Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi is recommending that the university reunite its two separately accredited law schools into one.
Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law at University Park would become Penn State Dickinson Law, with its primary location in Carlisle and led by current Dickinson Law Dean Danielle Conway.
From 2006 to 2014, Penn State Dickinson School of Law operated as one school with two campuses before being split into separate accredited law schools, a move a university official said at the time would allow them to “more flexibly respond to the needs of law students entering a rapidly changing legal profession.”
According to a university news release on Tuesday, the current two-school model “is not the best approach for achieving excellence in legal education,” in a competitive market that includes nine law schools in Pennsylvania. Concentrating resources would “build a stronger law school” would result in “significant savings over time,” the university said.
How the reunification will work is still to be determined and it’s unclear what changes would come to the two campuses. A panel convened by Bendapudi will develop a plan for executing the process and will include input from the University Faculty Senate, with recommendations expected by the end of the spring semester.
In response to a question about whether the proposal could result in the closure of either law school campus, university spokesperson Wyatt DuBois said it “is a unifying effort, not a closure.”
“As stated in the release, the president’s recommendation is that the united school would be called Penn State Dickinson Law and have its primary location in Carlisle,” DuBois said. “The panel she is convening will do an analysis and come up with another recommendation or recommendations that will determine what this unification looks like.”
A final plan will need to be approved by the Board of Trustees and the American Bar Association.
“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 statement.
Board of Trustees Chair Matthew Schuyler spoke favorably about the proposal.
“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,” Schuyler said in a statement. “This commitment includes ongoing discussions and careful analysis to define the proper scope and structure of our two law schools. 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.”
Current students and those enrolling in fall 2023 will continue to receive full legal education at their campus of enrollment, including bar preparation and job placement services.
As a result of Bendapudi’s proposal, Penn State has canceled the search for a new dean of Penn State Law. Professor Victor Romero will serve as interim dean beginning Jan. 1, replacing U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James W. Houck, who has served as interim dean since August 2021 and is returning to the faculty. University administration will not make any changes to the current faculty and staff at Penn State Dickinson Law or Penn State Law at University Park until after the panel makes its final recommendations.
Penn State’s School of International Affairs, which is co-located with the University Park law school, is expected to remain largely unchanged, though the university will explore moving it to a new academic home, according to the release. The search for a permanent director of the school will continue.
Dickinson Law, founded in 1834, is Pennsylvania’s oldest law school and operated independently from 1890 until a merger with Penn State that began in 1997 and was completed in 2000, giving the commonwealth’s flagship university a law school for the first time. In 2006, Penn State began offering law school classes at the University Park campus under the Penn State Dickinson School of Law umbrella until the two campuses were approved as separately accredited law schools by the ABA in 2014.