Dickinson Law School Move Urged

By John Hilton, November 12, 2003
The Sentinel

Officials are to consider the change next week.

Dickinson School of Law (DSL) is being offered a $60-plus million new home on the Penn State campus in State College if the university's board of governors agrees to forsake Carlisle.

Board approval is the only thing that stands in the way of the proposed relocation by fall 2008.

An agreement made when the law school and the state-affiliated university were merged in 1997 says the 169-year-old school will remain in the Carlisle in perpetuity unless the governors vote to go to another site.

In a 28-page memo marked "Confidential For DSL Board Members Only" in preparation for a Nov. 21-22 board meeting, law school Dean Phil McConnaughay tells the board that the university "is prepared to assume the entire cost of a new facility without any repayment" if the law school "completes the design of a new facility within the next 12 months."

Switch recommended

In the conclusion of the report, he recommends that the board vote to change the primary location and campus to University Park

McConnaughay earlier notes university financial support "for our planned expansion would be considerably smaller for understandable reasons" if the board turns down the offer and the school remains in Carlisle.

The crux of the dean's argument favoring an exodus from the borough is strongly rooted in U.S. News and World Report magazine's third-tier ranking of the school and "a languishing reputation" that caused "DSL grads" in one firm to inform McConnaughay about "their law firm's decision not to hire any longer from our law school because of our low rank."

He also makes note of a letter from the recruiting member of another law firm advising that his firm also may reject job candidates from the school in the future.

In a cover letter, McConnaughay assures the board that this proposal hasn't been in the works since he was hired. He contends the law school has "serious, near-term facilities constraints," which he discussed with the board in October 2002. At the same time, he adds, discussion was held concerning alternate locations.

The dean outlines that he had his first discussion with university officials about support for a new facility in July of this year. Even though he says he has believed since he was hired that the law school's climb in rank depends on integrating with the university, McConnaughay contends he "did not undertake my analysis of the relation between a law school's rank and its location or advise the president and provost of my conclusions until September."

The cover letter says that university President Graham Spanier and the provost - listed on the Penn State website as Rodney Erickson - did not receive the memo until last Friday.

McConnaughay attributes "the relatively quick timetable on which the president was able to decide about financial support for a new law school facility and the sheer magnitude of his offer" to the banner year in 2003 in hiring staff and faculty, improved student and staff diversity and "a huge increase in the applicant pool."

Spanier is expected to relate his aspirations for the law school at the upcoming board meeting, according to the memorandum.

In the memorandum, McConnaughay offers information about other law schools in an effort to show that the potential exists to make Dickinson a top law school if it is on the site of "a world-class university" where students can simultaneously do research and seek other degrees in tandem with pursuit of a law degree.

Brochure touts Carlisle

A recent law school brochure headlined "The benefits of Location" points out that the Carlisle location's proximity to the state capital and several major metropolitan cities "provide numerous opportunities for school-year externships and summer employment."

The promotional material says "second- and third-year students work in private law firms, government agencies, the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal and state judiciaries during the school year and/or summer months."

The brochure goes further in saying,

* "More than 80 percent of the second-year class and 60 percent of the first-year class work in paid legal employment each summer."

* More than 90 percent of Penn State Dickinson graduates "are successfully employed nationwide or pursuing a graduate degree in the year after graduation."

In the memo, however, McConnaughay says he has "come to believe that it is largely a myth that our current students hold or even depend on a high number of location-dependent, paid part-time positions."

He adds externships are unpaid and take up eight to 10 hours of work a week for which two or three hours of academic credit are given. Eighty-one opportunities with regional judges and government offices are cited as available for about 150 students annually.

McConnaughay says students still could take advantage of them if the move takes place, since Harrisburg "is a fairly reliable 90 minutes from University Park and the completion of 322 will either shorten that time or at least make it more consistently reliable; the Carlisle-Harrisburg trip is typically about 30 minutes."

He expresses confidence other externships close to the main campus also can be developed but adds, "Many educators believe that externships and part-time jobs are a woefully inadequate substitute for professional supervised clinical opportunities and that, when externships occur in numbers as large as ours, they deprive law reviews and other student organizations of adequate student support, deprive the law school of a sense of community, and inappropriately drive student choice as to the classes they take because of the substantial amount of time externs must spend off campus."

Although Dickinson law school students had the highest rate of all Pennsylvania law schools in passing the bar exam in 2003, McConnaughay says in his memo that he is skeptical that "more than 20 or 30 percent of the offices currently offering internships in our program warrant academic credit for our students."

McConnaughay further contends that relocating the law school may not be able to wait until a building is completed because the existing facility lacks adequate classrooms, faculty offices, administrative space. library space, student areas, courtrooms, an auditorium and electrical power to support basic programs and technologies.

