Friday, June 05, 1998

Red & White Gives Way to Blue & White

The Harrisburg Patriot
Copyright 1998

Friday, June 5, 1998


Grads 1st to wear colors of 2 schools // Dickinson law students, alumni focus on future of merger with Penn State

Jan Murphy
Patriot News

Dickinson School of Law students spent three years studying alongside each other in the classroom, but will come away from Saturday's commencement exercises with two different diplomas.

About 10 percent will walk off the platform with a diploma that states the school's former name, Dickinson School of Law.

About 85 percent will receive one that carries its new name, Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.

Five percent of the 173 graduates will take home both diplomas. Some said they wanted one for a souvenir.

In the future, Peter Glenn, dean of the Carlisle law school, said the diplomas will all go by the school's new name. Graduates also got to choose between the school's traditional red and white hood to wear for commencement and one with the new color scheme of red, blue and white. Most chose the latter, Glenn said.

?This class spent two-thirds of their time here at an independent law school and they got a special claim to the history of an independent law school,' he said.

The small private institution that long prided itself as the nation's oldest independent law school is in the throes of transition as it becomes absorbed into the massive Penn State system. The affiliation between the two institutions took effect last July but a merger will not be completed until July 2000.

Different diplomas and robes are merely two signs of the changes.

Glenn attended a Penn State board of trustees meeting last month to discuss the impact on student and faculty applications that the law school noticed following its decision to surrender its independence to become a ?missing link? in Penn State's educational offerings.

Once the Dickinson-Penn State affiliation was announced in January, the law school saw a sudden surge in the number of applications, Glenn reported. That trend continued this spring when the school received just shy of 1,200 applications for its approximately 180 slots for next year, an increase of 8 percent.

All combined, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York law schools saw an increase of only four-tenths of 1 percent this year. Nationally, the number of law school applications, on a downward slide since 1991, saw a slight upward turn of about 2 percent.

Penn State President Graham Spanier expected the university's affiliation would result in an increase in applications. He said in an earlier interview he was pleased to see ?the quality of the applicants has gone up as well.'

On the faculty front, Glenn said the law school received an overwhelming response to two teaching positions it advertised. Many of them said they were more interested in teaching there because of its affiliation with Penn State.

The law school also has made strides in increasing concurrent degree offerings to students at the university and law school. The most recent, he said, allows students to earn a law degree and one of several master's degrees in environmental pollution control. Glenn hopes to announce more of these types of collaborations by the end of summer.

?The transition has gone about as smoothly and efficiently as you could imagine such a complicated process could be,' Glenn said. ?I don't see any major problems on the horizon.'

No one denies there's still some residual opposition to the affiliation with Penn State, but Glenn and trustees say it's diminished as more information about the merger comes forth.

?I think the announcement came as something of a surprise to some of the people who weren't involved in working it out,' said Robert M. Frey, president of the law school's board of trustees. ?Naturally, when you didn't know what to expect, you have reservations. But as information was disseminated and understandings developed, the general reaction seems to be very, very favorable.'

Frey and Glenn reiterated the law school, for the most part, remains the same institution. It's in the same place. There's no immediate plans to change the size. The faculty, except for new hires, remains the same. And the school preserves its name.

Carlisle lawyer Ron Turo, an alumnus of the law school and Penn State and outspoken critic of the merger, said he thinks time will change all that. He fears pressure from prospective students who say they'd enroll in the law school if it were in State College, rather than ?backwater Carlisle,? might force the law school out of Carlisle.

?They say publicly that's not in the cards, but you don't need a lot of bricks and mortar to make a law school,' he said. '. . . I hope I'm wrong, because the law school really is an asset to the community and to Carlisle. But it's now Penn State Law, not my Dickinson School of Law, proud and independent.'

Graduating student Michelle Koontz of Bedford said she was sorry to see the law school lose its independence. It's where her father and grandfather earned their law degrees, and where her grandfather served as a trustee for 30 years.

On the other hand, she said, ?I felt it provides an opportunity to make the school more competitive. It'll make the name recognition more significant. More employers are from Penn State than just Dickinson School of Law.'

Because of her mixed feelings, Koontz, an executive board member of the school's Student Bar Association, opted to receive two diplomas -- one denoting the Penn State affiliation and one that omits it. As for the hood, she opted for the one that includes a splash of blue.

?I'm speaking at graduation so it's out of courtesy for the school I love very much,' she explained, ?and for the dean who is extremely supportive of the Penn State merger.'

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