Legislators watching for final decision on public law school

December 26, 2009

While they have no official say over whether Massachusetts could open the state’s first public law school, legislators on both sides of the issue are threatening to file legislation as pre-emptive strikes before the state Board of Higher Education makes its final decision in February.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg is preparing legislation that would bar the proposed public law school at UMass Dartmouth from using state funds because he is skeptical of Chancellor Jean MacCormack’s promise that no tax dollars would be used in creating or sustaining the law school.

Well, an eye for an eye, retorted South Coast members of the state House of Representatives. In response to Rosenberg, South Coast delegation members, who support the law school, shot back recently by saying they would file their own legislation requiring new academic programs at UMass Amherst to be self-sustaining. The legislation would also seek to equalize per-student state-appropriation funding within the UMass system.

"The law school has no intention to use state funds, but if Senator Rosenberg is going to offer a rule to UMass Dartmouth, the same rules should apply to graduate programs across the system," said state Representative John Quinn of Dartmouth.

Per-student state-appropriation funding at UMass Amherst, the system’s flagship campus, was $10,020 in fiscal year 2009, while it was just $6,569 at UMass Dartmouth, according to Quinn, citing UMass data.

The legislative squabbling has gotten so heated that even UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub felt the need to intercede.

"This controversy continues even after the Board of Trustees has voted on three occasions in support of the establishment of a public law school," Holub wrote recently on the UMass Amherst website. "Unfortunately, it has extended into the legislative realm, where it does not belong."

UMass trustees approved the creation of the law school earlier this month, with the understanding that it would be supported by tuition from increasing enrollment. Under the plan, UMass Dartmouth would acquire Southern New England School of Law, a tiny private institution nearby that is donating its campus and assets to the state. The matter is now sent over to the Board of Higher Education, which is scheduled to vote on it Feb. 2.

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Yale administrators are catching heat from a civil liberties group for last month’s flap over the word "sissies," which was pulled at the 11th hour from a T-shirt designed for the Harvard-Yale football game.

Greg Lukianoff, president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, penned a column for The Huffington Post on Monday chastising the administration for urging the freshman class council to nix the shirt, which would have displayed an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote
— "I think of all Harvard men as sissies" — on the front in bold white letters and "WE AGREE" on the back.

"A couple of Yale administrators decided that the word ‘sissies’ was too offensive because some people interpreted it as a slur against gay men," Lukianoff wrote. "This was news to the Yale freshmen who, like me, see ‘sissies’ as being funny primarily because it is such a ridiculous,silly, old-fashioned put-down, somewhere between ‘cad’ and ‘toots’ as far as insults go."

Lukianoff praised the anti-Harvard shirt as having some literary merit, but Yale’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community called it offensive and demeaning, according to the Yale Daily News.

Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program and a 1994 Harvard graduate, sent a letter to Yale President Richard Levin on Dec. 18 rebuking the school for not respecting freedom of expression.

He urged Levin to respond by Jan. 12 2010 — marking the Harvard-Yale hockey game — with assurances that Yale will no longer seek to censor "the unmentionable."

"If these Yale administrators have a problem with the word ‘sisses,’ they’ve got to have a problem with the cheers that get said at hockey games," said Kissel, the one-time drillmaster for the Harvard band who was responsible for writing the half-time shows.

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Students accustomed to burning the midnight oil now have more classes to choose from at Bunker Hill Community College.

The college began its first-in-the-nation experiment in September by offering two courses — psychology 101 and college writing — from 11:45 p.m until 2:30 a.m. Now it plans to add a third course, sociology 101, for spring semester, starting Jan. 25.

Enrollment at Bunker Hill has surged 38 percent from last year, and could result in more than 11,000 students spring semester, said college president Mary Fifield.

"We’re still bursting at the seams," said Fifield, adding that the college is slowly rolling out a roster of late-night courses as faculty show interest in teaching during the unconventional hours. "We don’t twist anyone’s arms to teach at midnight."

Student retention in the midnight courses is about the same, if not better, than the day courses, where about two-thirds of students complete the semester, Fifield said.

Late-night courses spring semester will run from midnight to 2:45 a.m.

Schools: Yale University Cases: Yale University: Controversial Anti-Harvard T-shirt Quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald