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President Wilson recommends public law program

BOSTON - University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson today said he is recommending that the state create its first public law program by accepting the donation of the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth.

President Wilson said he was convinced that the law program proposal developed by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack was fiscally sound and would create a program with high academic standards. He said the proposal would provide Massachusetts citizens with the public law option residents enjoy in 44 other states.

 "I believe that the University of Massachusetts would be honoring its mission by expanding its educational reach and by extending additional opportunities to the citizens of the Commonwealth," President Wilson said. "The citizens of southeastern Massachusetts and the citizens of the Commonwealth deserve more educational opportunity -- not less."

Last month, saying they wanted to preserve their school's "historic mission" and its commitment to legal education excellence and diversity, Southern New England School of Law trustees offered to donate their school to the University of Massachusetts, with the total value of the 235-student law school estimated at $22.6 million.

Since then, reviews have been conducted by officials at UMass Dartmouth and at the UMass system level and a proposal has been developed by Chancellor MacCormack. That proposal will now be considered by the University's Committee on Academic and Student Affairs and its Committee on Administration and Finance. It is expected that the proposal will go before the UMass Board of Trustees when the board meets on Dec 10. If approved by the UMass Board of Trustees, the proposal would go to the state Board of Higher Education.

President Wilson said he was impressed with the proposal developed by Chancellor MacCormack, which would see the law program's cumulative cash balance growing from $1.8 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to $10.2 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and would see enrollment climb from 278 students next year to 559 students in academic year 2017-2018, with the revenue generated by the enrollment increase fueling new programs and academic growth.

Tuition collected from students in the public law program would go to the state's general fund, generating $500,000 for the Commonwealth next year and $1 million annually within five years. Student fees would remain on campus and would serve to support the program.

"I am convinced we will be able to create a law program that will win national accreditation and go well beyond that to become known for its high academic standards and its commitment to public service law," President Wilson said. "This program will not consume state or university dollars, and, in fact, will create revenue for the Commonwealth and for the University."

Under the proposal, the University would seek American Bar Association provisional accreditation for its law program in academic year 2011-2012.

President Wilson commended officials at Southern New England School of Law for making the donation offer. He noted: "Southern New England School of Law was founded less than three decades ago, and its students, faculty and staff have worked so hard to build this school. It truly has been a labor of love aimed at making legal education available to those who might not otherwise have a chance to study the law. Having worked hard and having created much, those who have the school's best interests at heart now want to take the selfless step of donation in the name of progress and bringing the institution to new levels of academic achievement and attainment."

Founded in 1981, Southern New England School of Law is one of the state's nine law schools. The Boston Globe recently reported that nearly 70 percent of the school's first-time takers received passing grades in the most recent (July 2009) sitting of the Massachusetts Bar Exam. School officials say that three out of four graduates of Southern New England School of Law have passed the bar exam.

If the proposal receives all required approvals, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth law program would enroll its first students in the fall of 2010.

Contact: Robert P. Connolly, 774-455-7188


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