The dean of the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law will soon try his hand at running an American-style law school in China.

Philip McConnaughay has been named the next dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) in Shenzhen, China. The school was founded in 2007 and led unti last year by former University of Michigan Law School dean and former Cornell University President Jeffrey Lehman, and teaches both U.S. and Chinese law. The first class graduated in 2012.

“I think the potential of STL is being realized,” McConnaughay said in an interview on January 24. “Their graduates are helping to shape global legal services, and they are contributing to greater transnational collaboration.”

Running a law school in China will not be without its challenges, McConnaughay said. For one thing, the affordability of law school is as much an issue in China as it is the United States, he said. Moreover, administrators in Shenzhen have been unsuccessful in convincing the American Bar Association to accredit law schools outside the United States. McConnaughay plans to continue the lobbying campaign.

Moving to Shenzhen will constitute a return to Asia for McConnaughay, who practiced law in Hong Kong and Tokyo during the late 1980s and early 1990s as an attorney with Morrison & Foerster. He has worked to establish additional international partnerships with overseas law schools during his 11 years as dean at Penn State. In addition to running the law school, he has served as dean of Penn State’s School of International Affairs since 2006.

“Dean McConnaughay has been a leader in transnational legal practice and international arbitration,” said university president Rodney Erickson. “This rare opportunity for him to influence legal education on a global scale certainly speaks volumes about his expertise and skills.”

McConnaughay will assume the deanship in Shenzhen on August 1. Lehman stepped down last summer, after being named the vice chancellor of NYU’s Shanghai branch.
 
McConnaughay’s appointment caps a tumultuous seven months for Penn State and its two law campuses. Last summer, McConnaughay unveiled a plan to consolidate all 1L activities at the school’s University Park, Pa., campus in response to declining applications. (In 2000, Penn State bought the stand-alone Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., and began offering law classes at the main University Park location in 2006. Both campuses are operated by the same administration, and students may take classes at either location.)

The plan to move all 1L classes to University Park angered local leaders in Carlisle, who believed it would lead to the decline of their campus. McConnaughay backed away from that plan in November, following months of controversy. Instead, he announced, the two campuses would split into separate entities, with different administrations and different missions.

McConnaughay denied that the contention over the law school’s future prompted his departure, but said: “Do I feel better leaving Penn State now there will be a separation between the two campuses? Yes. I feel satisfied, in terms of the outcome. I think it’s positive for both campuses.”

Email: ksloan@alm.com.