Education

Penn State will work to re-merge its law schools

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Dive Brief:

  • Pennsylvania State University aims to recombine its separately accredited law schools into one program, reversing a merger it carried out eight years ago in an effort to save resources. 
  • The unified law school, comprised of Penn State Law and Penn State Dickinson Law, will keep the Dickinson Law name, use its campus in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and be led by its current dean, Danielle Conway. 
  • Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi, who has led the institution since May, recommended the move. She’s asking a newly created panel to study unification plans. The university doesn’t expect to make any staffing changes until after that panel makes final recommendations this spring.

Dive Insight:

Penn State’s latest plans for its law schools demonstrate that university mergers and acquisitions can be the start, not the end, of decades of changes — an important point as heightened competition for students draws interest in M&A across higher ed.

The Pennsylvania flagship first voted to acquire the Dickinson School of Law in 1997, when the law school was an independent institution operating in Carlisle. That town is about 90 miles away from Penn State’s main campus in State College, but it is much closer to the state capital of Harrisburg.

Penn State opened a parallel law campus in State College and operated the institution as a single law school with two campuses from 2006 to 2014. Then in 2014, the American Bar Association approved a proposal from Penn State to split its law school into two programs — Penn State Law on the university’s main campus and Penn State Dickinson Law in Carlisle. 

Now, just eight years later, the university is seeking to end that arrangement.

Merging the two schools would allow the university to concentrate its resources and remain competitive, according to an announcement from Penn State

“Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law have been centrally funded since the inception of their separate accreditation. With these recommended changes, there would be significant savings over time, which can be reallocated into other academic units,” it said. 

Dickinson Law’s dean, Conway, will chair the panel weighing merger plans. It will announce merger recommendations at the end of the academic year and present the plan to the university’s board of trustees.

The recommendations panel will include students, employees and alumni from both of Penn State’s law schools. It will seek input from the university’s faculty senate.

The university has called off a hiring search for a new law school dean on Penn State’s main campus, given the position is unlikely to exist in the future. Victor Romero, a professor there, will take over as interim dean on Jan. 1.

Both law schools will continue to teach current students, as well as those starting in fall 2023.

Penn State will also explore new locations for its school of international affairs, which shares a location with Penn State Law. A search for an international affairs director is ongoing.

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