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February 3, 2000

New master's programs in law studies, occupational therapy await board okay

The Board of Trustees' academic affairs/ libraries committee on Jan. 20 gave preliminary approval to two new master's level programs — in occupational therapy and law studies.

The programs await final approval by the full board at its Feb. 24 meeting.

Neither program would require additional Pitt funding, according to proposals distributed to trustees. If approved, the new occupational therapy program would begin next fall, the new law studies program in fall 2001.

Raising Pitt's occupational therapy program to the master's level is necessary because, beginning Jan. 1, 2007, only schools that offer post-baccalaureate occupational therapy degree programs will be eligible for accreditation in that discipline, said School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean Clifford Brubaker.

Likewise, a master's degree will be required for entry-level jobs in occupational therapy starting in 2007, he said.

Under the proposal, the two-year master's program would enroll 80 students (40 in each year's class). Pitt's current undergraduate program in occupational therapy would be terminated after the Class of 2002 graduates.

"Our program is probably a bit behind in making this move," said Brubaker, noting that Duquesne and Chatham already offer entry-level master's programs in occupational therapy. Pitt, with its lower in-state tuition and its teaching, research and clinical strengths would enjoy a competitive advantage, Brubaker said.

The second new program approved by the trustees committee, the master of studies in law, is designed to teach the essentials of law and legal reasoning to non-lawyers.

Recipients of the new, one-year degree could not practice law, nor could they apply credits earned through the program toward a J.D. (doctoral) or L.L.M. (master's) degree.

The master of studies in law has three aims, said law school Dean David Herring: to serve professionals and graduate students who don't want to practice law but want to increase their legal knowledge; to enrich the school's classes by introducing students from a broader range of backgrounds, and to generate revenue to support scholarly work by law school faculty.

Technically, the new degree would be the school's first graduate program because Pitt classifies the L.L.M. and J.D. as first-professional degrees.

Unlike the occupational therapy degree proposal, the proposal for the master of studies in law was not approved unanimously by the academic affairs/libraries committee.

Trustee H. Woodruff Turner, an attorney, abstained from the vote on the law program after voicing concerns about a glut of Americans with law degrees and the possibility that graduates of Pitt's new program might try to pass themselves off as lawyers.

Dean Herring replied that his school plans to advertise emphatically that graduates of the new program won't be qualified to practice law or take the bar exam in any state. As for an oversupply of lawyers, Herring said his school places 95 percent of its graduates. The remaining 5 percent go on to graduate school, he said.

And the intention of the new program isn't to produce more lawyers, Herring pointed out — it is to provide people from other fields with an educational grounding in the law.

Committee chairperson Martha Munsch, herself a lawyer, praised the proposal, noting: "Our society is so pervaded by law today." She said the new program would be ideal for many professionals, including executive directors of non-profit organizations and Human Resources directors.

Enrollment in the new program would be limited to 24 full-time equivalent students each year by the program's fourth year. Applicants would be required to take the LSAT.

— Bruce Steele

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