UMass Lowell’s new program helps modernize courts

Issue March/April 2018 By Mike Flaim

This past year, the University of Massachusetts Lowell began offering an MPA in Justice Administration. One person intimately involved from the beginning of this new program — the only one of its kind in New England — is UMass Lowell’s Assistant Dean and Prelaw Advisor Dr. Frank Talty. He explained the motivation for the applied graduate degree, and why he believes it will be a boon to the modernization of the Massachusetts courts.

How did this program come about?
First, some historical context: I was a civil litigator and chaired the [MBA’s] Judicial Administration Section in 2001 to 2003, which was during a time when the professionalization of the court system was being called for. In March of 2003, J. Donald Monan released his report to Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, The Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts. Its purpose was to “provide for the complex courts of the 21st century the organizational frame and the managerial know-how needed to deliver the justice the people of Massachusetts deserve.” This began the conversation. In 2005 I moved over to higher education, and I considered my dissertation at Northeastern, which was on how people use the Massachusetts courts. I kept going back to what the needs were in terms of more professional management, which you see a lot in private sectors but not much elsewhere.

What advantages exist in this program versus other MPA programs?
What set ours apart, particularly the Justice Administration option, is that ours is leveraged by our work with other aspects of the university. We take a collaborative approach, and because of this sort of cross-pollination we have a diversity of thought that other universities in New England can’t claim. We also created this program with applicability in mind: We wanted to make sure we weren’t just academics telling the world what to do. Ron Corbett, for example, was the executive director of the SJC and now teaches our Managing Justice Administrations course. He was able to gather a group of terrific professionals from all walks of justice as an advisory group: sheriffs, police, attorneys, judges, etc.

Who is the program geared toward? Are there certain professions that the school had in mind when putting it together?
An MPA in Justice Administration is a new program rolled out this past year, for the 2017-2018 academic calendar, designed for professionals. Two groups of potential students are the focus: early- to mid-career professionals in the justice system and undergraduate students who may want to pursue a career in justice administration. There are also lots of external organizations that work with the justice system, and we’re looking to train people in basic administration skills, with a more public, non-profit focus.

Looking over the curriculum, are there any specific courses being taught now (or in the next semester) that you think really stand out?
Yes. Every semester we offer Managing Justice Organizations and Management of Courts. We will begin offering Justice Information Systems this fall and coming after that will be courses in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Specialty Courts and Access to Justice. A number of these courses were developed after consultation with the Trial Court, Chief Justice Paula Carey and then-Administrator Harry Spence, in particular.

You’ve recently met with the MBA’s Judicial Administration Section Council. What was the feedback from the section council?
Overwhelmingly positive; lawyers know where the management pressure points are. The bar can play a significant role in the professionalization of the courts, as they did after the Monan report.

How large is the program in terms of students?
We’re purposely starting slow to make sure that the quality is high, but student interest has been wonderful. This past semester [fall, 2017], we’ve had between 18 and 30 students. In the spring of 2018, we’ll have approximately 50 enrolled. 

How much does this MPA program cost?
For part-time students that paid by the class, the current rate is $1,725 per three-credit class. There is a flat-rate tuition for students who elect to do the program full-time depending on whether the student is a Massachusetts resident or an out-of-state resident. If a manager wants an employee to take a course, that person can do so without matriculating – it’s not all-or-nothing. What’s more, transfer credits are accepted, as are GRE waivers.

How long does it take to complete? Are there full- and part-time options?
Yes, both part- and full-time options are available. Full-time, the course takes two years to complete. It’s 39 credits, and consists of a core sequence, which is accounting, budgeting, data analysis and leadership. Then there’s the flexible core, which features program evaluation, policy analysis, grant writing and advanced data analysis. Finally there is the option-specific core, which for Justice Administration consists of managing justice administration and administration of courts courses.

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