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UMass trustees approve law program proposal

BOSTON -- The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees today approved a proposal to establish a legal education program at UMass Dartmouth, moving Massachusetts one step closer to the creation of its first public law school.

"This is a major step forward for public higher education in Massachusetts," said UMass President Jack M. Wilson. "The creation of a public law program will afford the citizens of the Commonwealth the same opportunity that exists in 44 other states. The University of Massachusetts exists to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth, and this action opens the doors of opportunity to students seeking an affordable, high-quality legal education."

Robert J. Manning, chairman of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, said that UMass trustees made "the right decision for the University of Massachusetts and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

"The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees has examined this proposal very thoroughly. The academic and financial components of this proposal have undergone rigorous review. After much study, it is clear that we can create a top-tier public law school without placing financial demands on the state or the University. Given these findings, we are proud to provide this legal-education opportunity to the sons and daughters of Massachusetts," Chairman Manning said.

Chairman Manning added: "I commend Chancellor MacCormack for crafting this creative, responsible proposal and commend President Wilson for conducting a comprehensive, clear-eyed review."

The law program proposal was approved on a 14 to 4 vote.

Under the proposal developed by UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack, law program enrollment would rise from 278 students in academic year 2010-2011 to 559 students in academic year 2017-2018. Because of increased enrollment, the law program would generate $81 million in student revenue between Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2018. Those funds would play a key role in allowing the program to achieve American Bar Association accreditation and would fuel academic growth and achievement.

MacCormack became Chancellor of UMass Dartmouth in 1999 and, under her leadership, enrollment at the campus has risen from 6,599 students to 9,302 in the current 2009-2010 academic year. That 41 percent enrollment increase is responsible for $18.8 million in additional campus revenue during the current fiscal year alone. Graduate-student enrollment has increased by 52 percent during Chancellor MacCormack's tenure.

"Chancellor MacCormack has a proven track record of expanding enrollment, which, in turn, produces the funds that fuel academic excellence," President Wilson said. "Anyone who doubts our ability to create a first-rate public law program either hasn't read the plan or doesn't know Jean MacCormack."

Chancellor MacCormack thanked the Board of Trustees for its support, noting: "The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees has come down on the side of students and in favor of opportunity. This vote advances our historic mission and demonstrates that the University's future will be determined by the public interest rather than by private institutions."

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

According to the UMass 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 cumulative cash balance, rising from $2.1 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to $8.8 million in Fiscal Year 2018

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.

The law program proposal now goes to the state Board of Higher Education for approval. If approved, 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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