Symbiosis: Carlisle and Dickinson School of LawCommunity sees hope in dual accreditation plan
No one in Carlisle ever wants to see the Penn State Dickinson School of Law vanish from the town it's called home since 1834.
The business community, politicians, students, alumni, legal professionals and nonprofits see the benefit of having the law school there, even if its overall attendance is small at 170 students today.
Last week, law school Dean Philip McConnaughay told students the school would drop plans to move first-year students from Carlisle to the University Park campus and instead pursue separate accreditations for the campuses. The Carlisle and University Park campuses would remain a single academic unit of Penn State but would establish separate identities, admissions policies and educational programs similar to other large law schools.
Penn State is required to continue operating a three-year law school in Carlisle until 2025 as part of an agreement with the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority for state economic development assistance.
The recent announcement is a relief for many in the Carlisle community who worried Penn State was trying to exit Carlisle through the back door by pulling first-year law students. The new plan gives hope for the school in Cumberland County, but many still wonder about its future.
Here are opinions from various stakeholders on the future of Penn State Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle:
president, Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce
"From the community's perspective, anything that changes the quality of life landscape also negatively impacts the Carlisle community. It's an impact on real estate, the consumer business and on services. … The good thing that comes out of this is that we'll still have a grad-level school here."
owner, Marjorie's Gems, Pomfret Street, Carlisle
"As a business owner, I would sorely miss them if part of the college went away. … I get both undergrads and grad students because vintage jewelry is big, and people want things that are unique."
owner, Lili's Place Country Market & Café, Pomfret Street, Carlisle
"I hope they don't change (the law school). It belongs here. We get people coming in from the law school and the college. They come in to study. Professors come in to grade papers. They come in because it's a quiet place."
Wayne F. Shade
Carlisle attorney, Dickinson School of Law alumnus '72
"Prior to the so-called merger, I sat in the basement of Trickett Hall with several of my colleagues when attempts were being made to mollify the alumni to reduce the significant opposition to it.
"(Then-President Graham) Spanier and the then-dean, Peter Glenn, got up in front of us. Spanier specifically stated that the law school would always be in Carlisle. He even went so far as to say that the law school would keep its colors, which were red and white. Nothing whatsoever was said about a second campus.
"Penn State says that it wants to give students the choice of where to attend the school and that the market will not attract students who want to matriculate in Carlisle. Is that because Penn State persists in burying Carlisle on the website and siphoning off all of the incoming students to State College? Doesn't Penn State have an affirmative obligation to encourage incoming students to choose Carlisle in order to fulfill the express promises and representations of Spanier from the beginning?
"If Penn State does not promote the two locations equally, I would have to ask whether the current scheme is only the latest artifice to implement the administration's self-fulfilling prophecies on the basis of dubious and unspecified statistics and other bootstrap data and arguments.
"If Penn State cannot afford two locations, then it should avoid further besmirching its institutional integrity by reneging on the commitments that it made, at the highest institutional levels, to Carlisle and to the alumni of our venerable institution. All that it needs to do is to honor its vows to Carlisle and the alumni in good faith."
"The impact of the law school on Central Pennsylvania in general and Cumberland County and Carlisle in particular is profound. You could assemble a brigade of judges, legislators and lawyers who have been touching people's lives every day for more than a hundred years. The great majority of us were not from this area. We were attracted to this area by the law school, and we chose to remain here to enjoy the wonderful quality of life that this area offers."
vice chairman, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners
"I'm happy to hear that Penn State has apparently agreed to honor the contractual agreement it made four years ago.
