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School merger OK’d
Will Richmond , Herald News Staff Reporter
BOSTON -- Prospective law students living in the southeastern Massachusetts region are a step closer to being able to earn their degrees from a local public law school.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, a decision to merge the Southern New England School of Law into the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth received the group’s approval by a 12-2 margin.

Officials from the two schools said they are extremely happy to know that UMass Dartmouth is close to expanding its course offerings.

"This is a historic vote that goes to show the university is aspiring to achieve excellence," said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. "This is really a vote of confidence to approve a public law school."

SNESL Dean Robert V. Ward Jr. added that this move will help people throughout the region when determining their long-term goals.

"For a long time I’ve had a vision that I would go into grammar schools and middle schools and help those students draw a road map for their future," Ward said. "With the board approving this measure, my vision will come through."

The merger had met recent political opposition and Gov. Mitt Romney had asked for the vote to be delayed, but SNESL Board of Trustees member Margaret D. Xifarus said the UMass trustees who approved the merger were likely swayed by the merits of the proposal.

"The merits of this plan far outweigh the politics," said Xifarus, a New Bedford lawyer. "The trustees, afterward, said they got the information, they read it, they got to the campus and checked it out and they said they were satisfied and the plan makes sense."

The only hurdle remaining for the merger is to receive approval from the Board of Higher Education. The board must approve the school’s curriculum; that step will likely take place in February. SNESL currently has degree-granting authority from the board, making the meeting a likely formality.

Under the merger, plans exist to create a fellowship program in the area of public-interest law. The program would set aside 25 tuition reduced positions for students who make a commitment to the field of public law for the first five years following graduation. Plans also include offering a focus on immigration law and maritime law.

Under the plan, the University of Massachusetts Law School would be self-supporting, meaning that no state funds and no UMass revenue would be used to support the school’s operation.

It is also believed that the merger will help the law school gain accreditation from the American Bar Association. Currently, SNESL is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. SNESL students are able to sit for the bar exam in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Following the approval, MacCormack thanked a number of people for making the merger happen.

"President Jack Wilson and (Board of Trustees chairman) James Karam, one of our own leaders from Fall River, really helped to make this happen," MacCormack said. "This really shows that people are open to new ideas and to look at the hard questions. This is a good financial deal and it’s good for the commonwealth."


UMass Trustees Vote to Acquire SNESL

By Karen Testa
Associated Press
December 21, 2004

BOSTON --University of Massachusetts trustees voted Tuesday to acquire the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth, which is set to become the state's first public law school.

The board voted 12-2 to accept the school, which is valued at $10 million, along with a $1.5 million reserve fund. UMass would also take on $2.5 million in debt.

Trustee Robert McCarthy called the decision a "no brainer." But critics, including Gov. Mitt Romney, have questioned the need for another law school in Massachusetts.

"This is what we need," McCarthy said. "This is going to be a jewel."

Trustees Robert Sheridan and Lawrence Boyle voted against accepting the donation, saying it was unwise to rush ahead with such an important decision.

"It's not like opening a new biology major on one of our campuses," Boyle said. "What's wrong with a little sunshine? What's wrong with a little vetting?"

Romney had urged the trustees to delay the vote and many lawmakers have questioned the need for the law school and warned it could drain money from other programs at the university.

A previous effort by UMass to purchase the private, unaccredited school in southeastern Massachusetts failed in 2001 because of opposition from the Legislature.

The board's vice chairman, Karl White, said the law school would have operating budget of $5 million -- O.29 percent of the UMass system's $1.7 billion yearly operating budget.

"There's no way excellence can be achieved on the cheap," Sheridan said.

The matter now goes to the state's Board of Higher Education for approval.