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UMass law program wins committee approval

BOSTON - The plan to create a public law program moved forward today when the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic and Student Affairs approved a proposal that would bring about a fully accredited law program without drawing on state or university funds.

 "We seek to offer the citizens of the Commonwealth the opportunity to obtain an affordable, high-quality legal education. That public option exists in 44 other states nationwide and should be available in Massachusetts," said University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson.

The proposal, approved today on an 11-5 vote, would create a law program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The program would arise out of the proposed donation of the 235-student Southern New England School of Law, also located in Dartmouth.

The law program proposal faces two more rounds of University approval, going before the Committee on Administration and Finance on Dec. 2 and to the full Board of Trustees on Dec 10. If backed by the UMass Board of Trustees, the proposal would go to the state Board of Higher Education for final approval.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and the two members of the U.S. House who represent the South Coast, representatives Barney Frank and James P. McGovern, endorsed the creation of a UMass law program.

In a letter to Gov. Patrick, Kerry, Frank and McGovern wrote: "We wish to express our enthusiastic support for the creation of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Law, built on the extraordinarily generous donation of assets by the Southern New England School of Law (SNESL). The creation of this law school will be another example of how this university strategically helps our region and Massachusetts expand learning opportunities and educate a new generation of highly productive citizens."

In presenting the proposal to the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs, UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said a public law program would:

  • Fill a gap in the state's public higher education curriculum
  • Be on course to gain American Bar Association provisional accreditation by Fall 2013
  • Generate $673,576 for the Commonwealth in tuition revenue next year and more than $1 million annually within five years
  • Produce a University cumulative cash balance rising from $1.8 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to $10.2 million in Fiscal Year 2018.

"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.

President Wilson said the proposal provides, "A clear path to academic excellence."

"This University has a demonstrated record of creating programs that achieve world-class status. 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 said."The committee has given this plan an important vote of confidence," President Wilson added.

"The committee has given this plan an important vote of confidence," President Wilson added.

Pointing to a desire to preserve their school's "historic mission" and commitment to legal education excellence and diversity, the trustees of Southern New England School of Law last month offered to donate their law school to the University of Massachusetts, with the total value of the donation estimated at $22.6 million.

Founded in 1981, Southern New England School of Law is one of the state's nine law schools. 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; John Hoey, 508-999-8027



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