Penn State students received an all-school email at 6:06 p.m. on Monday announcing an “important meeting” the next day at 1 p.m. No further details. Not exactly the sort of anxiety-inducing event to drop on students a week before finals. There had been an ongoing search for a new dean… maybe that was it?
In fact, the dean search has been canceled. Instead, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi announced that the two law schools in the system: Penn State Law at University Park and Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle will be combined into a single law school. The shell-shocked audience had 10 minutes to ask any questions they had over the news they hadn’t begun to process. The president then left “at 1:20 on the dot” according to a Penn State student on Reddit.
The Penn Live article on this opens with: “Penn State believes it has two good law schools. It would like to have one excellent one.” That may be the university’s spin, but that’s not how this works. If you combine one law school ranking in the high 50s and a law school ranking in the low 60s you get… probably just one law school in the high 50s.
Combining the law schools offers the school potential cost-savings. But it would also pose revenue problems because it’s not like you can magically plop another 300 students on either existing campus. Will the combined school shrink accordingly? Will they have to throw money at bigger facilities? Are they shedding faculty?
There aren’t a lot of answers to those questions yet. Penn State Dickinson Law Dean Danielle Conway will be heading up a committee to hash all that out over the coming months. But whatever the final plan, the announcement made clear that the intention — after 20 years of efforts to shift the balance of law school power closer to the main Penn State campus — is to build the new, unified law school around Dickinson’s Carlisle location.
But the real question is “why now?” The university is now saying that this has been in the offing for six months. It doesn’t seem as though the school is any closer to a final proposal now than it would’ve been in September. Or, for that matter, any closer than it will be in two weeks when everyone’s done with finals. There’s just no reason to put this out now and certainly no reason to put it out with all this cloak and dagger nonsense.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.