State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill said today that the University of Massachusetts cannot afford to take over the private Southern New England School of Law to launch what would be the state’s first public law school.
A state with as many lawyers as Massachusetts, and with eight other private law schools, doesn’t need another school, especially given the dire economic times, he said.
“From an economic point of view, it’s an investment in a profession that we may not need more of,” Cahill, who is running for governor as an independent, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not like training medical technicians or nurses, which we need more of.
In this economy, we should make investments in things beneficial to the state, and I don’t see that here,'' he added.
UMass officials this week revived the controversial plan for its Dartmouth campus to acquire the 28-year-old law school, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, after a similar plan was rejected four years ago by the state Board of Higher Education.
Massachusetts is one of just six states without a public law school.
Under the terms released this week, Southern New England in North Dartmouth would donate its assets to UMass, an amount campus officials valued at about $22.6 million.
A UMass-Dartmouth law school would charge $24,000 a year for tuition, fees, and books, education officials said, lower than the $40,000 it costs to attend Suffolk University Law School or New England Law Boston. UMass-Dartmouth also promised to provide 25 students a year with fellowships that would cut tuition in half if they commit to serving in public interest law for four years after graduation.
“Law is a missing piece of the UMass curriculum,’’ Jean MacCormack, chancellor of UMass-Dartmouth, told the Globe this week. “This would fill in that gap and provide an affordable public law school option for students.’’
At a press conference at the State House today, Governor Deval Patrick declined to say whether he approves of the plan, though he called the offer by Southern New England School of Law a “very generous donation” that made him “excited.” He said he wants UMass officials to vet the idea.
“They have a process over there for evaluating the efficacy of that, and I think that process should run its course,” he said.
Local private law schools that would compete with the public law school, and that spoke out against a similar proposal in 2005, argued that it would be a waste of taxpayer money.
“This isn’t the first time the school has tried to give itself away,” said John F. O’Brien, dean of New England Law Boston. “It was a bad idea before; it can’t be seen as anything but a bad idea today, given the fiscal situation of the state and the university” system.
Officials at Western New England School of Law in Springfield said they wanted more details about the proposal, but they echoed the concerns of other competing law schools.
“Massachusetts will certainly have to wrestle with the question of whether it can take on an additional multimillion-dollar expense annually at any time, but even more so during these difficult financial times,” said Barbara A. Campanella, a spokeswoman for the Springfield institution.
Officials at Suffolk Law School argued that the proposed public law school was more of a “Trojan Horse” than a generous donation.
“Taking over a law school that has failed to meet accreditation standards is not a donation if it will wind up costing the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to build the academic standards and facility improvements necessary to meet the accreditation standards,” said John Nucci, Suffolk vice president for external affairs. “It will only produce graduates who will enter an already oversaturated job market.”
MacCormack said UMass-Dartmouth would pay to accredit the school by increasing enrollment over the next five years, from the current 235 to 585. She said the university would foot the bill with tuition revenue and by using $12 million from the equity of the school’s donated buildings.
She added the school would seek accreditation after two academic years.
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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