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Extraordinary Capital Investment in New Signature Facilities for The Penn State Dickinson School of Law

Some Background

For the first 166 years of its 171 year history, the motto of The Dickinson School of Law was “proud and independent.” Founded in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and located there ever since, The Dickinson School of Law was already 21 years old in 1855 when Penn State University was founded. It is the oldest law school in Pennsylvania and the fifth oldest in the United States. Throughout its history, The Dickinson School of Law has enjoyed a remarkable tradition of its graduates going on to become leaders of the bar, of the judiciary, of government, and of business. The first United States Senator from Oregon was a graduate of The Dickinson School of Law. Minnesota’s Civil War Governor was a graduate of The Dickinson School of Law. One of the first Native Americans to attend law school graduated from The Dickinson School of Law in 1909. The law school’s first African-American student enrolled in 1911. Since that time, Dickinson School of Law graduates have included four more governors, two more U.S. Senators, more than 100 federal and state judges, including recent appointees to U.S. District Courts in Pennsylvania and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and many more top lawyers and civic and business leaders than one could name.

The first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is a DSL graduate. The first woman to serve as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is a DSL graduate. The founder of one of the nation’s leading law firms led by African-Americans is a DSL graduate. The first woman President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association is a DSL graduate. The first woman President of a division of AOL, AOL Broadband, is a DSL graduate. The first elected Attorney General of Pennsylvania is a DSL graduate. The owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team is a DSL graduate. And so on. In no small measure, this remarkable history reflects the fact that, for most of its history, The Dickinson School of Law was the top choice law school for top students from Central Pennsylvania and adjoining regions.

Unfortunately for the law school, this strong geographic preference among regional law school applicants changed abruptly beginning in the very early 1990s. In 1990, the year before U.S. News & World Report began publishing its annual survey of law schools, the law school received its traditionally high number of applications from top regional students and offered admission to fewer than 25 percent of them. By 1997, just seven years and six U.S. News surveys later, the number of applicants had dropped by almost 50 percent and the law school was offering admission to almost 60 percent of them. The top quartile LSAT and GPA scores of the law school’s entering classes dropped beneath the bottom quartile LSAT and GPA scores of entering classes only a decade earlier. Whether because of U.S. News & World Report’s annual survey, or because stand-alone independent law schools no longer were able to compete as ably for law students, or simply because the nature of competition for law students had changed, many top students stopped thinking locally when applying to law school and The Dickinson School of Law lost its traditional sustenance. The law school’s very existence was in jeopardy.

The solution was a merger of The Dickinson School of Law with The Pennsylvania State University. DSL alumni were deeply divided over the merger. Many alumni strongly opposed the merger, unaware of the competitive difficulties the law school faced and resentful that a proud and independent private institution had turned to a public land grant university for help. Even supporters of the merger were more tepid than enthusiastic, tending to underestimate, along with the opponents, the University’s scholarly and programmatic strength and depth.

In fact, Penn State University is one of the world’s preeminent research universities, a leader in innovative thought and discovery across all disciplines of knowledge and in the creation of new disciplines. Penn State is one of only a handful of research-intensive universities consistently at the top of National Science Foundation statistics on research expenditures. Several of Penn State’s graduate departments are, by peer ranking, among the top few in the world; many are among the top ten; all are top tier. Penn State University also is a “land grant” university, established to promote industrial and agricultural arts and sciences in addition to classical studies and to extend the benefits of higher education beyond the wealthy and privileged. Penn State’s flagship University Park campus provides a concentrated, intense and diverse intellectual community found only at other world-class research universities; its rich and varied cultural resources rival those of the world’s great cities. Until its merger with The Dickinson School of Law concluded in mid-2000, however, Penn State did not have a law school.

The mere fact of the merger has provided significant benefit to The Dickinson School of Law. In the few years since the merger, the diversity of the student body has more than tripled, the academic credentials of entering students have improved significantly, the numbers of applicants for admission to the law school have reached historical highs, several world-class scholars have joined the faculty, and the law school’s national rank has begun to move upward in leaps and bounds. However, all of these improvements reflect the expectation of incoming students and faculty that, as a result of its merger with Penn State University, The Dickinson School of Law would be able to provide to its students and faculty the rich curricular and programmatic opportunities characteristic of law schools integrated deeply with the curriculums and programs of the world’s leading research universities. Unfortunately, the distance between the law school’s home in Carlisle and Penn State’s University Park campus has frustrated the law school’s ability to offer these opportunities, thus threatening the law school’s ability to sustain its improvements.

Legal Education

It is the task of law schools to produce leaders as well as lawyers, to serve as gatekeepers of high professional and ethical standards, and to train lawyers who will be capable of contending with legal, policy and social developments in all areas of human endeavor. The goal of legal education is graduates who will bring to bear on complex issues and problems in all aspects of life superior analytical skills and sound judgment in seeking ethically appropriate solutions respectful of the rights of all.

