CORRECTION: THIS STORY MISCHARACTERIZES GOV. ED RENDELL'S SUPPORT FOR A PROPOSAL TO KEEP THE LAW SCHOOL IN CARLISLE. THE GOVERNOR WILL EVALUATE THE PLAN IN LIGHT OF THE AVAILABLE RESOURCES, SAID NICK HAYS, A RENDELL SPOKESMAN.
State lawmakers are turning up the pressure to keep The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, with one legislator talking about attaching strings to state money for Penn State University to ensure the law school stays. Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, said Friday he wants to work with midstate legislators to pursue the idea of making as a condition of university funding that Penn State honor a commitment made in 1997 when PSU and the law school merged.
"Penn State publicly promised -- loudly and frequently -- that the law school would remain in Carlisle forever. ... Public institutions should honor public promises," said Maher, a Carlisle native whose father, John Maher, is a former Dickinson law school dean and mother, Joan, is a member of the law school's board of governors.
The law school's board is deciding whether to keep the school in Carlisle at its present site in Trickett Hall, which is in need of renovation and expansion, locating the school elsewhere in Carlisle or moving it to State College. The law school's dean, Philip McConnaughay, said a move to State College would not only provide more space, but would allow the law school to offer programs more in line with today's legal education trends.
The board has formed committees to examine each alternative location and is expected to make a decision on the law school's future in the coming months.
A dual-campus option that would have the school operating in Carlisle and State College has come up, but the board has not appointed a special committee to examine that alternative, said board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman.
After it became public last fall that the law school might move to Penn State's University Park campus, a group of midstate lawmakers, led by Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Cumberland, began developing strategies to keep the school in Carlisle.
Their plan seeks to secure $34 million in capital budget money to improve Trickett Hall and its parking. They have Carlisle officials on board to work with the law school on zoning ordinances required for upgrades to Trickett Hall.
They have also secured the Carlisle Health and Wellness Foundation's willingness to explore the school's use of the Carlisle Hospital, which the foundation owns, once the hospital's new facility is completed.
Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle, said he has been working with Mowery and is supportive of his efforts, as opposed to Maher's proposal to threaten Penn State's funding.
"I'm reluctant to do that," he said. "We need to stay on the offensive and stay positive and complete the efforts Sen. Mowery has begun."
Gov. Ed Rendell is on board with Mowery's effort as well. He has pledged to use state resources to keep Dickinson in Carlisle, said his spokesman Nick Hays.
Maher, however, considers Mowery's plan inadequate in light of the $60 million that Penn State has offered to build a facility at University Park to house the law school. That's why he is suggesting another string he might attach to Penn State's funding would order the university to make the $60 million available regardless of where the law school is located.
Zimmerman said legislators' efforts to keep Dickinson in Carlisle is viewed as a demonstration of their interest and not seen as an effort to pressure the board. In fact, their efforts to secure financial support for the law school will prove critical whatever the board decides, he said.
"This all began with the discussion of our need to become more competitive as a law school and, to do that, we definitely need a new law school with new facilities," Zimmerman said. It's where those facilities will be that is the issue at hand, he said.
Penn State officials are not surprised by lawmakers' efforts to try to keep the law school in Carlisle.
"We understand that and appreciate their concern," said Stephen MacCarthy, university vice president for university relations.
Still, MacCarthy voiced optimism that a majority of lawmakers will keep the best interest of all Penn State students in mind when considering proposals that might threaten the university's forthcoming state money.
As for Mowery's effort to secure funds to keep the school in Carlisle, MacCarthy suggested he is putting the cart before the horse.
"Program decisions need to take precedence and building decisions should follow program decisions," he said.