Fund-raising lags

As for raising money for a new facility in Carlisle, McConnaughay says a six-year campaign among alumni "yielded only $9 million in cash" and adds that "$4 million of the remaining $7 million attributed to the campaign reflects pledges that will take many additional years to realize, and approximately $3 million represents funds that cannot reasonably be counted in projecting future giving."

At this rate, the dean estimates it would take at least 20 years to raise the funds needed for a new facility.

He also says raising tuition is not an option because of the risk of becoming uncompetitive.

During a consultation, McConnaughay says, he learned that an enabling gift to raise the money has to be secured by staging a capital campaign by turning to Penn State grads who are lawyers but not Dickinson Law grads and law firms interested in naming opportunities in a new law building.

McConnaughay could not be reached for comment Tuesday night or by press-time this morning. His assistant today said he would be available for comment later in the day.

Efforts to reach board chairman LeRoy Zimmerman and several other board members were unsuccessful by press-time.


Will Dickinson law school move?

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Of Our Carlisle Bureau

CARLISLE - Officials at The Dickinson School of Law are considering moving the 169-year-old institution to State College.

The law school's board of governors is expected to weigh the proposal at a two-day meeting next week. The law school would move to Pennsylvania State University's main campus in fall 2008 if the plan is approved.

Officials point to cramped classrooms at Dickinson and a boxed-in campus.

"It's obviously very clear that the existing facilities of the law school are inadequate for the current future need," said Tysen Kendig, a spokesman for Penn State, the law school's parent institution.

"No decisions have been made or are even pending," he said, but if the governors board voted to move to State College, "Penn State would certainly provide the facility to accommodate such a move."

Supporters of the law school said yesterday that they would fight plans to move the institution.

Students and alumni said moving the school would rob would-be lawyers of real-life classrooms in the midstate's many courtrooms and law offices.

"I am aware of rumors about efforts to move the law school to the Penn State University campus. I hope they will not come to fruition. The law school belongs in Carlisle," said G. Thomas Miller, a 1948 alumnus and member of Dickinson's board of governors.

Hubert Gilroy, another board member, said no formal action is expected at next week's meeting.

Miller said few people on the 36-person board would favor the move.

LeRoy S. Zimmerman, chairman of the board, declined to comment on the proposal. "We must look at all options that are presented to us," he said.

Law school Dean Phillip J. McConnaughay was tight-lipped about what he would tell the board.

"It is not appropriate for me to comment ... until after university officials and the board have had the opportunity to deliberate and set policy in the best interests of the law school and its students, graduates, faculty and staff," he said in a statement yesterday.

McConnaughay's proposal was outlined in a confidential memo obtained by The Sentinel of Carlisle. The dean cited a need to expand and concerns about the law school's "languishing reputation."

The law school received a third-tier ranking in the annual survey of colleges and graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

The memo also mentioned university officials have had difficulty raising enough money to finance an expansion at the Carlisle campus. A six-year campaign to raise $16 million "yielded only $9 million in cash," said McConnaughay, who said he did not want to finance the expansion by increasing tuition, which is $24,300 a year.

A facility at Penn State would cost more than $60 million, but the university is prepared to pick up the cost if a design is completed within a year, McConnaughay's memo stated.

The once-independent law school -- which is not affiliated with neighboring Dickinson College -- merged with Penn State in 1997. At the time, law school and Penn State officials vowed Dickinson would remain in Carlisle.

Ron Turo, a 1981 law school alumnus, said he always suspected that was a hollow promise.

"The idea of a community-based, local law school was gone when Penn State sealed the deal. Penn State will put its law school where it wants. This is the logical conclusion to the process," he said.

Carlisle Borough Council President Steve Fishman said he was concerned about how a possible law school move would affect local businesses and community organizations.

"The financial impact is going to be devastating," Fishman said.

Robert N. Michaels, a second-year law student, said space is a problem at the school. "It's hard to find a place to plug in your laptop in the library or classroom," he said.

But Michaels, who interns for the Adams County public defender, said moving the law school would be a mistake.

It would be nearly impossible for students to find substitutes for intern opportunities available in the midstate, he said. Students work in federal, state and county courts as well as in the region's law offices.

In Dauphin County alone, there are 2,260 registered attorneys and 205 legal establishments. Centre County, home of State College, has 209 registered lawyers and 46 legal establishments.

"Not only are there more job opportunities in Harrisburg, but the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia firms have satellite offices in Harrisburg and they pay fairly well. Who has satellite offices in State College?" asked 1991 Dickinson alumna Norina Blynn of Camp Hill.

"Dickinson has been part of the legal landscape for, like, 100 years. I believe a lot of people, myself included, would be very disappointed to see Dickinson move out of town," said Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis, a 1972 alumnus and adjunct Dickinson professor.

Miller said the law school is obligated to continue its commitment to the Carlisle community.

A move for Dickinson, he said, "is far from a done deal as far as my wife and I are concerned."