Unlike most other graduate disciplines, a law school’s curriculum tends to be organized by broadly defined societal problems. For example, law schools offer classes in human rights, antitrust, corporate governance, international law, intellectual property, law and medicine, internet law, dispute resolution, law and biotechnology, and so forth. And precisely because of its problem-based organization, the law curriculum (just like law practice) draws naturally and heavily on other disciplines in the pursuit of its inquiries. Many law classes, for example, are enriched enormously by economics-based inquiries, others by cultural or area studies, others by the arts and sciences, others by psychology or industrial behavior, and so forth. The reverse also can be true, even if the relationship is not as deep. Science, engineering and the arts increasingly interface with intellectual property law, cultural studies and political science interface with international law, medicine interfaces with torts, education with disability law, and so forth.

In a major research university setting, these synergies can be pursued and delivered to law students in a variety of ways. Joint degree programs and research park internships for students are two examples; collaborative research opportunities and cross-disciplinary symposia for faculty are two more. There are other ways as well: university-based law schools regularly cross-list in their law curriculum and encourage law students to enroll (consistent with ABA standards) in non-law classes that are directly relevant to the practice of law and/or to the societal problems law students are likely to confront as jurists and civic leaders. Similarly, law professors at university-based law schools often offer advanced classes outside of the law school – e.g., intellectual property for scientists and engineers, human research principles for medical students and others – not only to enrich the curriculums of these other disciplines, but to enrich the scholarship, teaching and intellectual pursuits of law professors. University-based law schools often make joint appointments with other leading university departments of legal scholars who hold advanced degrees in other disciplines and whose non-law specialties influence their legal scholarship and teaching (and vice versa). In truth, the potential avenues of collaboration and exchange between law and other disciplines are as abundant as the ingenuity of the faculties involved.

University-based law schools also are equipped uniquely to contend with two additional developments likely to have a profound impact on legal education and law practice: the internationalization of law, and the increasing relevance to law and legal inquiry of the subject matters of science and technology.

With respect to the former, the world has now experienced well over a decade during which geographic and political boundaries no longer constrain in a significant way the flow of commerce or the practice of law. Transnational law practice is commonplace; law harmonization efforts are prolific; and developing nations the world over are moving slowly toward the rule of law. Although the demand for legal services in the United States has contracted somewhat after years of significant growth, the demand for legal services outside of the U.S. is booming and likely will continue to grow as national barriers to trade in services decline. These trends demand that legal education increasingly equip new lawyers with a deep appreciation and awareness of different cultures, different legal traditions, different expectations, and different notions of truth and justice. Former Duke University President Nan Keohane has observed that major research universities have been “stubbornly” cosmopolitan throughout their history, and that they have served as one of “the most effective forces for breaking down parochialism and isolationism.” It is difficult to conceive of an educational setting more conducive than a major research university to the exploration of the internationalization of law and legal inquiry.

At the same time, law and legal inquiry are becoming increasingly science-dependent and interdisciplinary. Courtroom practice today regularly involves scientific proof and counter-proof and extended testimony and evaluation by expert witnesses. Regulatory and policy decisions of great importance to our environment, to our health, and to our security hinge more and more on questions of cutting-edge science and technology. Industries unknown to the world only a decade ago today exploit the advances of basic research in the biological sciences and information technologies, and this development, in turn, has given new dimension and prominence to the law of intellectual property. The National Academy of Sciences recently published a report declaring “A Convergence of Science and Law.” This title captures nicely the rich and ever increasing intermingling of these fields.

No curricular or programmatic innovation ever will substitute for the analytical thinking, sound judgment, and high ethics with which law students must approach all of the problems and challenges they will confront as lawyers. But if legal education is going to keep pace with the internationalization of legal practice and the increasing intermingling of science and law, law schools must endeavor to provide law students with more interdisciplinary classes, more joint degree opportunities, more faculty with cross-disciplinary scholarly interests, more faculty with joint appointments in other disciplines, and more faculty of different nationalities. A world-class research university is an especially important and conducive environment for the pursuit of these innovations.

The Plan

The fundamental educational purpose of establishing a second campus of The Dickinson School of Law is to engage the intellectual and programmatic resources of Penn State’s University Park campus and to incorporate those resources into the curriculum and educational programs of the law school.

