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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Public Law School Revisited

In the coming month, the Massachusetts State Board of Higher Education looks to vote on a proposal that would merge UMass Dartmouth with Southern New England School of Law and create the state’s first public law school. This effort, if realized, would be the first in several attempts to successfully create such an institution. One of those attempts was made more than thirty years ago. Today Dr. David Matz, Director of the Graduate Program in Dispute Resolution at UMass Boston, remains the only player in the venture that is still active on the UMB campus. Amidst the turbulent political and social atmosphere of the late 1960s and 70s, changes in the structure and curriculums of institutions of higher education were called for to create a learning environment that was “relevant” to the discourse of the time. “The question was, are the universities well-organized to deal with the problems that erupted in the 60s and how those problems were cast, sometimes in talking in terms of class structure and poverty, sometimes in terms of race, sometimes in terms of the US foreign policy pivoting course of the Vietnamese war,” explains Matz. He continues, “There was a general sense that the structure of the programs -this was mainly at the graduate level -the people hired to teach in them, the kind of research that was done in them, the training students were given as they went through them were not…focusing the universities resources on solving those problems.” According to Matz, these attitudes manifested themselves in different ways on different college campuses. In the context of this university, former President Bob Wood interpreted this push for relevance as a call, not for another traditional law school, but for a unique institution that would produce different kinds of lawyers.

In 1972, one year before Matz joined the UMB faculty, he was asked to be a consultant for the project to help research and layout the basis for this new school before becoming a professor at UMass Boston. One of the founding principles of the law school would concentrate on its pedagogy, making clinical or experiential learning both inside and outside of the classroom. He continues that although medical schools had been instituting these techniques for some time, law schools had just begun to integrate them into their programs. “It wasn’t our idea by any means,” says Matz. “But, the idea of building a law school around such ideas -that was an original idea,” he continues. The other concept that formed the proposed school’s basis was instilling in perspective students the tools to cater to a poor and disenfranchised public. Matz says that traditionally law schools have not paid close attention to issues involving these populations, but rather taught one set of tools that cater to a wealthier clientele. This UMass sponsored law school attempt, according to Matz, was an effort to point the inadequacies of that all encompassing practice. Matz’s research culminated in a document that became a UMass plan for a new two-year public law school, augmenting the third year with practical experience in the field. Despite the fact that President Wood lobbied heavily for the project, the areas private law schools brought the project to an impasse. “The other law schools were then as now -they have not changed a single iota, everything they say now they said thirty years ago. We don’t need more law schools, if the state’s going to put money into it, why don’t they give the money to the private law schools,” he says. After opposition from the private institutions in the Boston area, the idea was stunted. Despite Wood’s efforts, the legislature, largely graduates of these private schools, was not sympathetic to the cause. In the current effort to partner UMass Dartmouth with Southern New England School of Law, Boston’s private law schools have once again emerged as critics of the proposal. Matz, although not involved in this most recent effort, has followed the news of the merger. He says that issues that have surfaced, have most likely been highlighted by sources that do not support the creation of the law school. Matz is unsure as to why this recent effort has been able to reach farther than the attempt he played a part in, but supposes that the political support around this venture may have played a part.Former Governor William Weld, as well as two Massachusetts legislators, Rep. John F. Quinn (D-Dartmouth) and state Senator Joan M. Menard (D-Somerset), have taken a part in that push. “Giving more people access who can’t afford it is a worthwhile goal. But, it would be even more so, and this is the way the law school has been sold, it’s promoting law students who learn public service…That’s a magnificent goal,” says Matz.