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UNT Wants Public Law School in Dallas

December 3, 2004

The Dallas Morning News

Barring any major objections, the University of North Texas would like to establish a law school in downtown Dallas.

UNT System officials believe the region needs a public law school, and they want to open one in the historic Old City Hall complex at Main and Harwood streets.

Chancellor Lee Jackson is scheduled to announce the system's intentions from the building steps Monday morning, not far from the spot where, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby.

"Everyone that we've spoken to believes there's going to be a public law school in the Dallas area before too long," Mr. Jackson told The Dallas Morning News. "It is going to happen over the course of the decade, and UNT's interest in serving this area is consistent and persistent."

For the law school to get off the ground, it would need approval from the state Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. And, of course, it would need lots of money for renovations. Just how much money, UNT officials haven't figured out yet.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has two private law schools, at Southern Methodist University in University Park and Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. But the nearest public law school is 200 miles away in Austin, at the University of Texas.

Texas Law Schools

University of Texas at Austin

Texas Tech University, Lubbock

University of Houston

Texas Southern University, Houston


Baylor University, Waco

St. Mary's University, San Antonio

South Texas College of Law, Houston

Southern Methodist University, Dallas

Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth

In 2002, a study by the coordinating board, which oversees higher education in the state, found that North Texas does not produce enough lawyers to meet the demand. Mr. Jackson said a UNT law school would give future law students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area geographic and economic access, since public law schools generally charge much less than private ones.

Ideally, officials say, they'd like to open a law school with room for at least 300 students as soon as 2008.

Ryan Evans, Dallas assistant city manager, said the city is willing to transfer ownership of the complex, but no price has been discussed. A law school would fit into the city's plans to rejuvenate that part of downtown over the next few years, he said.

"If our vision, if you will, for the area comes true, this is an anchor," Mr. Evans said. He said a law school would also build upon a master plan for parks, approved by the City Council in June, which includes a one-block park west of Old City Hall.

Today, the Old City Hall and a 1956 annex which UNT would also like to acquire house municipal court offices and courtrooms. City officials have said they intend to relocate them.

The granite and limestone building, erected in 1914, served as Dallas City Hall until 1978, then as police headquarters until last year. But it's best known for its connection to the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. Ruby shot Oswald, the accused assassin, in the building's basement. Oswald's jail cell was on the fifth floor.

Recently, officials have discussed opening the jail cell and basement to the public as an exhibit.

Should UNT put a law school there, city officials would still like that to happen. "No matter what happens, we have to preserve history," Mr. Evans said.

The next step is for UNT to study the logistics and cost of opening a law school downtown. The Legislature must give permission for those studies. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, have said they will file bills in the coming session to get that approval, UNT officials say.

UNT's main campus is in Denton, but it has a satellite campus in southern Dallas. The system is building a full-fledged university in the same area, with construction to begin next year. UNT at Dallas is scheduled to open in 2007.