"It remains to be seen, however, how this new idea to secure separate accreditation for Carlisle and at State College will play out. I'm hopeful that the dean will follow up on our county's additional suggestion that he create a new community-based advisory committee of Dickinson School of Law alumni and other stakeholders to help guide further decisions and to help bolster the viability of the Carlisle campus in the proud tradition of what has made the Dickinson School of Law a great institution over many years…
"Many a highly skilled and top-notch attorney have come out of here and are engaged in highly successful practices of law both publicly and privately throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. It's a tradition and a program that Penn State sought to elevate itself to, in the dual campus approach, and it's a tradition and a program that Penn State should seek to maintain at both its University Park and Carlisle campuses."
chairwoman, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners
"I'm cautiously optimistic."
secretary, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners
"My take on this is, it can work, as it has elsewhere, if the university is truly committed to making it work.
"However, I am sure there is a significant segment of the community that feels the dean has been less than motivated by what is good for the Dickinson Carlisle operation, and they will remain skeptical. The recent public meeting of the Redevelopment Authority was well attended with informed citizens, including many from the Dickinson alumni community, who shared several possible options for the school, but the university does not seem willing to consider those options, many of which seemed to have a good prospect for success in preserving the school of law as a successful institution."
Daniel E. Cummins
partner, Foley, Comerford & Cummins, Scranton law firm; Dickinson School of Law alumnus '93
"I am glad to see that the consolidation plans did not go through if only for the thought that it may keep the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle alive.
"Consolidating in State College would seem to be a thinly disguised step in the direction of phasing out the Carlisle campus altogether eventually.
"I remain hopeful that that movement to phase out the Dickinson School of Law in favor of the Penn State School of Law will never be successful."
Albert H. Masland
judge; Dickinson School of Law alumnus '82; speaking for the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas bench
"Before commenting on this latest proposal, we will need to see some details on how the plan is expected to proceed. Nevertheless, improving the legal system is always a priority for the bench, so we welcome the continued presence of the law school in our community and look forward to helping it flourish with our support of its students and programs.
"Because the school is an integral and mutually beneficial part of this legal community, our ongoing participation is a given."
State Rep. Glen Grell
R-Cumberland County; Dickinson School of Law alumnus '81
"The details of the plan are a little bit sketchy. I hope (the dean) is not proposing separate but equal treatment. My concern would be resources, faculty, course offerings, other program offerings and how opportunities would be doled out between the two campuses by an administration that appears to favor University Park. I think the Carlisle campus could easily end up being the ugly stepchild doomed to fail under that type of arrangement.
"(And) it could work out very well. A Dickinson campus that gets back to its roots in producing quality lawyers that practice law in Pennsylvania … that might be a good thing. If there is two vibrant, equally funded or resourced law schools — one geared to national and international (recognition) and another as a Pennsylvania or Northeast regional law school — it could be a nice marriage."
State Rep. Stephen Bloom
R-Cumberland County; Dickinson School of Law alumnus '87
"I'm cautiously optimistic that it's a win-win for Carlisle and Penn State. It means the law school in Carlisle will begin growing again, which is a tremendous economic impact for our community. It stimulates the rental and housing market. It helps to bring customers to our growing restaurant and retail presence in Carlisle. That would be a tremendous boost for long-term stability.
"It means in some ways that the Carlisle campus will return to its roots of being a practical law school to prepare students for Pennsylvania legal practice in their communities."
deputy director of communications, Gov. Tom Corbett's office
"The Corbett Administration is opposed to waiving the requirements of the 2008 agreement between Penn State and the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority.
"We just learned today (Nov. 20) about the most recent Penn State proposal to have two separate campuses. We're examining that proposal to see if it honors the previous agreement."
Marcus McKnight III
partner, Irwin & McKnight, Carlisle law firm; president, Cumberland County Bar Association
"There is always concern (about change) because we know what Dickinson has been historically and the impact it has had on the community. To have a Dickinson campus clearly committed to doing something well, I think it would bode well for the region and Pennsylvania.
"I have no problem with the difference in philosophies (between University Park and Carlisle). There is always room for good lawyers.
