May 27, 2018
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Husson ends quest to have a law school

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Husson University has abandoned its quest to open a law school.

The decision came five weeks after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for the second time unanimously turned down the university’s request to allow the graduates of its proposed law school to take the Maine bar exam.

The board of trustees made its decision during a regularly scheduled meeting held Sunday and Monday, according to a press release issued Monday afternoon.

The court requires that those taking the bar exam be graduates of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association or a similar state organization or have been admitted to the bar in another state.

“We are grateful to the Supreme Judicial Court for its careful review of our petition, and, we have decided at this time not to pursue a law school,” Husson President Robert Clark said in the press release.

The University of Maine School of Law in Portland is the state’s only law school. It is accredited by the American Bar Association. Long-distance classes and online classes are not offered due to accreditation rules.

Efforts to reach Peter Pitegoff, dean of the law school, were unsuccessful late Monday.

Clark, who took over the Husson presidency in January, inherited the proposal for the law school from his predecessor William Beardsley.

Beardsley is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

“It’s disappointing,” Beardsley said Monday, “but, obviously, without the support of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, it’s understandable. It’s also disappointing that the decision seemed to revolve around issues like tenure rather than what we brought together.”

The American Bar Association, which accredits the majority of the nation’s law schools, requires that law schools have a tenure track for its professors. Husson did away with tenure about 15 years ago.

University officials said repeatedly that the proposed law school did not intend to seek accreditation from the American Bar Association.

“Husson has failed to identify another existing review process, and instead invites us to create a new review process for its benefit,” Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wrote in the 10-page opinion issued on March 4. “In the absence of any other mechanism to assure the quality of the legal education Husson proposes to provide to its future law students, Husson encourages the court to devise a set of state standards by which Husson’s program may be judged, and to create a ‘Law School Evaluation commission’ tasked with determining if Husson’s program meets those standards.”

The justices declined to take on that responsibility.

Justices Jon Levy, Warren Silver, Ellen Gorman and Joseph Jabar agreed with the decision. Justice Donald Alexander, who teaches part time at the law school in Portland, and Justice Andrew Mead, whose wife, Kelly Mead, teaches at Husson, did not participate in the decision.

Brewer lawyer Don Brown, who supported Husson’s proposal, said he was disappointed there would not be a law school in Bangor.

“I understand what may be their frustration in trying to get a law school approved, but I’m disappointed,” he said Monday. “I think it’s a great idea to have a law school at Husson and it would be good for northern and eastern Maine.”

Husson proposed enrolling between 30 and 50 students a year. The three-year program would have emphasized practical skills as well as core doctrines of the law and legal analysis, Husson officials said. Tuition was tentatively set at $18,000 a year, the same as in-state tuition at the Maine School of Law in Portland for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Husson spent about $300,000 in its pursuit of a law school, Husson spokeswoman Julie Green said Monday.

The state’s high court first heard arguments from Husson in February 2008. The next June, the justices unanimously rejected the university’s request. Its 12-page order focused on accreditation issues, including the fact that it did not intend to hire full-time faculty to teach and administer the law school.

In March 2009, Husson announced that it had hired Michael Mullane, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Judy Potter, former longtime professor at the University of Maine law school, and Peter Murray, a founding partner of the Portland law firm Murray, Plumb and Murray, to get the law school up and running.

Their status at Husson was unclear Monday. Green declined to comment on personnel matters.

The university renewed its application to the court in September 2009. A hearing was held on Dec. 1 in the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Husson will continue to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice and undergraduate degrees in paralegal studies through the School of Business, according to Monday’s press release.

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