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UNH, Franklin Pierce Law eye merger

By CLYNTON NAMUO
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 8, 2008

DURHAM The University of New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord are discussing a possible merger that could bring the state's only law school under the public umbrella.

A decision on the merger is expected next spring; officials from both schools said yesterday there are many issues that must still be worked out.

The ramifications of merging Franklin Pierce, a private college, with the state's flagship university remain unclear, but at a minimum it would mean far more scrutiny for the law center as its books would have to be opened and more bureaucracy added because of legislative oversight.

With an annual budget of about $12 million and an enrollment of about 450 full-time students, Franklin Pierce is minute compared to UNH, with its budget of about $450 million and its undergraduate and graduate enrollment of about 14,000.

But a merging of the two institutions could provide clear benefits to both.

Taylor Eighmy, UNH's interim vice president of research, said a combined university would allow UNH to capitalize on Franklin Pierce's nationally recognized expertise in intellectual property. Products created at UNH could be patented and brought to market, with business students studying the process.

"You have a very potent mix of idea generation all the way to commercialization," Eighmy said.

For its part, Franklin Pierce would be given the opportunity to expand its breadth of knowledge by linking its faculty to UNH's. Franklin Pierce officials are the ones who approached UNH this winter to propose the idea of a merger; the notion came up as the school began to create a new strategic plan.

"It would provide a tremendous platform for our law school to integrate both legal education and research opportunities into many of UNH's programs," Franklin Pierce President and Dean John Hutson said. "Being part of a research university of UNH's stature could enable our faculty to join a wider community of scholars and engage in significant interdisciplinary research.

With UNH's support, Pierce Law could also offer more degrees, such as a joint MBA-JD, Eighmy said.

Still, there could be many drawbacks as well.

Hutson said that as a small, independent institution, Franklin Pierce remains nimble, its decision-making process uncluttered. For example, for the merger to go through on Franklin Pierce's end, it would have to be approved by Hutson and then the school's board of trustees. On UNH's end, things are expected to more complicated, Eighmy said.

He said UNH President Mark Huddleston would have to approve the merger and that the University System of New Hampshire would likely have a hand in the decision. There would also be many more academic steps, Eighmy said. It's possible the Legislature may weigh in as well.

The merger is expected to be "cost neutral" for UNH, President Mark Huddleston said in a statement yesterday. Both sides said they plan to pay close attention to costs.

UNH finished its last fiscal year with a multi-million dollar deficit; its current fiscal year is only slightly in the red after officials made a number of cuts at the university, buoying its financial standing. Franklin Pierce operates with a budget surplus, Hutson said, though he declined to say precisely how much.

UNH and Franklin Pierce are each forming committees to study the possible merger and make recommendations. The committees are expected to look at a host of issues, from how to integrate faculty policies and procedures to whether a merger of libraries and payroll systems would work.

At this point, anything is up for discussion, including whether Franklin Pierce should move from Concord. But Hutson said a move would be hard.

"Concord is a great place for a law school to be located, and it would take a real strong argument in the other direction for us to move," he said.

To read the join statement from both schools, click here.