Trustees approve law school takeover

Meeting in special session in Boston, the Board of Trustees voted Dec. 21 to create the state’s first public law school by bringing Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth into the UMass system.

Trustees, on a 12-2 voice vote, approved the proposal. Trustees Robert Sheridan and Lawrence Boyle cast the dissenting votes.

“The creation of the University of Massachusetts School of Law will provide us with an opportunity to advance our mission of education, research and public service,” Wilson added. “This is a natural role for the state’s public university; it is a role that public universities have adopted in 44 other states. This is our mission, this is our cause, this is our moment.”

James J. Karam, chairman of the board, said, “After a careful, deliberative, thoughtful process, we are taking the step of creating a public law school. Three decades ago, another UMass board had the wisdom and foresight to create the University of Massachusetts Medical School, now recognized as one of the best medical schools in the country. We look forward to working with our friends throughout the Commonwealth to make the University of Massachusetts School of Law the next jewel in the University’s crown.”

Under the plan, which still faces a review by the Board of Higher Education, UMass Dartmouth will administer the 250-student law school, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association. UMass will receive the law school’s assets, valued at $10 million, as well as a $1.5 million reserve fund and $2.5 million in debt.

According to the terms of the proposal, the University of Massachusetts School of Law would be self-supporting, which means that no state funds and no UMass revenue, with the exception of the funds generated by the law school itself, would be used to support the law school’s operations. Trustees voted to cap enrollment at the school at 585 students.

The Southern New England School of Law has received state and regional accreditation and Karam said the University will spend $750,000 to seek national accreditation from the ABA.

“Our goal is to gain ABA accreditation and to continue the march of excellence to the point where this school is recognized as one of the premier public law schools in the nation,” Wilson said.

Plans call for a public service law specialty at the law school via the creation of public service law fellowships – 25 per year – offering 50 percent tuition remission for students who commit to practicing public-service law in Massachusetts for at least five years. Current tuition at Southern New England School of Law is $19,000 a year. That tuition level will not be lowered, given the University’s desire to maintain the school’s self-supporting status. UMass also envisions a law-school focus on immigration law and maritime law.

Wilson called for academic collaborations between the public law school and each of the five campuses and also said a public law school provides teaching and research opportunities for current members of the faculty.

Five trustees did not attend the meeting, though three participated by phone but could not vote. Another sent a letter of support for the plan.