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Southern New England School of Law may donate assets to UMass Dartmouth and become the first public law school in Mass.

n.snelsThe University of Massachusetts recently reentered discussions to add a public law school nearly four years after a similar proposal was approved by the Board of Trustees only to be rejected several months later by the state higher education board.

Trustees approved the addition of Southern New England School of Law (SNESL) to the UMass system in late 2004, a measure which would have removed Massachusetts from a list of six states in the country without a public law school. However, amid controversy, higher education officials voted against approving the plan the following spring.

Last month, the idea was revived when Dartmouth-based SNESL offered to discuss a potential donation of its assets to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Under the terms of the possible donation, expressed in an Oct. 5 letter from the law school’s Board of Trustees Chair Margaret D. Xifaras to University President Jack M. Wilson, UMass would receive a total offer valued at $22.6 million between cash assets and the law school’s campus that now houses 235 students, according to a statement from University officials.

Wilson said in the statement the University would launch a comprehensive review process of what he called “a very generous offer.”

He said he has asked officials at UMass Dartmouth to review the relevant academic, financial and legal issues and to put forward a proposal based on SNESL’s donation letter. Wilson added that UMass system officials would then engage in an extensive due-diligence review process.

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack, who described the potential donation offer as “extraordinarily generous,” said in the statement, “We have a wonderful chance to expand higher education opportunity in Massachusetts by accepting this historic donation and building an innovative public law school that offers an excellent and affordable education for students.”

According to the statement from University officials, Xifaras wrote in her letter, “Our aspiration and objective is to resource and empower the University to carry forward with our historic mission and commitment to provide affordable, accessible and excellent legal education to a diverse group of students who might not otherwise have this opportunity.”

When the proposal to add a public law school was last being considered several years ago, Suffolk University Law School and New England School of Law, two private law schools, were among the idea’s most-vocal opponents, and some accused members of the state Board of Higher Education – who voted 8 to 3 against adding a public law school – of conspiring with private law schools in Massachusetts to block the measure.

Under the terms of the proposal rejected in 2005, the University of Massachusetts School of Law – as it would have been called – would have been self-supporting, meaning that no state funds and no UMass revenue, with the exception of the funds generated by the law school itself, would have been used to support the law school’s operations.

SNESL has state and regional accreditation, and the previous proposal said the school would have sought national accreditation from the American Bar Association.

In 2004, the law school’s tuition was $19,000 a year and officials said that tuition level would not be lowered, had the measure been approved. SNESL students currently pay around $21,800 annually for tuition.

In the prior plan, Wilson had called for academic collaborations between the public law school and each of the University’s five campuses, including Amherst.

Other states without public law schools include nearby Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with Delaware. Alaska has no private or public law schools.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at

3 Responses to “Southern New England School of Law may donate assets to UMass Dartmouth and become the first public law school in Mass.”
  1. Ed says:

    The ONLY advantage of a public law school, like public colleges in general, is that the tuition is considerably lower than private schools.

    If the tuition is to remain the same, why exactly do we want a public law school, particularly a public law school that isn’t even ABA certified (read no out-of-state students because they can’t take their home state bar exams).

    Why are we doing this? Let the place go bankrupt and buy it at the auction….

  2. Frank says:

    I’m not really sure what your point is here. It says in the article, in the headline, even, that SNESL would donate it’s assets to the UMass system. You’re acting like it would cost us a large sum to bring in what would promise to be a welcome addition to the public education system.

    I’ll concede that, normally, one might be justified in claiming that bringing on another campus could create additional financial strain on a year-to-year basis, but if the previous agreement is any indication, the school would be able to support itself.

    As for advantages gained by the donation (besides the immediate injection of students, resources and tuition revenue into the UMass system), the SNESL would receive multiple benefits (namely an already established network of schools to work in concert with and, if necessary, the power and resources of a state to improve their offerings and standing), all of which would be passed on to the students.

    Consider the University of Michigan Law School, a public law school. Consistently placing in the T14 (the elite law schools in the country from which top law firms draw most of their employees), the school provides significant resources and prestige to the University of Michigan system. You would be hard pressed, despite the high tuition of the law school, to make a case that it isn’t good for the Michigan public higher education system or the state as a whole.

    ABA certification IS important, but in this case, state and regional certification is just as important. SNESL is not exactly a top five school, but with the extra resources available to in-state students (such as tuition waivers and a greater accessibility and leniency of loans), it would certainly serve as a quality option for those looking to stay in the state to practice. Besides, ABA certification would almost certainly follow after pairing with the UMass system.

  3. Robert Sharples says:

    U Mass. Dartmouth insists the liaison with SNESL be called a donation and not a merger. No matter the play on words,there will be some sort of transaction. The major question going unanswered is how much of the SNESL baggage will accompany the “donation”? If such exists, will that affect ABA accreditation? There has been no disclosure of SNESL weaknesses or reasons for accreditation denial.What ABA standards were not met? This is crucial. If denials were made because of academic weakness the transaction is moving into dangerous grounds. I believe the public is entitled to receive answers.

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