DARTMOUTH, Mass. /Massachusetts Newswire/ — Governor Deval Patrick today visited with students, faculty and administrators who will represent some of the inaugural class and staff of the state’s first-ever public law school in the University of Massachusetts system. Last month, the Board of Higher Education unanimously approved the application of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Dartmouth to award the Juris Doctor through a donation from the Southern New England School of Law.

“The UMass law school is about opportunity,” said Governor Patrick. “Now, students can get high quality legal training at a UMass price. What a great thing for the SouthCoast and the whole Commonwealth.”

“Massachusetts now boasts a full array of options for students who want to continue their studies beyond high school but may not have the resources,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray. “Our public higher education campuses are more popular than ever because of their great value and the UMass law program will certainly provide students and families with another quality option.”

During the event, Governor Patrick toured the school’s facilities and met with current students, faculty and UMass administrators who are hard at work in planning for next year’s opening.

The UMass law program went through a long and thorough review process, starting with the academic and finance sub-committees of the Board of Trustees at UMass, then the full Board. That was followed by a Department of Higher Education staff review before coming for a vote at the Board of Higher Education.

“Massachusetts is fortunate to be in a position to offer a new program even in challenging financial times,” said Education Secretary Paul Reville. “The challenge is now to the students and faculty to ensure that the program is successful in the mission of providing students with an education that prepares them for prosperous careers helping the residents of the Commonwealth.”

The University’s proposal was made possible in part by an offer from the neighboring Southern New England School of Law (SNESL) to donate its buildings and assets to facilitate the school of law at UMass Dartmouth. In turn, UMass Dartmouth will invite current SNESL students, faculty and staff to go through the process to study and work at the new law school.

“Public higher education in Massachusetts makes a difference in the lives of students and our entire community,” said Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland. “The law program joins many other successful academic offerings that reach from education to biology to health care comprising a comprehensive system of campuses working to meet the needs of students and our state’s economy.”

“We rarely get the chance to celebrate something that is truly historic, but this is exactly that kind of a day as we mark the creation of the Commonwealth’s first public law school,” said UMass President Jack Wilson. “Governor Patrick was a true champion for this cause, as he is a true champion for the UMass system and for the SouthCoast recognizing in the proposal all of the positive aspects – access, diversity, quality, affordability – and worked hard to make this day a reality.”

With this program approval, the University is authorized to enroll its first class in the fall 2010 semester and has already begun the process of student selection.

“UMass Law is off to a great start with nearly 600 inquiries and a record-setting number of applications from potential law school students who are seeking a high quality and affordable legal education,” said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. “The law program opens the doors educational, professional and civic engagement opportunity for people who have never had this choice. I know that the students, faculty and staff will make us all proud in the years to come.”