In a follow-up to our previous coverage on this story, Pennsylvania State University recently announced that it is going forward with its plan to divide its law school into two separately accredited schools with two distinct focuses. The university’s board of trustees approved a plan on Friday that would divide the law school between its two campuses, each seeking its own accreditation from the American Bar Association. The University Park campus would continue its focus on national law with an emphasis on research, and the Carlisle campus will have a more regional focus that will prepare students for community-based or public-sector careers. The change will not take effect until 2014.
Outgoing Penn State Dickinson School of Law dean Philip McConnaughay emphasized that both schools will remain fully part of Penn State.
According to McConnaughay, the division of the single law school into two is a way to meet the needs of the changing legal job market. “The dramatic changes over the past several years in the markets for legal service and legal education require new approaches that focus on high-quality programs, affordability, meaningful jobs for graduates and a global reach.”
The campuses will be divided in such a way that they offer curricula and opportunities that reflect the strengths of each location and teaching staff. The University Park location will turn its focus towards a more research-based curriculum, and will serve as the flagship law school for Penn State, while the Carlisle campus will focus more on community, regional, and public sector law. (Carlisle’s new focus has been determined, in part, by its proximity to Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.) By providing two different niche focuses, the school’s administrators hope to provide more specific curriculum to their students in hopes of better preparing them for the fractured legal market they will face upon graduation. Both schools will continue to be known as the Dickinson School of Law, with the names of the campuses used as a distinguisher.
The University Park Campus currently has 429 students, while the Carlisle campus has 170.
The Centre Daily Times reports that the plan to create two law schools has the complete support of the school’s board and the faculty of each campus. Professors at Carlisle had a few caveats to their support, specifically that the separation not move forward until both sites are accredited, that both campus deans would have equivalent places in the Penn State hierarchy, and that the Carlisle campus be allowed to maintain its small class sizes. These conditions were created out of the fear by some Carlisle alumni that the separation would ultimately see the University Park campus grow at the expense of the Carlisle campus.