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Even as the
University of Massachusetts trustees are considering adding an unaccredited law
school to the university system, three of its former students have brought suit
against the school for fraud in federal court.
The Southern New England School of Law graduates say that when they got back to their home states of Rhode Island and New Jersey they found out their degrees were basically worthless. Both states require applicants for the bar to be graduates of schools accredited by the American Bar Association. Southern New England was denied such accreditation in 1997 and 1999.
But it's the nature of the allegations that are truly troubling. In his suit, Brian D. Tamborelli of East Greenwich, R.I., alleged that law school dean Robert V. Ward Jr. told a student forum in March 2000 that the law school and the University of Massachusetts were in ``bed together,'' and that a university takeover would speed accreditation.
There's no question Ward and some of the trustees are in bed together on this deal and have been for some time. The real question is whether the taxpayers and the university's students and faculty will be asked to foot the bill to sanctify this unholy union.
could add another hurdle to law school merger
The Associated Press
Nov 23, 2004
NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. Lawsuits by three former law students claiming they were defrauded by a private unaccredited law school in Dartmouth are fueling criticism of a plan by the University of Massachusetts to convert the school into the state's first public law school.
The graduates of the Southern New England School of Law allege that the school's leaders misled them into believing the school was about to be accredited by the American Bar Association. The school's accreditation was denied in 1997 and again in 1999.
The former students sued in part because their home states - New Jersey and Rhode Island - require bar applicants to be graduates of accredited law schools.
Brian D. Tamborelli of East Greenwich, R.I., alleged that the dean of the law school, Robert V. Ward Jr., said at a student forum in March 2000 that the law school and the University of Massachusetts were in "bed together," and that a university takeover would speed accreditation.
U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner dismissed all three lawsuits, but one suit was revived in a strongly worded decision by Appeals Court Judge Bruce M. Selya.
Selya reinstated a count of fraudulent misrepresentation brought against the school by Joseph Rodi of New Jersey and allowed him to raise a claim against the school under state consumer protection laws.
Tamborelli has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
University trustees could meet before the end of the year to vote on whether to merge the law school into the Dartmouth campus.
State Rep. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham, said the lawsuits signaled a need for caution.
"As you can see from the lawsuits, officials at the Southern New England School of Law have been telling students for years that accreditation was imminent, even though they knew that was not true," Candaras told The Republican of Springfield.
The school's lawyer, Allen N. David of Boston, said the school received "provisional accreditation" from the bar association. It's also clear the school was not promising anything to any of the students, Allen said.
John T. Hoey, a spokesman for the UMass Dartmouth campus, said yesterday the school will again seek accreditation when the merger is complete. Hoey said he is confident the application will be successful.
Accreditation is also an issue in the proposed merger. University officials said the process will cost about $900,000, but Candaras and other lawmakers said it could cost $40 million.
Some legislators are also concerned about the merger because they fear other university programs will be shortchanged if the university begins a public law school.
OUR VIEW: UMass does not need law school
By The Patriot Ledger
November 22, 2004
UMass President Jack Wilson is boosting an idea that first surfaced during the tenure of William Bulger: to purchase the private Southern New England School of Law so the state would have a public law school.
Wilson sees the public outlay as relatively small - $10 million for land and buildings - and the eventual benefits as far outweighing the investment.
But the $10 million is just a down payment. Launching a law school is no small undertaking. The school UMass would take over has just 250 students and is not accredited. And its graduates don't perform well on the state bar exam either; fewer than one-quarter pass.
To make the school a worthwhile addition to the UMass system would take more investment over time.
The key question is whether the state needs a public law school - not whether it makes sense to buy a small law school that happens to be a few miles from an existing UMass campus at Dartmouth.
The answer is no.
UMass has a thriving system that needs constant attention. Costs are increasing all the time and the state is once again facing a billion-dollar deficit. It's a tough balancing act keeping tuition and fees manageable for students when the state contribution to higher education cannot expand. The state's investment in higher education should benefit undergraduates and graduate students in existing programs rather than being diverted to something new.
Moreover, the state has seven private law schools.
Wilson makes an attractive argument that because of the cost of law school, graduates begin their careers with a load of debt and are not attracted to lower-paying public interest law positions. That there is a shortage of lawyers who want to be public defenders is well-known. The problem in Massachusetts is that attorneys appointed by the court to defend the indigent are woefully underpaid.
That problem should be addressed. But creating a state-sponsored law school is not the way to do it.
The UMass Board of Trustees should vote against the law school acquisition.