Patriot-News corrects story about Penn State law school on front page

The Patriot-News | The Sentinel | Penn State Law | Above the Law

On Thursday The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., ran a front-page correction:

The Patriot-News incorrectly reported that the Penn State Dickinson School of Law is taking measures that would close the campus in Carlisle. School officials say they intend to keep the Carlisle campus operating. Also, the story incorrectly reported that the steps could cause the Carlisle campus to lose its accreditation. The law school has campuses in Carlisle and State College, and the American Bar Association accreditation reflects the entire law school.

Thursday's Patriot-News front page, courtesy the Newseum. Click to see larger image.

The note also perches atop the original story online. Ron Southwick, city editor at The Patriot-News, told The Sentinel's Stacy Brown:

“We feel the bulk of the story is accurate. There is a memo that describes a couple of options which people have concerns about,” Southwick said. “There were a couple of mistakes that we made. For example, the memo we obtained does not say that they would do away with the Carlisle campus. There was also mention in the story about the school losing its accreditation, which is a minor mistake.”

Penn State's Carlisle campus is about 90 miles down the General Potter Highway from State College. Elizabeth Gibson's story alludes to some tension in that arrangement:

The two-campus arrangement was approved in 2005 in drawn-out, heated negotiations after Penn State proposed moving the law school from Carlisle to State College. The university received a $25 million state grant on the condition it maintain two fully accredited campuses through June 2025.

Penn State Law published some of the email correspondence between Gibson and the school's dean, Philip J. McConnaughay, during the course of her reporting. At one point, McConnaughay said the school was not planning to leaving Carlisle:

None of the options under consideration (and there are more than two, as you seem to assume) contemplate not maintaining a vibrant and substantial law school campus in Carlisle. Most of the options, in fact, contemplate a more robust mix of legal education programs in Carlisle.

And Above the Law Editor Elie Mystal says the accreditation thing -- which a Penn State spokesperson told The Sentinel was "pure fabrication” -- could have been reported out:

Threaten accreditation? From the ABA? Really? Yesterday we just reported on a law school that lied directly to the ABA for years, and their accreditation was not “threatened.” Anybody who actually pays attention to the ABA knows that it is highly unlikely that Penn State could do anything to threaten its own accreditation.

In her Patriot-News story, Gibson picks at what she calls the "scab from still-healing law school alumni and officials who fought plans in 2003 to close the Carlisle facility." She describes how the law school aimed to deal with declining enrollment, including one proposal that involved "eliminating the program for first-year students in Carlisle."

One former law school board member told Gibson he thought the school was trying to save money to pay the $60 million NCAA fine imposed on Penn State due to its handling of sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a notion denied by a Penn State spokesperson.

In a subsequent piece interpolating the correction, Gibson outlines "what is known about the law school’s plans and the concerns of critics."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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