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UMass law school pointless gamble
By Boston Herald editorial staff
Monday, March 14, 2005

On the one hand there is a report that contends there is ``very little financial risk'' for the University of Massachusetts to buy Southern New England School of Law and create the state's first public law school.

     Then this same report notes it will take about $200,000 in building repairs, some $765,000 more a year for additional faculty and another $760,000 a year to double the school's library budget - all in order to maybe win accreditation for the currently unaccredited law school.

     And the school only breaks even if it can somehow manage to more than double its student body from 250 to 585 - something it's unlikely to be able to do until it wins accreditation from the American Bar Association.

     The independent evaluation notes, ``We are not in a position to predict with any precision the future of student admissions at the School of Law, given these conflicting influences.''

     Last week another report surfaced too - this one from the state auditor's office that shows a pattern of widespread irregularities in financial dealings between UMass/Dartmouth and the law school that go back to 2000.

     According to the 2002 audit UMass/Dartmouth officials used an off-the-books trust fund - the University of Massachusetts Darthmouth Foundation - to make an ``improper'' $30,000 loan to the law school when it feared it might not be able to meet its next payroll.

     UMass spokesman John Hoey, however, called it ``a wise investment,'' adding, ``We had a strategic interest in seeing our strategic partner through a rough patch in their operations.''

     That, of course, was in 2000. Today Southern New England is still unaccredited and still nearly bankrupt, but UMass trustees have already voted 12-2 to offer it the ultimate bailout - legitimacy, no matter what it costs.

     The state Board of Higher Education, which has the matter on its March 31 agenda, gets the final say. The purchase represents a huge and costly gamble at a time when the University of Massachusetts ought to be focused on making improvements to its existing programs.