UMass trustees approve public law school in Dartmouth

The UMass Board of Trustees approved the acquisition of the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth, a major step in establishing a the Commonwealth's first public law school.

BOSTON -- The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees today voted to create the state’s first public law school by bringing Southern New England School of Law into the UMass system. 

“This is the right step for the University of Massachusetts and the right step for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We can create a public law school that will make Massachusetts proud,” President Jack M. Wilson said. 

“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 UMass Board of Trustees, 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.” 

Trustees, on a voice vote, approved the proposal to bring the Dartmouth-based Southern New England School of Law into the UMass system, to be administered by UMass-Dartmouth. Trustees voted to cap enrollment at the school at 585 students and established Dartmouth as the school’s permanent location. The proposal now goes before the state Board of Higher Education, which has authority over the creation of degree programs. 

“This is a truly historic day for the University of Massachusetts, our campus, and the Commonwealth,’’ said UMass-Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. “The trustees have made a bold decision to establish a public law school that will expand educational opportunity and help to deliver on the promise of equal justice for the citizens of the Commonwealth. I want to especially thank President Wilson and Chairman Karam for their steadfast support and for the confidence that they have shown in our campus and region. The University is also fortunate to have advocates such as our legislative delegation, and our civic and business leaders at its side throughout this process.’’ 

Under 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. 

The 250-student Southern New England School of Law has received state and regional accreditation and the school will seek national accreditation from the American Bar Association. “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. 

UMass 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 would 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. 

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

“This is a win-win situation for the University of Massachusetts and the law school,’’ said Southern New England School of Law Chairperson Margaret Xifaras. “We are proud to have built a first-rate facility, a strong library, a talented faculty and an academic program that has already been endorsed by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. We have made measurable and documented progress toward attaining our next goal: national accreditation by the American Bar Association. Joining UMass will accelerate that process, will benefit both institutions and will allow us to address important societal needs.” 

“Today’s vote is the next step in an evolving relationship between the University and the law school,’’ said Southern New England Dean Robert Ward. “For the past several years, the public service-oriented missions of these two institutions have been intersecting. Joined together, our institutions will provide even stronger service to our students, our region and our Commonwealth.” 


John Hoey, 508.999.8027 
Robert Connolly, 617.287.7073 

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