Just as members of The Dickinson School of Law's governors board were ready to say whether the school should be rebuilt in Carlisle or move to State College, Penn State President Graham Spanier suggested they do both. In a surprising last-minute offer, Spanier gave the board a proposal for a two-campus operation. He said it would be the nation's first unified law school with two locations.
Spanier said the proposal was put together just days ago, but promises to be ground-breaking.
"This is going to be on the forefront of legal education nationally," Spanier said.
The idea of a dual campus had surfaced earlier but that plan called for the main law campus and student body to be in State College and a public law center that would cater more to local and state officials to be housed in Carlisle.
Gov. Ed Rendell joined Spanier in presenting the plan to the board yesterday, and Rendell pledged $10 million toward a renovation of Dickinson's Carlisle campus.
Ten million dollars in state money, $10 million from Penn State and $5 million gained through locally sponsored grants and donations would be used to renovate Carlisle's Trickett Hall to house 300 students, 20 professors and a full program enhanced by continued public law internships.
University Park would get a $60 million law school facility that would hold 450 students, 30 faculty and a law program that would highlight chances for students to specialize their law degree in business, finance, science and other areas.
Both campuses would be equipped with the latest technology for interaction, thereby rendering the distance between the campuses insignificant, Spanier said.
Students would have the chance to split their study time between Carlisle and State College, he said.
Board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman said he would urge his board to support the proposal.
"I think they're very interested in it," Zimmerman said.
He said the board has a lot of questions about how faculty, administrators and other law school resources would be shared between the two campuses. No member has dismissed the proposal, he said.
"There are many issues that need to be threaded through," Zimmerman said.
As a result of the development, the board won't be ready to make a decision on the proposal today, he said.
Nearly every board member, including Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, was expected to attend the board's meeting today.
But, instead of casting a landmark vote as had been expected, members will begin to sift through the pros and cons of a two- campus school.
The proposal would set aside seven months of local furor over the possibility of losing the law school to State College.
It could also bring to an end academic arguments over whether law students benefit more from the plentiful internship opportunities they get in and around Carlisle than they would from being exposed to many new areas of research and study on a large university campus.
"I think it's a win-win in every aspect," Zimmerman said.
"It's almost historic in terms of the opportunities it presents," said Dickinson Dean Philip McConnaughay.
"It will be of enormous benefit to our law school, our students and our community," he said.