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UMass law receives finance committee approval

BOSTON - The proposal to create a public law program at UMass Dartmouth took a major step forward today when the Board of Trustees Committee on Administration and Finance completed a financial review and gave the plan its stamp of approval. 

The Board's finance committee backed the public law program after University officials detailed a plan that would bring about a nationally accredited law program without drawing on state or University funds.

The Committee on Administration and Finance approved the program on a 12 to 4 vote. The committee review focused on the financial underpinnings of the law program plan. Last month, the Board's Committee on Academic and Student Affairs approved the academic aspects of the proposal.

Pointing to the favorable votes of the two Board committees, University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson said that UMass is now poised to "seize a golden opportunity to provide the citizens of the Commonwealth with an affordable legal education program."

"Public universities strive to provide opportunity, and in moving forward to create this public law option, the University of Massachusetts is taking a step that is consistent with its core values and historic purpose," President Wilson said.

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said: "I applaud the committee's decision to endorse the creation of a program that would give the citizens of the Commonwealth the public law opportunity that exists in 44 other states. This is a significant step forward."

President Wilson said that the financial aspects of the public law proposal have been carefully vetted.

"There has been a thorough study of the financial issues, and this review makes clear that building a high-quality, nationally accredited public law program will not require state or University funding," President Wilson said. "Chancellor MacCormack has fashioned an enrollment-growth strategy that provides a clear and financially sound path to legal-education excellence."

The law program proposal now goes before the full UMass Board of Trustees on Dec 10. If backed by the Board of Trustees, the proposal would go to the state Board of Higher Education for final approval.

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 in October offered to donate their law school to the University of Massachusetts, with the total value of the donation estimated at $23 million.

The Committee on Administration and Finance today received a financial presentation from Chancellor MacCormack and other UMass Dartmouth officials, heard the results of a UMass system due-diligence review and received the findings of an independent audit of Southern New England School of Law's finances.

Under the proposal, the UMass Dartmouth law program would arise out of the proposed donation of the 235-student Southern New England School of Law, also located in Dartmouth.

According to the proposal, the law program would:

  • Be on course to gain American Bar Association provisional accreditation by academic year 2013-2014
  • 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 $2.1 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to $8.8 million in Fiscal Year 2018
  • See enrollment rise from 278 students in academic year 2010-2011 to 559 students in academic year 2017-2018

Chancellor MacCormack said that because of increased enrollment, the law program would generate $81 million in student revenue between Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2018. Those funds, she said, would allow the program to achieve ABA accreditation and would fuel academic growth and achievement.

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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