Penn State Law Faculty Object to Proposed Merger With Penn State Dickinson Law

Two weeks ago, Pennsylvania State University President Neeli Bendapudi announced her recommendation to reunite Penn State’s two separately accredited law schools into a single institution. But on Monday, Penn State Law Faculty released a statement objecting to the proposal.

Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law at University Park would become one school called Penn State Dickinson Law, have its primary location in Carlisle and be led by Penn State Dickinson Law Dean Danielle M. Conway, according to PSU’s Nov. 29 announcement .

To launch the recommended process to reunite, Bendapudi will convene and charge a panel who will seek input from the University Faculty Senate, to study and recommend options consistent with the objectives of the unification, according to the school’s announcement.

“We, the undersigned faculty members of Penn State Law, look forward to informing the panel of the tremendous value that Penn State Law has to the University and the State College community, which would be lost if the unified law school did not maintain a significant presence in University Park,” according to the faculty statement signed by 42 law professors, including six who remained anonymous.

Founded in 1834, the Carlisle-based Dickinson School of Law—the oldest law school in Pennsylvania—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 law school until their separation in 2014, according to the November announcement.

“Since its inception in 2006, the law school at Penn State’s University Park campus has gained an international reputation with students and prospective employers and has graduated more than 2,500 students,” adding that those alumni are strong supporters of Penn State Law, according to the faculty statement.

Penn State Law’s location on the University Park campus enables it to attract students interested in studying law who also want to take advantage of interdisciplinary opportunities, the professors wrote.

Further, the law school’s location at University Park attracts faculty who are interested in interdisciplinary work, as well as faculty who have clerked for the United States Supreme Court, who are Federal Appellate and District Court Judges,” the faculty statement continues.

“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 in a November statement.

But the faculty contend that “Penn State Law has been able to recruit nationally recognized scholars, who were teaching at law schools more highly ranked than Penn State Law and who had—and will continue to have—opportunities to move to other law schools,” because of the ability to join the scholarly community at Penn State Law and the wider University Park campus.

“It will be difficult for Penn State to retain many of these highly respected scholars unless there is a significant law school presence in University Park,” the professors stated.

Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law have been centrally funded since the inception of their separate accreditation, so reuniting them would allow the university to build a stronger law school, which there would result in significant savings over time, according to the university’s November announcement .

“We recognize that there is a cost to having law schools in two locations, but given the development of Penn State’s two law schools, it has been proven that both have added value and have provided benefits to Penn State and their respective communities,” the faculty said in their statement. “We are confident that once the panel created by President Bendapudi has reviewed all the data, it will likewise see the tremendous value in the unified law school continuing to have a significant presence in University Park.”

Bendapudi’s statement said PSU 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.

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, according to the November announcement.

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