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September 18, 2017

Public law school closer to reality after Board of Trustees vote

The proposal to create a public law school within the University of Massachusetts system came one step closer to becoming a reality Wednesday when the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic and Student Affairs voted 11-5 to approve the plan, which would give the University a fully accredited law school without spending state or university funds.

The proposal would create a law program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth by absorbing the assets and resources of the 235-student Southern New England School of Law, also in Dartmouth.

In a release, University of Massachusetts system President Jack M. Wilson stated that most other states have a public law school and that he feels Massachusetts should be in that category.

“We seek to offer the citizens of the Commonwealth the opportunity to obtain an affordable, high-quality legal education,” he said. “That public option exists in 44 other states nationwide and should be available in Massachusetts,” he continued.

Before being finalized, the proposal faces two more votes. The Committee on Administration and Finance will vote on the plan Dec. 2 and, if that passes, the plan will move to the Board of Trustees Dec. 10. If the Board backs the proposal, it would go to the state Board of Higher Education for final approval.

In a presentation to the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs, UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said a public law program would benefit the state in a number of ways.

MacCormack said the creation of a public law school would fill a need in the state’s education system, would get accreditation by the American Bar Association by 2013, would generate $673,576 for Massachusetts in its first year and over a million a year within five years and would significantly raise the amount of cash the University has at its disposal over the next decade.

“The University of Massachusetts was founded to create educational opportunity for the citizens of the Commonwealth. This public law proposal is grounded in our University’s historic mission and evokes our tradition of service. I thank the committee for its support,” Chancellor MacCormack said at the meeting, according to a release.

President Wilson said a public law school would be another fine institution in a state rich with educational resources.

“This University has a demonstrated record of creating programs that achieve world-class status,” he said. “We will build a law program that will serve the needs of the sons and daughters of the Commonwealth and become a source of enduring pride for our state,” President Wilson continued.

“The committee has given this plan an important vote of confidence,” he added.
Indicating a desire to preserve the school’s mission of educating future lawyers in Southern Massachusetts, the trustees of the Southern New England School of Law offered in October to donate the school to the University of Massachusetts, with the net value of the donation valued at $22.6 million.

Founded in 1981, the small private non-profit school in North Dartmouth says that it will donate its assets to UMass Dartmouth and that the new law program there will be funded by student fees, private contributions and leveraging the school’s real estate for initial funds.

Proponents of the plan argue that it will generate revenue for Massachusetts quickly by adding tuition monies to the General Fund of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Southern New England School of Law currently offers full-time three year programs, part time four-and-a-half year programs and summer sessions.

If the proposal passes all levels of approval, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth law program could enroll students as soon as next fall.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at sbutterfield@dailycollegian.com.

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