The essential operational requirement of a two campus Dickinson School of Law is that the two campuses operate meaningfully as a single enterprise, with a single identity, single reputation and single stature not susceptible of differentiation or variation depending on the particular campus. This requirement does not mean that both campuses must be identical in curriculum and programs; to the contrary, the curriculum and programs of each campus may and will vary, consistent with accreditation requirements, according to the interests and activities of faculty resident at each campus. This requirement does mean, however, that the intellectual, programmatic and reputational contributions of faculty at both campuses must redound to the benefit of the single enterprise The Dickinson School of Law and not simply or solely to the campus at which the sponsoring faculty reside.

Given this essential operational requirement, we expect that students overwhelmingly will apply to and select The Dickinson School of Law based on the programs, reputation and stature of the law school, not based on the programs, reputation and stature of one campus or the other. Precisely because a fundamental premise of our two campus enterprise (and of our facilities design) will be our ability to deliver much of the curriculum and programs at one campus to students residing at the other, we expect that many, perhaps even most, students will base their initial campus selection on factors largely extraneous to the law school, such as a pre-existing connection (e.g., a job or family) with one location or the other, a preference for a residential rather than institutional setting, the proximity of one campus or the other to some third location (e.g., Pittsburgh, Harrisburg or Washington, D.C.), and so forth.

To the extent that initial campus selection turns on factors relevant to the law school, we expect that preference most often will exist because of a particularly strong faculty member or program in one location or the other. This is a faculty-dependent or endowment-dependent phenomenon, not a location-dependent phenomenon, and we expect such preferences to vary over the long-term with the changing faculty and programmatic composition of each campus. A secondary basis of initial campus selection that may be location-specific is that students seeking joint degrees not offered within the law school (e.g., we ultimately expect to offer a joint J.D. or LL.M./Masters Degree in International Affairs within the law school) presumably will prefer the law school’s University Park campus on a fairly consistent basis for reasons of convenient access to the discipline of their joint degree. (The opposite choice may be true of students seeking a joint J.D./M.D., which depends on joint attendance at Penn State’s Hershey medical complex.)1

A two-campus Dickinson School of Law, like all law schools, will be dependent for its reputation and stature on individual faculty initiative and productivity. This means that neither of our two campuses will be known by a substantive theme (e.g., the “environmental law” or “health law” or “government law” campus) that exists independently of faculty resident at the campus. It may be that one campus or the other will receive an endowment sufficient to establish a center or institute of some sort and to appoint faculty at that campus with a related scholarly interest, but it still will be the interests and efforts of our faculty rather than the characteristics of each campus’s location that will drive the reputation and stature of the law school. Consequently, the law school’s building(s) at each campus should not be designed to convey a specific substantive message apart from the following, which are applicable equally to both campuses:

The Buildings

A two campus Dickinson School of Law is about engaging new resources and opportunities for all of our students. Our buildings must help dispel any impression that the creation of a second campus risks instead a dilution of resources.

A two campus Dickinson School of Law is about delivering to our students the intellectual, curricular, and experiential products of several meaningful connections made possible by our new two campus structure:

  • between two formerly separate institutions, Penn State University and The Dickinson School of Law;
  • between a law school and a research university and the multiple disciplines of study at the university;
  • between two physically separate campuses of a single law school;
  • between a law school and the practicing bar, the government and the judiciary;
  • between a law school and the communities, state, nation, and world in which it resides.

A two campus Dickinson School of Law is about connecting to commerce, to government, to public service, to the public interest, and to other academic disciplines in a way that transcends the limitations of place and time.

Our buildings must convey our serious academic purpose, in our libraries, in our study areas, in our faculty areas and in the numerous alcoves and spaces suitable for the spontaneous discussion, dialogue, debate and conversation characteristic of learning the law in an intense and virtually 24-hour-a-day/7-day-a-week academic setting.

Our buildings must facilitate and promote our sense of community, and convey our energy and vibrancy as a community of aspiring students, leading alumni, and dedicated teachers and scholars.

Our buildings must look to the past for inspiration and for the purpose of sustaining a remarkable tradition of leadership and achievement, but our buildings must not suggest that The Dickinson School of Law lives in the past. Our constant focus is the present and future of our students, our communities, our state, our nation, our world. Consequently, our buildings must be timeless and reflect the enduring character of the law.

Our buildings must convey accessibility — to knowledge, to opportunity, to justice, and to our diverse students, staff, faculty, and visitors who will make use of our law school.

Our buildings, and their most prominent interior signature spaces, must convey the importance and value of the profession of law and of The Dickinson School of Law of The Pennsylvania State University.

1This is not the same thing as saying that the law school’s University Park campus, but not the law school’s Carlisle campus, will have an inherent emphasis on interdisciplinary opportunities. Joint degrees represent only a tiny portion of the interdisciplinary opportunities and enrichment that will unfold for DSL students and the law school’s curriculum as a result of our second campus at University Park. As with the curriculum and programs of each DSL campus generally, our facilities design will enable us to deliver many of these new opportunities to students at both campuses.


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