HARRISBURG Gov. Ed Rendell and lawmakers sounded off over a proposal to move Penn State's law school from its home of 169 years in Carlisle to the university's main campus, while the law school's chairman said that no decision is imminent.
The Dickinson School of Law's board of governors met Friday night and was scheduled to meet again today to discuss ideas of other locations to which the school could move, said the chairman, LeRoy S. Zimmerman.
"No decisions were made tonight, nor are any decisions anticipated throughout this weekend," Spanier said late Friday after the meeting, which was closed to the public. "The board agreed that we would establish a process to review all of the options concerning facilities and locations."
"We have an opportunity as the board of governors to talk about all of these issues that relate to these facilities and space and location and we're going to do that," Zimmerman said in a telephone interview.
No vote will be taken during the two days of closed meetings, he said.
"Unfortunately, there has been the erroneous impression that this decision had been made and it's a done deal," Zimmerman said. "That's not correct."
At some point, he said, the board hopes to involve the school's alumni, faculty and community in the decision. Options include moving to other sites in Carlisle, Zimmerman said.
He spoke after a Commonwealth Court hearing in which Judge Renee L. Cohn rejected a petition by The Sentinel of Carlisle and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg to open the board meeting to the public.
Since the possibility of the move came out a week ago, it has drawn much attention.
In a joint letter to Spanier, Gov. Ed Rendell and nine central Pennsylvania state lawmakers wrote that it does not appear that the university has considered the benefits, financial or otherwise, of keeping the school where it is.
"This proposal, and the threat it contains, has served as a call to arms across the community at large, and throughout the political leadership and the legal community in the area," they wrote in the letter Thursday.
With regard to the letter from Rendell, Spanier said, "I look forward to opportunities to speak with the governor," adding that he hopes that Rendell will be supportive of the process to determine the school's future.
Spanier also said that should the Dickinson board decide to relocate and require Penn State funds to do so, the university's board of trustees would need to approve the expenditure.
The Sentinel first reported last week that the law school's dean recommended that the board move the school to State College within five years, citing a need to expand and concerns about its "languishing reputation."
The newspaper cited a confidential memo written by the dean, Phil McConnaughay, in preparation for the board meeting.
One of the board members leaked the McConnaughay memo to the media.
An unhappy Zimmerman said, "The board (of governors) should be the first body to discuss this. Unfortunately, we were pre-empted on that."
Spanier has said he is prepared to raise $60 million to build a facility in State College for the school. The existing campus lacks adequate classrooms, faculty offices, library space, student areas, courtrooms, an auditorium and electrical power to support basic programs and technology, McConnaughay said.
Zimmerman indicated a move to State College would create an opportunity for enhancing academics and to integrate the law school into the university.
Carlisle Mayor Kirk Wilson, who noted that the school provides prestige and jobs to the town, said he believed that Spanier would likely take the letter into consideration since some of the university's money comes from the state.
"I would think that would suggest to the president and to anyone who is wise in the ways of the Legislature that we really don't want to make these people too mad at us because our continued existence relies on a good relationship with the General Assembly and the governor," Wilson said.
The letter, which was issued by the office of Sen. Harold F. Mowery, R-Cumberland, prompted a scathing response from Sen. Jake Corman, R-Spring Township, whose district includes Penn State's main campus. The school, Corman said, has weathered budget cuts in good faith while the state pares spending to fit lagging revenues.
"In return, it deserves the respect to make difficult decisions affecting the university without the cloud of public pressure and further reductions in appropriations from government officials," Corman wrote.
Founded in 1834, Dickinson is Pennsylvania's oldest law school and the fifth-oldest in the United States, according to the school. The law school, which has about 650 students, merged with Penn State in 2000.