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PSU law school meetings must be open

| Tuesday, July 6, 2004

HARRISBURG -- The board that runs Penn State University's law school would be required to hold its meetings in public under a bill passed by the Legislature over the weekend.

The independent governing board of Dickinson School of Law is studying the option of moving part of the school to State College and keeping part of it in Carlisle.

Much of its work on that issue has been done behind closed doors, but a bill passed by the Senate on Sunday more narrowly defined the type of "agency" that must hold public meetings to apply to the law school.

Gov. Ed Rendell has indicated he would sign the bill, which the House passed Saturday.

Two newspapers, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg and The Sentinel of Carlisle, sued to force the board to hold its meetings in public. The newspapers won in Cumberland County Court, but the decision was overturned in April by the Commonwealth Court.

The two-campus proposal came after contentious debate this spring between university officials and community leaders.

School officials first proposed moving the school -- Pennsylvania's oldest law school -- entirely from its lifelong home in Carlisle. But at a meeting in June, the law school's board voted to study the option of creating a law school with campuses in both Carlisle and State College.

Supporters of a move say staying in Carlisle would require millions of dollars in maintenance and building renovations. Moving to State College could bolster the school's reputation and allow students to take advantage of a wide variety of joint-degree programs, they have said.

Opponents maintain that the move would deliver an economic blow to Carlisle.

Law school board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman suggested the Legislature overstepped its bounds by making the open-meetings law apply to the board. He called the bill "bad public policy" and said he didn't think it was "appropriate or called for."

The law school was founded in 1834 as a department of Dickinson College, a private, liberal arts college. It became independent in 1890 and remained so until 2000, when it merged with Penn State. Under the merger agreement, the school's board is authorized to change the campus location at any time.

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