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Review Panel Backs Proposal for UMass Law School


By KEN MAGUIRE
Associated Press Writer

Mar
ch 8, 2005


LOWELL, Mass.
An outside review board has recommended going forward with a plan to create the state's first public law school, University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson said Tuesday.

The six-member panel consisting of experts with no ties to UMass conducted a monthlong review of the controversial proposal to take over the private Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth.

"The report substantiates our case very strongly," Wilson told The Associated Press during a legislative budget hearing at Middlesex Community College in Lowell. "It's filling an important need in the commonwealth. We've put together a suitable academic plan."

Wilson said the report also found "no financial risk" with the proposal, which was OK'd in December by UMass trustees. It still requires approval by the state's Board of Higher Education, which plans to take it up at its March 31 meeting.

"We're very hopeful the board will vote to approve the law school," Wilson said.

Board of Higher Education chairman Steve Tocco said Tuesday that he had not read that panel's recommendation.

"I have not formed an opinion on this yet," he said. "It's very much an open question."

Higher Education Chancellor Judith Gill also said she had not read the report.

The report was being distributed to board members over the next few days and will be made public later this month, Wilson said.

Some lawmakers have questioned the need for another law school in Massachusetts and warned that it could drain money from other programs at the university. Other critics have accused UMass officials of rushing the approval process.

Southern New England School of Law has agreed to donate its campus and other assets - valued at $10 million - along with a $1.5 million reserve fund to UMass, which would in turn accept $2.5 million in debt.

Under the proposal, the law school would have annual operating budget of $5 million - less than a third of a percent of the UMass system's $1.7 billion yearly operating budget.

Another $750,000 would be spent to seek national accreditation, a process that could take several years, although plans call for the school to open this fall.

If approved by the higher education board, the law school acquisition would mark the first significant expansion of the UMass system since the addition of the Lowell and Dartmouth campuses in 1991.