"If you told me they are going back to the old regional perspective of training men and women to being good lawyers in the midstate, in Pennsylvania and across the Mid-Atlantic, I'd say 'great.' That's what we were, that's what we'd love to be again."
third-year law student, Dickinson School of Law Class of 2013, Bountiful, Utah
"I think it's great the law school gets to stay (in Carlisle). There are a lot of opportunities for students with Harrisburg so close. That's where the law firms are. I think it would be unwise to move the law school to State College. With a down economy, you want a school that teaches you the law, not just to think about law. Having the school in Carlisle allows that practical application.
"I came to Penn State for Penn State, but the fact I could come to a small town was important. I have a wife and two kids so I wanted a quiet, safe environment for them."
executive director, Carlisle Area Health & Wellness Foundation
"We're deeply encouraged by the move for accreditation. It's a significant resource for our community... (The law school's) staff offers extraordinary counsel to those in the community. If it weren't for their involvement in organizations like ours, their expertise would really be lost. The Community Law Clinic is really a gem.
"We have a graduate on our board of directors. We had a faculty director of elder law come to advise us. They're woven into the fabric of this community in ways you wouldn't always recognize. They've been around since 1834 and have changed in many ways. The accreditation will be a move forward."
"There's been an outcry of support for the law school's local presence, and that reflects its deep involvement in the community."
senior partner, Hoffmeyer & Semmelman, York; Dickinson School of Law alumnus '61
"Since I had a small part in recommending the gentleman who became the dean of the Dickinson School of Law — (who), shortly after his inauguration, announced the sale of the Dickinson School of Law to Penn State — I am particularly gratified to learn that political pressure has resulted in the decision to retain the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle.
"The many opportunities of the law school students in Carlisle — i.e. judicial clerkships, law office internships and clerkships, opportunities for employment in various departments of the Commonwealth, as well as in legal clinics — are just not present in State College.
"In addition I, as many students, chose the Dickinson School of Law because of the relatively small student body and the community aura of Carlisle. I also attended a small liberal arts college, as did, and do, many students because they don't want the atmosphere of a huge university."
Sean M. Shultz
attorney, Saidis, Sullivan & Rogers, Carlisle; Dickinson School of Law alumnus, '03
"I had applied and was admitted to several law schools. I chose the Dickinson School of Law because of the charm of this historic town, which is surrounded by bucolic landscapes while also being relatively near major cities. It seemed the best of all worlds. During law school, I was able to gain valuable experience while interning for Pennsylvania Legal Aid, and then a later internship with the Office of General Counsel under Governors Ridge and Schweiker. Those opportunities were available to me because of our proximity to Harrisburg.
"The reputation of DSL was to turn out excellent practitioners who are able to serve clients ranging from multimillion-dollar corporations to the common person looking for fair access to the justice system. The school has churned out judges, senators and governors along with successful entrepreneurs and practitioners.
"So, I am elated that the law school will remain in Carlisle. I was skeptical about Penn State's motives. My time at the school (2000-2003) was a period of transition, and you could see the administration starting to head in a very different direction. Just two years after I graduated, I found myself as a member of borough council fighting to keep the school in town.
"By 2005, even after the compromise was struck, there was little doubt in my mind that the long-term plan of Penn State was to close the campus in Carlisle, allowing it to wither on the vine while eventually consolidating everything at University Park. That said, I can appreciate the difficult economics that Penn State is facing. I simply wish the administration would have been much more forthright through the years.
"From the sound of it, this new option of dual accreditation is intriguing. It may turn out to be a win-win by giving Penn State an additional asset that will presumably have more value at the end of the term of the agreement. I still believe that the long-term plan of Penn State is to unload the Carlisle campus as soon as it is feasible unless the economic reality of the arrangement takes a drastic turn for the better in the coming years…
"I can envision a scenario where Penn State markets successful, unique niches for each campus … Nothing would make me happier than to see them all succeed together."
