The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees this morning approved a plan to open the state's first public law school.
|UMass president Jack M. Wilson|
Under the plan, the UMass-Dartmouth would acquire Southern New England School of Law, a private institution nearby. The state's Board of Higher Education in February must still approve the proposal in February.
"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."
The proposal, which previously received the backing of two UMass board committees, was approved on a vote of 14 to 4.
Under details laid out by UMass Dartmouth chancellor Jean MacCormack, the public law school would operate free of taxpayer dollars and would eventually make millions for UMass-Dartmouth, as well as the state, by expanding enrollment. The school would grow from 235 students to 559 by 2017.
Tuition and fees would cost $23,565, nearly half what Suffolk and New England law schools charge, and would be the primary source of revenue for the school.
Opponents -- primarily three private law schools wary of the added competition, remain skeptical of the financial figures and are going to great lengths to challenge the UMass plan as overly optimistic, a tactic that helped to defeat a similar plan in 2005 after it had advanced to the Board of Higher Education.
A study commissioned by the foes question the value of the Southern New England School of Law, which UMass officials have put at $22.6 million. The analysis, as reported today by the Boston Herald, put the value at less than half that figure.
UMass officials say that while the city of Dartmouth assesses the property at $7.7 million, the $22.6 estimate also puts the school's library at $11.5 million, additional property at $2.5 million , and a $1 million donation.
Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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