Three months after the merger between The Dickinson School of Law and Penn State University fell on the rocks, law school governors say they might want to reconcile. During a meeting of the law school's board of governors yesterday, the board agreed on a resolution to again examine the possibility of establishing a second campus in State College.
Penn State and Dickinson merged seven years ago as the law school sought to improve its reputation and standing and Penn State filled a hole in its academic offerings.
In August, Penn State suggested opening a second campus in State College. The law school board then voted 22-11 to shelve the two- campus proposal and urged the launch of a $50 million renovation of the law school in Carlisle. Penn State had committed $10 million for the project, leading Carlisle leaders to worry the State College campus would replace the Carlisle site.
In September, Penn State suggested Dickinson College take over the law school.
Yesterday's meeting of the board that oversees the law school was the first indication that the law school or Penn State wanted to mend the relationship.
"We are in need of finality. We are in need of direction," said Michael Eakin, a board member and state Supreme Court justice, who sponsored the motion, which passed 26-4.
Under the resolution, board chairman H. Laddie Montague Jr. would appoint a team of board members to negotiate with Penn State officials.
"I believe the two-campus scenario is the best of both worlds," said Montague, of Philadelphia. "I believe it will flourish."
The board rejected an attempt to include language in the resolution insisting that Carlisle should remain the main campus of the law school and house the office of the dean if a second campus in State College is approved.
Montague said that the point could be negotiated between the law school and Penn State but that it would be considered a "deal killer" by the university if it was included in the resolution.
Penn State runs the law school, but the law school board of governors can veto any plan to move it or change its name under the merger agreement.
Also defeated was another attempt to insist that Penn State fully pay for upgrades to the Carlisle campus, including a new building, before any construction of a law school in State College could begin.
Montague added that Dickinson College officials have "backed off" in their interest to take over the law school while it continues negotiations with Penn State, but has not "backed away." Officials from Penn State and Dickinson College, which isn't affiliated with the law school, were not at yesterday's meeting.
Board member G. Thomas Miller of Harrisburg, who voted against the motion to examine a second campus, said he favored the Dickinson College option.
"I think that's where our true future lies," he said.
Board member Donald C. Taylor of Wilmington, Del., said the law school should focus on what's best for the students and what they called the law school's sagging reputation.
"If I were a student, I would love the opportunity to go to both campuses," Taylor said.
Eakin, a former Cumberland County district attorney, said prospective students would decide which campus was the main campus when they applied to the law school and were given the choice of where to attend.
"If the law school cannot flourish in Carlisle, it should fade away," Eakin said.
Word of the board of governors' decision took both Penn State officials and local leaders by surprise.
Penn State spokesman Steve MacCarthy said he had not seen the board's proposal and could not comment on it.
Carlisle Mayor Kirk Wilson said he was "shocked and confused" by the board's move.
"I still think Carlisle and Dickinson College are a better fit for the law school," Wilson said.