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UMass Dartmouth floats law school plan

By Hillary Chabot  |   Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Boston Herald

University of Massachusetts officials are reopening a controversial bid to create the state’s first public law school five years after a similar plan was shot down due to fierce opposition from private law schools.

Marty Xifaras, chairwoman of the Southern New England School of Law, sent a letter to UMass president Jack Wilson last week offering to donate the school to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

“They will look at it and consider it, but it will be done cognizant of the financial constraints of the moment,” said UMass spokesman Robert Connolly.

UMass Dartmouth officials are currently putting together a proposal based on the donation of the 265-student school, which officials say is valued at $22.6 million.

Members of the Board of Higher Education voted against the acquisition in 2004 at the urging of then-Gov. Mitt Romney citing concerns that the American Bar Association had denied accreditation. Critics estimated taxpayers would have to shell out $40 million for the school to meet ABA standards.

Officials with the law school said it could be brought up to code without using any public funds.

Connolly said UMass Dartmouth officials will review any financial or legal issues and create a proposal to take over the law school, and then UMass trustees would have to vote to go forward with the acquisition.

Xifaras highlighted the school’s “historic mission,” in her Oct. 5 letter to Wilson.

“Our aspiration and objective is to resource and empower the University to carry forward with our historic mission and commitment to provide affordable, accessible, and excellent legal education to a diverse group of students who might not otherwise have this opportunity,” she wrote.

Wilson, who was not immediately available for comment, called the proposal, “a very generous offer,” in a statement. A spokesman for Gov. Deval Patrick did not immediately return calls asking where he stands on the issue.