Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Will Penn State Law School Lose Accreditation for Carlisle Campus in Wake of Sandusky Scandal?

Penn State LogoHarrisburg Patriot News, Penn State Considering Moves that Threaten Dickinson School of Law's Accreditation:

Did Penn State University learn nothing about transparency during the last eight months during the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and related fallout?

An internal memo obtained by The Patriot-News outlines at least one measure that would do away with the Dickinson School of Law’s two-campus operation and make other changes. Professors who voted on the proposals have been told not to publicly discuss them. And an advisory board, charged with ensuring Penn State meets terms of an agreement to maintain two law campuses, won’t comment.

The two-campus arrangement was approved in 2005 in drawn-out, heated negotiations after Penn State proposed moving the law school from Carlisle to State College. The university received a $25 million state grant on the condition it maintain two fully accredited campuses through June 2025.

The secretive approach to such a change couldn’t come at a worse time, said Jason Kutulakis, a law school alum and former member of law school board. “It’s outrageous that Penn State, after the mishandling of the Sandusky case, wants to go out on a limb and breach a contract,” Kutulakis said. It raises serious doubts about the university’s sincerity in the wake of promises for transparency, Kutulakis said.

In the memo, Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay, said that at least one money-saving proposal would require a waiver from the advisory board. That option calls for eliminating the program for first-year students in Carlisle. Instead, those students would attend classes only in State College. The memo said the option “better serves the long-term interests of the law school.” Among advantages he cites is a potential boost in rankings because the two-campus operation would “finally... make sense to academic observers.”

Another option would require all students to spend one semester or longer in State College. Students now can elect to study at either campus. McConnaughay said in the memo that such a change would not require a contract waiver.

The changes mean the Carlisle campus could lose accreditation. ...

[Kutulakis] said he suspects Penn State seeks to use money saved in law school cuts toward a $60 million fine imposed by the NCAA and other costs associated with the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. ...

If Penn State moves forward on changes that violate its two-campus agreement, it wasn’t clear what, if any, type of sanctions the school might face.

(Hat Tip: Above the Law.)

Update:  Penn State has issued this response:

The Harrisburg Patriot News, Libby Gibson reporting, has published an article alleging that the law school is considering "doing away with its two campus operation" and that the law school's accreditation is "threatened" as a result.  These reports are false.  Here is what the Patriot News left unreported, despite asking Dean McConnaughay to respond to an anonymous report about challenges that have been discussed openly at the law school with all faculty, all staff, and the law school's alumni Board of Counselors: 

Hi Libby,
I'm [not in the office at the moment].  If you'd email your questions I'll be happy to answer. The downturn in JD applications and JD students is a national phenomenon, affecting all law schools, not just PSU and certainly not just Carlisle. We are responding responsibly by reducing the size of our JD class so that we continue to have students of superior credentials and so that our graduates have a greater probability of securing meaningful work upon graduation. At the same time, we are enlarging the scope of our high quality educational programs other than JD legal education, such as our LLM program and shorter term professional education programs for US. and foreign judges, lawyers and other professionals.  Carlisle is likely to be the principal location of many of these efforts, just as it is the location in which we currently are expanding our international affairs curriculum. So, even though Penn State's Dickinson School of Law, like many other top law schools across the nation, is reducing the size of our JD program and population in response to national trends, we are increasing the size and role of other law school educational programs, including in Carlisle. It would be false to portray this change in the mix of our activities as anything other than strengthening The Dickinson School of Law, including in Carlisle.  Phil
From: McConnaughay, Philip
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 2:40 PM
To: ''
Cc: Foreman, Ellen; ''; ''
Subject: RE: law school story
The law school is engaged in internal discussions about how best to respond to the national decline in J.D. degree applicants and to the increasingly fierce competition among the best law schools for the dwindling pool of especially talented J.D. applicants. 
Part of our response will be to decrease the size of our J.D. student population for the reasons I mentioned in my email [above]; exactly how we implement and achieve this reduction is an open question still under discussion.  Another part of our response will be to lower our operating expenses by reducing program and staffing duplication between our campuses and consolidating certain aspects of our J.D. program at one campus or the other. 
None of the options under consideration (and there are more than two, as you seem to assume) contemplate not maintaining a vibrant and substantial law school campus in Carlisle.  Most of the options, in fact, contemplate a more robust mix of legal education programs in Carlisle.
The only real “big news,” to use your phrase, in the possibility of consolidating certain aspects of our J.D. program at one campus or the other, is that a degree of consolidation would help free-up law school resources and personnel currently dedicated to duplicated aspects of our J.D. program and enable us to devote them instead to other high quality legal education programs, such as professional and international education, that would generate revenue and hopefully help save jobs at both of our campuses that otherwise would be threatened by declining J.D. tuition revenues.
Were the law school not to reduce the size of its J.D. population in response to the dramatic decline in J.D. applications nationally, the academic credentials of our incoming students would fall appreciably, our ability to find meaningful employment for all of our graduates would diminish, more law school graduates would graduate with high debt and no work, the reputation and stature of the law school would decline, and our best faculty and administrators would leave.  This would disserve our students, our alumni, the law school, the University and Carlisle.

Update: Penn State: Proposed Changes Won't Close Carlisle Campus, Threaten ABA Accreditation

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Will Penn State Law School Lose Accreditation for Carlisle Campus in Wake of Sandusky Scandal?: