Sunday, August 15, 2004

PSU denies "back-door" plan on law school

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Carlisle upbeat about future of law school PSU denies ?back-door? plan on law school

Of The Patriot-News

Carlisle is celebrating the outcome of its nine-month battle with Penn State University over the future of The Dickinson School of Law. On Friday, Dickinson's board of governors voted 22-12 to defer Penn State's proposal to build a second law campus in State College. Instead, the 170-year-old school will embark on a $50 million campus upgrade centered around Trickett Hall.

"It's a new dawn. We have an apparent commitment to make improvements to the law school to bring it to the level of one of the top law schools in the country," said Carlisle Council President Frank Rankin.

"I'm thrilled. They're a good part of the community. They add a lot, not only economically but with wonderful people. The community should not have to lose that caliber of people," Carlisle dentist Tom Filip said during early morning errands yesterday at the Old Pomfret Street Farmers Market.

His joy was mixed with criticism for Penn State.

"Penn State has been fairly underhanded in trying to steal the law school. It's an integral part of this community. I really feel that Penn State was not up-front in their dealings," Filip said.

Ray Snyder, farmers market manager, said he was baffled by Penn State's stance that the law school would be better off in State College. He said the university is known for its satellite campuses, and that people associate the university medical center with Hershey and the law school with Carlisle. "If you said, 'Dickinson Law in Penn State,' people might say "Where's that?'"

Penn State officials since November have pushed variations of a plan to give Dickinson a stronger State College presence. They said moving the school, or a portion of it, closer to the main campus would give students more curriculum opportunities and could boost admissions and Dickinson's national ranking.

But the university needed approval from the law school's board of governors.

The governors don't run the law school. Their board, created in 2000 when Dickinson and Penn State merged, has few duties. But it can veto any plan to move the school and any change to Dickinson's name.

Penn State had offered to build a $60 million law campus in State College and contribute $10 million toward a $25 million upgrade of the Carlisle campus. But Rodney Erickson, university vice president and provost, stipulated that Penn State trustees be given the power to close the Carlisle campus if it can't survive financially.

Many law school board members balked at that potential loss of power. On Friday, they decided to defer the dual-campus option in favor of strengthen the existing campus.

But some members said a declaration of victory is premature.

Leslie Anne Miller said there's no proof that Penn State won't resurrect plans to move the school.

"One of the problems in this whole situation is lack of trust," member Sandor Yelen said. "One of the concerns is that Penn State wants to get its foot in the door ... and ease [the board] out and ... have the only law school at Penn State and [Carlisle] will be closed."

Penn State President Graham Spanier and law Dean Philip McConnaughay did not return yesterday's requests for comment. But Erickson denied any such plan.

"We would have done everything within our power to make the two- campus proposal work. It was never a back-door kind of approach," he said.

And board member Jan Jurden, a Delaware superior court judge, chastised fellow members for spurning Penn State's multimillion- dollar offer. The governors risk such damage to Dickinson that "I can't imagine continuing to serve on this board," she said.

Carlisle community members are upbeat about the law school's future.

Penn State officials have indicated university trustees are likely to approve a $10 million contribution to the $50 million improvement project for Carlisle. Plans include technological upgrades, expansion of the law library and more offices and classrooms. The trustees will discuss the project next month during a meeting on the university's five-year capital plan.

Alumni said they are optimistic $15 million can be raised from donations and charitable contributions and Gov. Ed Rendell has already promised $25 million in matching funds.

Chris Gulotta of the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority said Penn State's commitment to Carlisle will be demonstrated by a campus renovation.

Rankin said the council has begun talks on new partnerships with Penn State and the law school. He said the relationship could be modeled on interaction the town has with Dickinson College, which is not affiliated with the law school, and which has, in recent years, enhanced its community ties.

Governors board member Lewis Katz, owner of the New Jersey Nets, said it's also time for the board to strengthen its alliance with Penn State.

"Let's not lose the opportunity that [Rendell] has provided us, that Senator [Hal] Mowery and the Legislature has provided us, that Penn State has provided us," he said. "If we could all put aside our distrust ... miscommunication and the way the situation was handled so poorly will in time go away."

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