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Mass. Explores the Public Option for a Law School

While Congress debates "the public option" as a component of health care reform, Massachusetts is about to have a public option debate of its own. Only in this case, the debate is over whether the state should open a public law school as part of the University of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is one of just six states without a public law school. That would change under the plan UMass officials announced yesterday. It calls for the UMass-Dartmouth campus to take over the private, unaccredited Southern New England School of Law in North Dartmouth. The law school's board of trustees voted earlier this week to donate to UMass its campus and assets, valued at $22.6 million.

The law school's dean, Robert V. Ward Jr., told the Boston Business Journal that the resulting school would take on the UMass name and the current school would cease to exist. Although details would have to be worked out, Ward assumed the law school's existing employees, including himself, would move over to UMass.

Still, in a state that already has nine law schools and in the middle of a dismal economy, critics question the need for another law school and the timing of the plan. "I don't know how or why anyone would want to be taking on the cost and responsibility of the creation of a public law school when we’re trying our hardest to make ends meet with the higher education systems and institutions that we currently have," Richard Doherty, president and chief executive of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe. "A fair study would reveal really significant costs associated with getting a law school up and running and fully accredited."

Jean MacCormack, chancellor of UMass-Dartmouth, said taxpayers would not bear the cost of a public law school. The school would pay the costs of accreditation by increasing enrollment and by investing the equity in the donated real estate.

Dean Ward said it has been a good year for the law school financially. With a tuition of $22,000, its first-year enrollment is higher this year than last. "We're being very clear about that," he said. "We're coming off a very good year."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 15, 2009 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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