Monday, December 08, 2003

Widener Law Benefits if DSL Leaves Carlisle

Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 8, 2003


Widener dean confident of school's role

Of The Patriot-News

If The Dickinson School of Law leaves Carlisle, the midstate's other law school stands to gain a monopoly on local lawyer wannabes. And Widener University's School of Law anticipates that it could handle that role.

"If they leave, I think that our programs and graduates can serve the area," said Robert Power, dean of the law school in Susquehanna Twp.

Widener has no immediate plans to expand its enrollment beyond the 500 students it now serves, but if Dickinson leaves five years from now, Power added, "we might revisit that question."

Until recently, the possibility that Widener might become the Capital Region's only law school seemed remote.

But a memo from Dickinson's Dean Phillip J. McConnaughay indicated one way the Penn State law school could expand and address concerns about its languishing reputation is by relocating to the university's main campus in State College.

Dickinson law school's board did not rule out that possibility at a meeting late last month. Instead, it decided to seek input from alumni, students, faculty and community members about the best location for a facility to replace the law school's outdated and cramped Trickett Hall home.

Space is not an issue for Widener.

With a 21-acre campus that is mostly grass and parking lots, it has enough room to accommodate two more buildings in addition to the present three structures, Power said. But he emphasized there are no plans to construct additional facilities at present.

In fact, he said, Widener has been considering reducing enrollment over the next few years to lower class sizes in hopes of improving its students' first-time bar exam pass rate as well as becoming more selective in admission decisions.

One of the reasons Dickinson law school students and alumni cite for keeping their alma mater in Carlisle is the number of opportunities for students in the region to gain practical experience by working in state and federal government agencies.

There's no doubt, Power said, that if Dickinson law school leaves, Widener students will be in much greater demand to fill those positions.

Four of Pennsylvania's five other law schools were contacted last week and none showed any interest in establishing a presence in the midstate to help meet that demand if Dickinson law school leaves. Duquesne University did not respond to several messages.

Widener established the Susquehanna Twp. branch campus of its Delaware-based law school in 1989 in response to state lawmakers' desire to have a law school near the Capitol that offered classes where state workers could pursue a law degree after work hours.

But Widener has since found it serves a broader role.

"Many of our full-time students also have gained from the proximity to state government and choose to stay in the metropolitan area after graduation, working in private firms or with government agencies," Power said.

Power declined to offer any opinion on the relocation question that Dickinson law school faces.

"I am sure that Dickinson will be a fine law school wherever it's located," he said. "They don't need to hear from us."

JAN MURPHY: 787-3061 or jmurphy

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