Thursday, November 20, 2003

Struggle to Control the Law School Board Begins

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

A Section

Law school governors to meet on PSU offer ; Decision about move is up to them, Spanier says

Of The Patriot-News

The president of Pennsylvania State University is prepared to raise $60 million to build a facility for The Dickinson School of Law in State College. The law school's board of governors is poised to consider the proposal at this weekend's closed-door meeting in Carlisle.

Penn State President Graham Spanier said yesterday that he has discussed the possibility with law school Dean Philip McConnaughay and university Provost Rodney A. Erickson. School officials said the Carlisle campus is saddled with overcrowded, outmoded facilities.

Spanier, who plans to attend the meetings scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday, said the decision to move the school from Carlisle rests entirely with the board. He said Penn State officials have had no further discussions about the issue.

"It would be premature to debate the pros and cons," Spanier said.

Law school board Chairman LeRoy S. Zimmerman, a former state attorney general, said discussion of what has been a wrenching proposal for the local community will take place behind closed doors.

"I think that's wise policy in order to facilitate discussion among board members," said board member Hubert X. Gilroy.

Gilroy declined to speculate on how many members of the 37- person board would endorse a move. Many live in the Carlisle area, where the proposal is drawing vocal opposition from community and business leaders as well as law students and alumni.

Yesterday, the president of Dickinson College -- which is not affiliated with the law school -- and leaders of community and business organizations informed the board that they want to be consulted before the law school's fate is decided.

"We are confident that an acceptable strategy to keep The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle can be developed that will creatively and adequately accommodate the school's future physical ... needs," they stated in a letter.

William Bellinger, a Dickinson College economics professor, estimated the community would lose 227 jobs and about $20 million in net community spending if the law school left.

Of the board members contacted this week by The Patriot-News, only G. Thomas Miller was willing to say how he is likely to vote. Miller, for whom the law school's public advocacy center is named, said he is opposed to moving the school.

"If we can find some way to solve the expansion of facilities, that must happen. I'd like to see that it stays in Carlisle," Miller said. "I plan to do everything I can to see that that happens."

Carlisle attorney Jason P. Kutulakis said he is keeping an open mind going into the meetings.

"I'm anxious to hear the actual facts of what's really going on and to gather as much information as possible about whether it's feasible to keep it in Carlisle or not," Kutulakis said yesterday.

Harrisburg attorney Christylee Peck said she is "taking it very seriously and looking forward to the meeting this weekend so we can come to a resolution."

The 1997 merger of the law school with Penn State drew vehement opposition at the time from many who feared that one of the nation's oldest independent law schools would be swallowed by the Nittany giant.
"A different location for the law school was never contemplated when we merged," Spanier said.

He said Penn State asked McConnaughay this summer to investigate options for expanding the Carlisle law school to address crowded classes and outdated facilities.

Last month, a consultant presented to the law school board four sketches for an expanded school off South College Street. But a few weeks later, after Spanier told McConnaughay the university could build a law school at University Park, the dean drafted a proposal for the board.

Zimmerman has urged the board not to make a hasty decision on whether to move the school to State College.

"We must look at all the options for the future," he said.

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