2016 2016: Building on the UMass Law commitment

2016 2016: Building on the UMass Law commitment
Building on the UMass Law commitment

Dean Eric Mitnick discusses impact of American Bar Association accreditation.

Eric J. Mitnick is dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Law

By Eric Mitnick

The American Bar Association’s awarding of final accreditation to the University of Massachusetts School of Law has all the earmarks of what a good lawyer seeks when he or she goes into court: a just decision.

It has the trappings of justice in the sense that our law school, since being established at UMass Dartmouth in 2010, has moved forward on so many fronts. In key areas like the credentials of applicants, admissions selectivity, bar passage, student debt loads, and employment outcomes, UMass Law already surpasses many ABA-accredited law schools in head-to-head performance. UMass Law also meets each of the ABA’s quality standards. We deeply appreciate the decision that was made, as well as the time, effort and guidance we have received from the American Bar Association. 

 By any measure, receiving final accreditation is a tremendous victory. It is a win for the SouthCoast, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its citizens, and for everyone who stood up for this important cause. And in a larger sense, given UMass Law’s access to justice ethos and core commitment to equality of opportunity, the ABA’s decision is a victory for one of the key pillars of our society: the pursuit of justice.

 That said, UMass Law gaining this significant status does not by any means indicate we have reached our final destination. It is a major step -- an essential step -- in our history, but with this achievement realized, our journey of growth and quest for excellence continues.

 In the months and years ahead, we will continue to build an academic program of true excellence, we will further develop the clinical and Justice Bridge programs that give our students and graduates invaluable learning experiences while benefitting those desperately in need of legal services, and we will maintain our unyielding commitment to affordability, diversity and justice.

 In moving forward and reaching higher, we will be honoring the vision and commitment of those who established the original Southern New England School of Law in 1981 and nurtured their dream for nearly three decades.

 Southern New England School of Law represented a vision of a law school for the SouthCoast, which, in turn, was succeeded by a broader vision of a public law school serving the entire Commonwealth: UMass Law.

While Southern New England and UMass Law faced challenges and opposition, they were driven by strong forces. And two strengths loomed large: the immense power generated by a good and honorable idea, and the zealous commitment of advocates unwilling to be deterred or denied.

Now, we must build on that commitment and make sure that Massachusetts, the state governed under the world’s oldest functioning written constitution – a state that has contributed so much to legal thought and the quest for justice -- will always have a vibrant, high-quality public law school.

“Justice,” James Madison wrote, “is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

Here at our ABA-accredited law school, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, we’re proud to be UMass, and we are proudly committed to our students, our community, and to the continuing pursuit of justice.

(Eric Mitnick is the Dean of the UMass School of Law at UMass Dartmouth)