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UB gets $5 million pledge

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore attorney and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos has pledged a $5 million matching grant for a new law center at the University of Baltimore that could transform the midtown architectural landscape.

The gift, which will be announced today, is the largest in the public campus' history and will fund part of the construction of a 190,00-square-foot building on what is now a school parking lot at North Charles Street and East Mount Royal Avenue. The $107 million building is expected to open in 2012 and is part of UB's 2006 master plan to expand its footprint in the Mount Vernon area and boost the regional prominence of its academic offerings.

Law Dean Philip J. Closius said a new facility will allow the nearly 1,200-graduate student school to consolidate its main classroom, offices and clinical programs into one building, and it should help in recruiting students and faculty as the law school strives to improve its regional reputation.

UB officials have committed to raising $15 million in private construction funds, of which Angelo's gift could spur $10 million, if his dollar-for-dollar challenge is met by other contributors. The university has raised $1.25 million in matching funds. The state is expected to spend about $93 million on the building.

University President Robert L. Bogomolny said Angelos' gift helped persuade the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents and state officials to approve the project. "Our ability to commit to raising a significant portion of the total of the building, close to 15 percent, was predicated on Peter's willingness to step up with this matching grant," he said.

Campus officials plan to select an architect by December from an international design competition funded by a $150,000 grant from the Abell Foundation.

The announcement comes as UB continues to transform its physical presence and educational mission. Last year, the university's undergraduate program expanded from one serving only juniors and seniors to a full four-year college. In 2006, a 38,000-square-foot, five-story student center opened on the site of the old Odorite building, which was built in 1915 and razed over the objections of preservationists.

Next month, construction is scheduled to begin at another UB parking lot at Mount Royal Avenue and West Oliver Street, where a $75 million apartment complex, wrapped around a new parking garage, will be built.

Angelos, a 1961 UB law graduate and founder of a 66-attorney downtown firm, made a $1 million contribution to the university in 1991, which named its current law building the John and Frances Angelos Law Center, after Angelos' parents. The new structure will also be named after the parents of the personal injury attorney, who made his fortune in the 1990s by bringing lawsuits against asbestos and tobacco manufacturers.

Angelos did not return phone messages yesterday.

The existing law building at 1415 Maryland Ave., which opened in 1982, will be renovated to house the campus' main library, Bogomolny said.

Best known for its practical approach to legal education and flexible evening programs that allow working adults to earn law degrees, the law school has educated many prominent Marylanders, including former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, many state legislators and the current and former first ladies of Maryland: Katie Curran O'Malley and Kendel Ehrlich.

About a third of the state's Circuit Court and District Court judges and elected state's attorneys are University of Baltimore law school alumni, according to school officials.

Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, credits the night program with enabling him to transition from the Ocean City police force to a career as a prosecutor and then to politics. He called it the "Harvard of the South."

"I mean it seriously," Ruppersberger said, adding that UB law school is "one of the reasons a lot of us are lawyers today."

The four-year evening program attracts many working adults looking for a career change, but a larger full-time day program also offers a traditional three-year curriculum.

Current students said a new building would be welcome. "There's a definite need," said Jamaal Thomas, who expects to receive his J.D. degree from the university in May and hopes to land a job at DLA Piper's Mount Washington offices, where he is a summer associate. "They're not top-of-the-line facilities you see at other schools ... and might not give the best impression."

According to a UB proposal to the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, the law school is the sixth-largest public law school in the country, but it ranks 76 out of 80 on the American Bar Association's list of approved public programs by square footage per student. More than 100 adjunct faculty share a single workstation, the proposal said.

"The current building doesn't have some of the 'wow' factors you need to recruit students in a competitive admissions market," said Closius, who became dean last July. "And our faculty offices are also horrible."

Closius said the law school has made significant academic progress in the past year. UB moved from the fourth tier to the third tier - or top 140 - in U.S. News and World Report's influential rankings of the nation's top law schools.

"Our goal was second tier in five years, and at this point we'd be disappointed if we didn't get there sooner," Closius said, attributing the rise in national rankings to the improving academic credentials of incoming students.

The average LSAT scores of full-time law students increased from 153 to 155 last year, out of a total possible score of 180, and Closius predicts the incoming class will have a 157 LSAT average. Likewise, average college grade averages of incoming students increased to 3.35 from 3.15 last year, and officials project this fall's class to have a 3.5 grade point average.

At the more selective downtown University of Maryland School of Law, the only other law school in the state, the median LSAT scores of full-time students is 162 and the median GPA is 3.65, according to data compiled by the American Bar Association.

In recent years, UB experienced a substantial drop in students' passing rates on the state bar exam, but those numbers have rebounded, officials said.

While the new law school building is likely to boost UB's stature, it also could provide unanticipated relief for other Baltimoreans who aren't fans of the Male/Female sculpture in front of Penn Station. The new building could obstruct the view of the statue from the intersection of Mount Royal Avenue and North Charles Street.

"It's a shame," said Richard Seitz, a fourth-year law student in UB's evening program who hopes to work in the attorney general's office after graduation. "Penn Station itself is a pretty pleasing building to look at overall, but that sculpture won't be missed."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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