Introducing Widener University Commonwealth Law School

With new independence comes a new name, and the former Widener Law Harrisburg school now has both.

The Susquehanna Township school will now be its own, independent campus and not an additional campus of Widener’s Delaware law school, and it will be known as the Widener University Commonwealth Law School.

The school still will be owned by Widener University of Chester County, according to the school’s president, James T. Harris III.

The American Bar Association recently approved the school’s decision to split its law schools up into two independent entities. Harris said the ABA is expected to make the announcement Friday afternoon.

The Commonwealth Law School will have similar curriculum as the Delaware campus, but will have a stronger focus in areas such as law and government, environmental law, and policy and business law than the Wilmington campus.

Harris said that is a reflection of the school’s location in the Harrisburg region and the needs of its students.

“We felt the school had matured enough to do this,” he said. “Many of our graduates now are moving into senior positions in government. Becoming independent and focusing on these areas provide great opportunities for our students.

With the new independence, the school also named a new dean who will exclusively be for the Commonwealth Law School. Previously, the law school dean shuttled between the Harrisburg and Wilmington campuses.

Christian A. Johnson has never led a school before, but he comes to the  Harrisburg area from most recently being the Hugh B. Brown Presidential Endowed Chair in Law at the University of Utah’s law school. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from the school, and he received his law degree at Columbia University.

“I think it is going to be a great benefit to the school to have one dean, here on campus at all times, to concentrate exclusively on Harrisburg,” he said this morning. “And the ABA would not have made this decision if they didn’t think we could have been successful on our own.”

Penn State Dickinson School of Law, the midstate’s other law school, went through a similar process in becoming independent last year. It won its independence, breaking away from the Penn State curriculum it had since the small, independent Carlisle school and the large University Park college merged in 2000.

Starting in the fall, the Carlisle campus still will be owned by Penn State, but it will have its own curriculum separate from Penn State’s law campus at University Park.

Commonwealth Law School’s status as an independent law school is effective July 1.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The effective date of the name change and independent date has been changed to reflect the correct date.)

Michael Sadowski

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