Shandra S. Kisailus
third-year law student, Dickinson School of Law Class of 2013; member, Friends of Dickinson School of Law, a group of concerned students, recent graduates and community members with about 24 signatories
"The fact is, there is contraction in many markets today, not just in the legal market. The new proposal by Dean McConnaughay, and presumably sanctioned and blessed by Penn State University, no more addresses the issue than the dean's initial proposal. We would ask, how does this new plan specifically address market contraction while still addressing the much-publicized financial issues put forth by the dean that precipitated the need for consolidation in the first place? Once this has been answered, based on data which can, of course, be reviewed, we can possibly offer a more supportive voice. At this time, our role is not to approve or disapprove any of the dean's proposals; rather, we are in a position to support or not support based on the perspectives and voices of our constituents and members.
"The Friends of Dickinson School of Law seeks to engage in a collaborative effort with Dean McConnaughay and Penn State University and represent the people and community that was never engaged in the first place. We feel that if the dean and Penn State wish to conduct discussions with our group on behalf of those that we represent, we will be able to develop solutions or a transition plan that will allow both campuses under the current structure or under a separated structure to be equally competitive, and develop legal professionals in a way that supports the needs of the market as well as develops new market opportunities."
Exactly what separately accredited campuses will look like is going to be the decision of their respective faculties and administrations, according to Penn State Dickinson School of Law Dean Philip McConnaughay. But he has some ideas.
"I expect that the difference will express itself in Carlisle adhering to the traditional focus of the Dickinson School of Law before the merger, which was a very strong regional presence focusing on the needs of the region and Central Pennsylvania," he said.
By contrast, he expects the University Park campus to increasingly resemble the law schools "at the very best research universities across the United States," with a more national and international focus.
"There will be overlaps between them," he said of the campus focuses. "Our law school desires to train students to excel in any endeavor they choose. That's what I hope both law schools will be able to achieve."
McConnaughay said he thinks the faculty will largely choose to stay at their current locations, with a few additions, and that there will be some ongoing collaboration and curricular exchange between the campuses.
Currently, the Carlisle campus has about 170 students. Under the new plan, which would fully phase in only for the graduating Class of 2016 or later, McConnaughay said Carlisle would probably relax its LSAT and GPA admissions standards a bit and consequently expand to about 300 students.
There is not currently a tuition differential between the campuses, but McConnaughay said it might be in the Carlisle campus's interests to work toward one.
The unified law school has been operating at a deficit of millions of dollars a year since the two-campus structure started in 2006, which the university has been subsidizing, McConnaughay said. Under the new plan, he expects that each campus would have to run largely on the sum of its own tuition, program and endowment revenue.
"I think this structure will allow us to retire the subsidy and each campus will make it on its own," McConnaughay said.
The unified school had been discussing program possibilities with law schools in China, Brazil and the Middle East, and McConnaughay said whether the Carlisle campus pursues that option will be up to its faculty and staff.
Penn State Law graduates by the numbers
189: The average graduating class size between 2008 and 2011 at Penn State Law.*
81 percent: The number of employed graduates nine months after graduation over the last four years.
41 percent: The number of 2011 graduates who landed jobs with law firms; 37 percent of those ended up in firms with two to 10 people. During the last four years, 38 percent of Penn State Law graduates have found work with law firms.
16.25 percent: The four-year average for graduates who have ended up in business and industry after graduating from Penn State Law.
37 percent: The number of 2011 graduates who reported their starting salaries.
$50,000: The median income reported by 2011 graduates. The median for private practice attorneys was $65,000.
66.75 percent: The Mid-Atlantic region of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania has retained more than 60 percent of Penn State Law graduates during the last four years. The four-year high was in 2010, when 74 percent of graduates nine months out of school said they were living in the Mid-Atlantic. The average has been nearly 67 percent during that span.
21.75 percent: The South Atlantic states of Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, plus Washington, D.C., have attracted nearly 22 percent of Penn State Law graduates during the last four years.
*All graduate survey data is reported on a unified basis between the University Park and Carlisle campuses.
Source: Penn State Law