Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Eight Years After Splitting Law School Between Two Locations, Penn State President Proposes Reunification In Carlisle To Help Close Budget Deficit

Penn State News, President Bendapudi Recommends Reuniting Penn State’s Two Law Schools:

Penn State Law (2022)President Neeli Bendapudi is recommending that Penn State reunite its two separately accredited law schools, Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law at University Park, into a single law school. The united school would be called Penn State Dickinson Law, have its primary location in Carlisle, and be led by Penn State Dickinson Law Dean Danielle M. Conway.

Penn State has canceled the dean search for Penn State Law, as it would not have been appropriate to bring on a new permanent dean at this time given the recommendation to reunite the two law schools. Victor Romero, Penn State Law professor and Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, has been appointed as interim dean of Penn State Law, effective Jan. 1. Romero will replace Interim Dean and retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James W. Houck, who has served as interim dean since August 2021, and will return to the faculty at his request.

Reuniting the two schools allows the University to advance legal education at Penn State and offer law students a more robust law school experience. With an extremely competitive marketplace for legal education and nine law schools in Pennsylvania, the University’s current two-law-school model is not the best approach for achieving excellence in legal education. Ultimately, concentrating its resources on a single school would allow the University to build a stronger law school. Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law have been centrally funded since the inception of their separate accreditation. With these recommended changes, there would be significant savings over time, which can be reallocated into other academic units. 

To launch the recommended process to reunite, Bendapudi will convene and charge a panel to study and then recommend options consistent with the objectives of the unification. The panel also will seek input from the University Faculty Senate and the recommendation regarding the structure of the united law school will go before the Board of Trustees. The panel, which will include representation from the students, faculty, staff and alumni of Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law, will be chaired by Conway, with Romero serving as the panel’s vice chair.

Penn State is committed to fully supporting all current students as well as students enrolling in the fall 2023 semester with legal education in Carlisle and University Park, including complete bar exam preparation and job placement support.

“Both Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law have been successful in delivering their outstanding programs of legal education since their separate accreditation; however, it’s clear that bringing Penn State’s two law schools back together as one is the best way to serve law students and, I believe, the right path forward for legal education, including teaching, scholarship, service and community, at Penn State,” Bendapudi said. “I want our law students to know that we are fully committed to you. As we evolve, you will continue to receive an outstanding, fully accredited legal education, as well as professional development opportunities, at your current campus, through graduation. For our faculty and staff, we recognize your tremendous talent and dedication to this University, and we will work closely with you throughout this process.”

No changes in the current faculty and staff at Penn State Dickinson Law or Penn State Law would be made by the University administration until the panel makes its final recommendations at the end of the spring semester and after all final approvals have been attained.

In addition, the School of International Affairs (SIA), which is currently co-located with Penn State Law in University Park, will remain largely unchanged, however, the University will explore relocating SIA to a new home within the University. The search for a permanent director of SIA will continue, and timing and details will be shared with the school’s students, faculty and staff.

“The Board of Trustees is deeply committed to the mission and vision of Penn State. In keeping with our land-grant mission, we strongly believe in the transformative power of education and its impact throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. This commitment includes ongoing discussions and careful analysis to define the proper scope and structure of our two law schools,” said Matthew Schuyler, chair of the Board of Trustees. “The board supports the consideration of reuniting our two law schools into one, as this outcome would likely enhance the University’s legal education offerings, while helping to achieve the broader goal of being effective stewards of our resources.” 

Legal education at Penn State
The oldest law school in Pennsylvania, the Dickinson School of Law was founded in 1834 and merged with Penn State in 1997. In 2006, the Dickinson School of Law University Park campus opened, and the two campuses operated as a single, united, two-campus law school until their separation into two, separately accredited law schools — Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law at University Park — beginning in 2014. The two schools admitted their first distinctly separate J.D. classes in fall 2015. There are currently nine accredited law schools in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Philadelphia Inquirer, Penn State May Reunite Its Two Law Schools in Carlisle and University Park:

As Pennsylvania State University continues to face a deficit, president Neeli Bendapudi recommended Tuesday a reunification of its two law schools, one in Carlisle and the other at University Park, which were split just eight years ago.

Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle — the oldest law school in Pennsylvania — would remain as the primary site, led by its current dean, Danielle M. Conway, Bendapudi said. Over time, she said, the move would generate “significant savings” — though she declined to project just how much — that could be pumped into other academic programs.

While savings is a factor — the university has pledged to close a $140 million deficit over the next two years — it’s not the primary factor, she said.

“As I started to look at it along with the senior leadership team here, it became increasingly evident that the two-law school model where we have two units competing with one another under the Penn State umbrella is not the best approach,” Bendapudi said. “Concentrating our resources would allow us to build a much stronger law school and actually offer students a much more robust experience.”

Whether any law school programming would remain at University Park or what would happen with the imposing, $60 million Lewis Katz Building, erected in 2009 as a home for the school, is uncertain. She is setting up a committee to study how the combination would occur, with a report due in six months. The plan would be subject to approval by Penn State’s board of trustees and the American Bar Association, and even after that approval, she estimated it would take 18 months to two years for the change to take effect. ...

Penn State acquired the Dickinson School of Law in 1997, for the first time giving the state flagship university a law school. It opened a second campus of Dickinson Law at University Park in 2006, with the two operating under one umbrella. Then in 2015, after a plan to discontinue offering first-year courses at the Dickinson campus was rejected by Gov. Tom Corbett and the Cumberland County Commissioners, the university created the two separate law schools., Penn State President Proposes Reuniting Its Two Law Schools

Penn State Dickinson currently ranks 58th in U.S. News and Penn State University Park ranks 64th.

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