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UMass Prexy Says State Board Staff
Conspires With Law School Opponents

March 22, 2005

BOSTON, Associated Press -- The president of the University of Massachusetts has accused the staff of the state Board of Higher Education of conspiring with private law schools who oppose a proposed UMass law school to distribute negative reports about the project.

Jack Wilson said the staff dispensed the negative reports in "apparent collusion" with Suffolk University Law School and New England School of Law. Wilson also said the staff's review of the law school plan has been politicized and unprofessional.

The Board of Higher Education plans to vote on the proposal to merge UMass-Dartmouth and Southern New England School of Law on March 31.

"I'm very concerned about the unprofessional actions of the other law schools and the apparent collusion by the Board of Higher Education staff," Wilson told The Boston Globe on Monday.

Stephen Tocco, chairman of the Board of Higher Education, said he had faith in the board's staff.

"I'm not troubled by anyone who wants to weigh in on the proposal," he added. "Taxpayer dollars are at stake, and I think more information is helpful."

Tocco said the university has long objected to scrutiny of the proposal.

"They've had problems with anyone taking a hard look at this," Tocco said.

UMass wants to acquire the 260-student Southern New England School of Law, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, and double its enrollment while refocusing its program on public service.

Suffolk University Law School and New England School of Law are vocally opposed to the plan. Both have hired consultants to promote their view that the new school would cost taxpayers millions while burdening the state with more law schools than it needs. UMass leaders say the schools are afraid of competition.

A report issued Friday by the two private schools claims UMass officials have "dramatically underestimated" the costs of the proposed merger, and that it would cost taxpayers up to $39 million over the next seven years.

Earlier last week, Leonard Strickman, dean of the Florida International University College of Law, wrote to the board and said the proposed UMass law school would cost far more than UMass has claimed. Strickman was hired to comment on the plan by John O'Brien, dean of the New England School of Law.

The university was not sent the reports or asked to respond, Wilson said. He added that he received phone calls from board members who thought at least one of the reports was an independent analysis.

"Never before have I seen private institutions pay high-powered lobbyists and commission misleading reports in an attempt to pervert standard academic processes," Wilson wrote to the board members.

Tocco said leaders at the private law schools sent at least one of the reports on the law school plan to him and other board members and that it was accompanied by a letter signed by the two schools' deans.

"Board members knew where the information was coming from, and I haven't had any calls from members who were confused or upset," he said.

A national review team selected by UMass and approved by the Board of Higher Education concluded earlier this month that there is "very little financial risk for the university" in starting a law school. But some critics have said the review team did a poor job of studying the employment prospects for graduates.