Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Are the bad guys patting themselves on the back?

Central Penn Business Journal

November 11, 2005

Volume 21; Issue 47

MOVERS & SHAKERS: Coalition keeps law school in Carlisle

Doody, Angela

When Cumberland County officials heard Penn State University might close its Dickinson School of Law campus in Carlisle, a lot of behindthe-scenes shuffling took place to make sure that didn't happen.

"It was a lot of people who knew people getting in touch with people who knew people," said Carlisle Mayor Kirk Wilson.

Much local pressure was applied to university officials to keep the campus firmly planted in the borough. Many of those involved who wish to remain anonymous - made numerous phone calls to anyone in authority who they thought could help the cause, said Wilson, who was an outspoken champion in the battle.

Dickinson School of Law, which was established in 1834, is the state's oldest law school. The school merged with Penn State University in 2000.

In 2003, law school officials first considered moving the school - or a portion of it - to Penn State's main campus to give students more academic oppor tunities. It also was hoped that by moving to a major research university, the school's national ranking would improve. it also would have allowed the school to attract renowned faculty and allow existing faculty to work with other professionals in other disciplines.

"Basically our distance kept us separate from University Park," said Kelly Jones, the school's director of marketing and communications.

But Carlisle officials didn't buy into the proposal.

"We basically showed them we were not going to roll over and play dead. The school was founded in Carlisle, and we showed we were going to fight tooth and nail to keep it there," Wilson said. He noted that some studies have shown the historic law school brings in as much as $100 million a year to the local economy.

Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce, the county's Redevelopment Authority and state officials such as former state Sen. Hal Mowery (RCumberland County) worked together to make sure the law school stayed firmly rooted in the borough, Wilson said. Gov. Ed Rendell's interest and commitment of state funds were also pivotal, he noted.

The 18-month struggle ended in May when the Penn State board of trustees agreed to keep the law school in Carlisle for at least 20 more years. In exchange, Rendells office promised the university $25 million in state funding toward an upgrade of the Carlisle campus and a new law school at the University Park campus.

Penn State's two-facility proposal calls for $60 million to be spent on a new law school building at University Park and $40 million to be spent on the Carlisle campus. The law school is in the midst of a $10 million capital campaign for renovations at the existing school.

If fund-raising efforts go as planned, construction is scheduled to begin in Carlisle next summer and be completed before the 2008-09 school year, said Phil McConnaughay, dean of Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

Should the university back out of its commitment, the Dickinson Law School Association has the ability to take over the building for free and take back the name of the school. The university would also have to pay back the $25 million in state funding.

In addition to university administrators and board of trustees, Penn State President Graham B. Spanier credited the decision to upgrade the Carlisle campus to the law school's board of trustees and the Carlisle community in general.

"If I had to cite two people to feature, it would be (H. Laddie Montague Jr.), former chair of the Board of Governors of the Dickinson School of Law and our dean, Phil McConnaughay," Spanier wrote in an e-mail response.

Locally, Carlisle attorney Hubert X. Gilroy is a Dickinson School of Law alumnus and a member of its now defunct board of governors. He also gives the board of governors much of the credit in the decision.

Gilroy said the board of governors demanded that there would be no consideration of a school at State College unless the current facilities were upgraded.

"Kirk Wilson gets a Pat on the back, too. He was one of the first government representatives to make sure the governor had this on his radar screen," Gilroy said.

While much was at stake in the decision, some local officials said they understood the university's interest in moving the school. Even now, there are still some in the community who are not happy with the existing compromise, said Michelle Hornick Crowley, president of Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce its like a bad divorce: There are two sides to every story," Hornick Crowley said.

Wilson said the university's 20-year commitment is a key point to the law school's continued presence in Carlisle. In two decades, leadership will have changed, and the local school will have had more time to become a more critical part of the main campus' law program.

"We thought it belonged here because it was born here, and it should stay here because it can grow here," Wilson said.