CARLISLE Dickinson School of Law, one of the oldest law schools in the nation and the only one in the state not part of a larger university, plans to merge with Pennsylvania State University.
The merger will begin this summer, pending final approval of the plan by the Penn State board of trustees on Friday. It would help the university fill what Penn State President Graham Spanier calls its lone ?missing link.??
Dickinson's board of trustees already voted Saturday to approve the merger, which would take three years to complete.
The law school, which is not affiliated with Dickinson College, would remain in Carlisle, its home since it was founded in 1834. It would be called The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University.
It would be Penn State's second major presence in the Harrisburg region, including its commonwealth campuses. Its College of Medicine is situated in Hershey, where the university also operates Hershey Medical Center.
The announcement of the proposed merger was confirmed jointly yesterday by officials at both schools, culminating years of periodic discussions. Those talks turned serious about six months ago, after getting a jump start in the fall of 1995 when Spanier and Dickinson Dean Peter G. Glenn met and talked at a Penn State football game.
By taking over an existing law school, Penn State won't add to the large number of graduates coming out of the state's seven law schools, Spanier said.
The merger also fills an obvious void in the otherwise expansive offerings of the university.
?I became president a little over a year ago,?? said Spanier. ?It seemed to me, here's Penn State, perhaps the most comprehensive university in America, with virtually every academic program represented except perhaps the most important one.??
Dickinson likely won't grow under Penn State's control, nor will it branch out to other locations, said Robert M. Frey, president of the law school's board of trustees.
Spanier called Dickinson ?one of the finest law schools in the nation.?? The performance of its graduates appears to support that claim.
Dickinson School of Law graduates do exceptionally well each year on the state's bar exam, consistently having among the highest pass rate. The school ranked first in 1995, with 86 percent of its students passing the grueling test, and second in 1996, with 87 percent.
That was the first year a new, harder exam was given. Dickinson was the only school in the state not to experience a double-digit decline in its pass rate. Three of the seven schools saw their success rates plummet by at least 20 percent.
Once the merger is approved, Penn State will become the ninth Big Ten university to have a law school. Purdue and Michigan State universities will be the only schools that do not.
As Dickinson's dean, Glenn will become a member of the Big Ten Law Board, Spanier said. He also will join Penn State's Council of Academic Deans.
The vote for the merger by Dickinson's 37-member board of trustees was nearly unanimous Saturday, according to Frey. The board will remain intact as a reconstituted board of governors with different responsibilities, Spanier said.
Dickinson's Strategic and Long-range Planning Committee recommended the merger.
?While the past is good, the past isn't good enough for the future,?? said Frey. ?We already matriculate more students from PSU than any other undergraduate school. It solidifies the relationship.??
Penn State is a natural partner, Frey said. Both schools take the same view toward students.
?Everything revolves around the student at the law school,?? he said. ?Penn State has the same culture.??
Glenn said the partnership will greatly expand resources that have been out of reach for the small law school, which has 517 students in its law degree program and a total enrollment of 530.
?We get in the front rank in technological improvement,?? he said. ?We dramatically expand our library and research capability. The really significant thing is . . . we're going to be able to expand some economies of scale.??
The school's $14,500 annual tuition likely will not come down as a result of the proposed merger, according to Spanier. Penn State does not plan to seek any state funding for the law school, he said.
What Penn State can do for Dickinson is save the school money in administrative and operating costs. Those savings could be funneled into further strengthening the college's outstanding academic program, Spanier said.
Existing joint programs with other colleges also will continue.
That includes a dual degree program created last month with Penn State Harrisburg, in which students working on their master's degree in public administration also will be able to work on a law degree at Dickinson.
Similar programs could be worked out with Penn State's medical and business schools, Spanier said, helping to make a law degree from Dickinson even more valuable.
Staff writer Charles Thompson contributed to this report.