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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

EDITORIAL: Dartmouth Legal

If the election remains unresolved by this date, as some speculate it will, many Americans may want to take up Shakespeare’s cry of “First, kill all the lawyers.”

Law seems to be a reviled profession (though sometimes it seems journalism is catching up). The last thing this country and this state needs, goes the argument, is more lawyers on the streets. The last thing this state needs, goes a similar argument against a merger of Southern New England Law School and UMass Dartmouth, is more lawyers. A seemingly nasty behind-the-scenes battle is brewing over the proposal to create the first public law school in Massachusetts. There are questions that at this time remain unanswered. But the proposal, on its face, sounds promising and even inspiring. The fact that it would indeed create Massachusetts’ only public law school is inherently a good thing. The creation would fill a need in the state, something its opponents would rather not admit. The school would reportedly handle public service, immigration, and maritime law. Additional financial aid would be given to students if they agreed to take on low-paying public service jobs for several years.

Critics of the proposal are absolutely right to say that money that would be used to take care of the merger should instead be going towards lowering fees, maintenance, and other places on the campuses badly in need of some funds. But if what proponents say is true, then the merger will come at no cost to the university system. The law school would be self-sustaining and self-sufficient. Both Dartmouth and SNEL appear to be in stronger positions than they were three years ago, when the merger was first floated, to the tune of $12.5 million dollars, and soundly rejected by the Legislature.

What has been disconcerting is the reaction of some state legislators to the current proposal. “Rep. Gale Candaras [D-Wilbraham] has fired a warning shot against the proposal, submitting a bill making such a merger illegal,” the State House News Service recently reported. “The merger would need legislative approval if the Candaras bill were approved.”

At this time in its history, UMass needs fewer legislative restrictions, not more. We would hope, maybe in vain, that the state Legislature had learned that by now. It is clearly not enough for some in the Legislature to continuously cut the university’s budget.

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker put it well when he wrote, “The campaign against this merger fires at two easy targets: the University of Massachusetts and Southeastern Massachusetts. In an area that boasts some of the world’s best private universities, UMass is basically treated as an afterthought, especially on Beacon Hill.”

With this proposal that needs no legislative approval, Beacon Hill, which houses many graduates of the private law schools, is indeed treated as the afterthought. Our advice to legislators: deal with it. In the meantime, let the university and the state have its public law school.