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Observations on the Penn State Law-Penn State Dickinson Law merger

  • Scott LaMar
Penn State Dickinson in Carlisle

Penn State Dickinson in Carlisle

Airdate: Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Penn State Dickinson Law, formerly known as the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle was founded in 1834, making it the oldest law school in Pennsylvania and one of the oldest in the country.

Penn State and Dickinson Law merged more than 20 years ago. Today, there are two separate campuses – Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law in University Park at the main campus of Penn State.

Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi has proposed merging the two law schools once again with Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle being the main hub.

Bendapudi has indicated the move would save resources and be more efficient.

The merger has been met with some criticism.

Appearing on The Spark Wednesday was a distinguished alum of what is now Penn State Dickinson Law, the president of Dickinson College and former Federal Judge John Jones. Judge Jones spoke strictly as a  Dickinson School of Law graduate and said himself that he is not an insider, but had thoughts on the proposed merger,”I think you have to look at the arc of this sort of marriage that took place in as you noted, in 1997. Back in that time, acquiring a law school was was something that made a lot of sense, I think, for Penn State University. Applications were high. Law schools were an asset. Penn State lacked one. And it made perfect sense to do that. The paradigm changed somewhat over time in the recession of 2007, 2008. Applications went down after that. And then there was really kind of a change in the legal paradigm. And so, you know, I think it’s been a bumpy ride and they’ve hit some headwinds. I’m not surprised that they’re trying to reunify the law schools simply because in higher ed today, I don’t think the economics of having two separate schools, two separate administrations, two separate sort of superstructures, if you will, two separate deeds. That doesn’t make sense to me as someone now associated with higher education. So structurally, it makes sense. But I think the the path that has been occasioned since since in the last 25 years has been one that was somewhat unexpected and a little bit meandering.”

Judge Jones added that Penn State Dickinson Law being in Carlisle means a lot of the community, “If you could test the genealogy of of a an institution, which you can’t, but you can look it up. You can see that Dickinson College was the sort of parent of the law school going back. So there’s that long sort of familial relationship between the two. But I think it adds something to the nature of Carlisle. With the college that I lead, with the law school, with the war college and so forth. It makes Carlisle a much more vibrant place. There are many people employed at the law school in Carlisle who are longtime, who have long time affiliations with the law school. So, yeah, I think it matters a great deal. And I would say, too, that for the the larger community, when I was on the bench, I always employed interns, law students from Carlisle. So the proximity to Harrisburg and to the federal bench in Harrisburg was very meaningful. And I would have to believe that that went into the president’s calculus as well.”

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