It appears that Penn State University Dickinson School of Law’s two law campuses will be going their separate ways.
Law dean Philip McConnaughay informed students this week that the school’s campuses in University Park and Carlisle will become individual law schools with their own administration and identities by 2015.
Currently, both campuses—about a two-hour drive apart—operate under the same administration and students may take classes in either location. They are also accredited together by the American Bar Association.
The move to part was prompted by opposition from state and local lawmakers to a plan that would consolidate all first-year teaching at the University Park campus and give the Carlisle campus a greater focus on international law students and upper-level students. More international students would bring in much-needed revenue.
“In light of this political opposition, we have decided to discontinue efforts to secure approval of our 1L consolidation proposal and proceed instead with our alternative plan of separately accredited campuses of the Dickinson School of Law,” McConnaughay wrote in a letter to law school faulty. “The Dickinson School of Law will remain a single academic unit of Penn State, but each of our campuses will develop and implement separate identities, separate admissions policies, and separate educational programs, similar to Rutgers Law-Newark and Rutgers Law Camden, or Arkansas Law—Fayetteville and Arkansas—Little Rock.”
McConnaughay assured current students that they would phase in the changes over several years, and that the two schools would not issue separate degrees until after 2015.
The school put forth the initial proposal to consolidate all 1L activities in University Park this summer in response to a dramatic drop in applications and declining revenue. It enrolled 150 fewer new students this year. Moving 1Ls to the University Park campus would allow the Carlisle campus to focus more on international and upper-level students. It would not be long before international and upper-level students would outnumber the 170 J.D. students currently there, McConnaughay said.
But local leaders saw the proposal to move 1Ls to University Park as the first step in a gradual decline of the Carlisle campus. Penn State acquired the standalone Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle in 2000. By 2006, the law school was offering classes in both locations. In 2008, Penn State agreed to keep a three-year law program at Carlisle through 2025 in exchange for $25 million in state funds to upgrade that campus. The school wrapped up a $52 million improvement project there in 2010, part of which was the addition of state-of-the-art video technology that allows students to take a class even when it is being taught at the other campus.
Elected leaders opposed modifying the 2008 agreement in order to release the school from its obligation to offer 1L classes at the Carlisle campus.
McConnaughay noted that the law school is continuing negotiations with several law schools in China, Brazil, and the Middle East to launch a dual juris doctor and bachelor of laws program for international students.
Karen Sloan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.