore it should stay there, supporters say. And that position fails to address programmatic needs Dickinson clearly has, including cramped and outdated facilities and dropping rankings compared with other law schools.

"Everybody has really come together as a result of this issue," Mowery said. "The result, whichever way it works out, is that we'll have better educational opportunities in part because we've discussed it -- with one provision, which is that the law school should remain in Carlisle."

So where does that leave the board of governors? With a tough decision that is complex and both emotionally and politically charged.

We urge the members of that board to come together Friday and Saturday with the goal of reaching the best decision.

They must see through the emotions and the politics. They must consider economic impact. And they must, most of all, consider the academic impact of both scenarios -- leaving the law school in Carlisle or moving it north.

In the end, the members of the board of governors must decide with their minds, not their hearts, which option is in the best interest of the education of future law students in the Penn State system and which option will provide the best long-term stability and opportunities for the law school overall.

And when they emerge with a decision, Penn State must be committed to living with that outcome and doing everything possible -- financially and programmatically -- to make it work.

"This is the moment for an important decision," Spanier said, "and we really hope that we can look forward 20, 40, 60 or 100 years and think about the legacy they will leave and what is the right thing to do for the thousands and thousands of graduates who will move through that law school in the future."

"I'm happy that by the 12th, we'll have a decision," Mowery said. "Thank goodness there's light at the end of this tunnel."

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