A new option has surfaced in the tug-of-war over the future location of The Dickinson School of Law, one that would eliminate the need to choose between State College and Carlisle. "There's also the option of being in both locations, which I think, if we think creatively about, could hold the key," Penn State President Graham Spanier said during a meeting yesterday with The Patriot-News editorial board.
The law school's dean, Philip McConnaughay, has proposed moving the school to State College, near its parent institution, Penn State.
Penn State has offered to build a $60 million facility to house the law school. Spanier said physical and program upgrades are critical to improving Dickinson's national rankings.
The decision rests in the hands of the law school's board of governors, but several governors said last night that, while the two- campus idea surfaced during periods of brainstorming, the board has not studied it.
"That is one of many ideas that I have heard floated ... nothing specific," board member Dale F. Shughart Jr. said.
"It was never openly discussed at a meeting," board member Nathan H. Waters Jr. said.
He and other members have been studying three options for upgrading Dickinson: expand the Carlisle site, build elsewhere in the Carlisle area or move to State College.
Anthony Falvello, who is on a committee looking into expanding the school's current site on South College Street, said the group has not talked about using Dickinson's Trickett Hall as a secondary campus.
"I haven't heard any details from Penn State on that," he said.
But Spanier said yesterday that the two-campus idea has been given serious thought.
The way he described it, a structure would be built at University Park, where a substantial part of the law school would be based. Trickett Hall would be renovated to house portions of the law school program that some feel must be close to Harrisburg's state and federal courts, he said.
Technology would make it easy to communicate between campuses, he said.
Spanier predicted it could take four to six years to complete construction or renovation work for any of the options. Program changes to improve the law school and its national rankings probably would take an additional five years, he said.
?In my mind, it's more like a 10-year project to get the law school really running on all cylinders the way we'd like to position ourselves for the next era,?? Spanier said.
No decision on Dickinson's future will be decided, though, until board meetings resume.
Meetings were suspended early this month after The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle successfully argued in Cumberland County court that closing the meetings to the public would violate the state open records law. The board is appealing the ruling in Commonwealth Court.
When the board makes its decision, he is prepared to carry it out, Spanier said. He talked at length, though, about the synergy that would come from having the law school in the same location as the university's leading scholars in a host of different disciplines.
"That is one of the reasons why most of the law schools in the Big 10 are ranked in the ... top 50 in the country among the 200 or so law schools," Spanier said.
He said he is sensitive to the impact that the law school's leaving could have on Carlisle, ?but at some point, my responsibility is to take a more global statewide perspective and look at the next 10,0000 students who are going to be graduating from that law school and what's in their best interest.??
Finding a new location in Carlisle has little appeal to Spanier. Part of the reason for staying in Carlisle is the tradition and nostalgia attached to its current location, he said.
Spanier suggested that would be lost in any move, whether it was to another site in Carlisle or to State College.
Staying at Trickett Hall presents a different set of challenges. The building needs to be expanded and renovated to meet current codes, Spanier said. Doing that while keeping the law school open would be a challenge, he said.
Regardless of which direction the board takes, Spanier said he remains optimistic about the law school's future.
"We can make any solution work and will, and Penn State will be better however we come out of this," he said.