Aggie Vanishing Act

The sale of Texas Wesleyan’s law school to A&M has left alumni out in the cold.
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Posted February 26, 2014 by ERIC GRIFFEY in News
Norred: “They don’t want to take responsibility.” Courtesy Warren NorredNorred: “They don’t want to take responsibility.” Courtesy Warren Norred

Last September, alumni of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law were invited to a meeting in downtown Fort Worth at the building that once housed their 24-year-old alma mater. A month earlier, Texas A&M University had completed a deal to purchase the school for $73.2 million. Though the physical space itself was familiar to the former students, many felt that they were walking in as outsiders.

Karan Watson, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs for Texas A&M University, spoke at the meeting, along with interim law school dean Aric Short. Many of the alumni were concerned that their law school was gone and wanted answers as to how, or if, they would fit into the A&M family.

After a brief introduction by Short, Watson immediately addressed the elephant in the room: Would the Wesleyan alumni receive reissued degrees from A&M?

“You all graduated from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. That’s it,” she said. “You did not graduate from Texas A&M University. Texas A&M had no authority before we acquired the law school in August to grant any degrees in law.

“So that’s it in terms of degrees and diplomas. We cannot reissue your diplomas; we cannot do anything about that,” she said, adding that A&M could jeopardize its accreditation by issuing its diplomas to non-A&M graduates.

Her comments didn’t sit well with the crowd. The exchange that followed between the alumni, Watson, and Short bordered on combative.

Many alumni who attended the meeting or watched a recording of it on YouTube, used word like “betrayed” and “abandoned” to describe how they felt afterward.

During the negotiations between A&M and Wesleyan, when the Fort Worth university was trying to win ex-students’ support for the idea, Wesleyan sent a letter of intent to its alumni announcing the school’s “strategic partnership” with A&M. The new name of the school would be the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University.

The letter energized many alumni, who believed their law degrees were about to become more prestigious with the A&M name behind them. Several of them told Fort Worth Weekly that they believed that, once the partnership became official, their diplomas would be reissued as a matter of due course. Tantalized by the prospect, most of them supported the partnership.

Berger: “You can see that enthusiasm waning after the purchase.” Courtesy Nancy Berger

Berger: “You can see that enthusiasm waning after the purchase.” Courtesy Nancy Berger

During the course of negotiations, however, the touted partnership became an outright sale of the law school. In part, it appears that the law school was sacrificed in order to pay for continued improvements of Wesleyan’s main campus in southeast Fort Worth.

In the sale, “Wesleyan” was dropped from the school’s name, and the excitement that the Wesleyan alumni had felt turned to confusion and anger. Their law school had vanished.

The former students believe they have lost a program they helped grow, that was accredited in part because of their accomplishments. And now they are the proverbial orphans left at the doorstep of an institution that doesn’t want to acknowledge them.

But the loss of their law school has broader implications than just hurt feelings. They fear that having graduated from a law school that no longer exists could hurt their careers as they apply for jobs, seek to further their education, or move out of state.

Online records of the Texas Wesleyan School of Law have practically been scrubbed from existence. On the website of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the organization that grants accreditation to law schools in this region, Texas A&M is listed as gaining accreditation in 1994, the year Wesleyan earned it. There’s no record of Wesleyan Law. When former students apply online for a more advanced degree, out-of-state jobs, or another state’s bar exam, Wesleyan Law isn’t one of the listed options as accredited law schools.

Some alumni have heard rumors that A&M plans to some day move the university out of Fort Worth. University officials have repeatedly publicly committed to keeping the school in Fort Worth, though Chancellor John Sharp told the Weekly that administrators have discussed possibly having some freshmen attend law school classes at the university’s College Station campus.

Wesleyan alumni Jared Julian said he was initially excited about the idea of joining the A&M family and gaining the prestige that comes along with that brand.

“It’s been disheartening,” he said. “It was represented to us that the value of our degree would, if anything, be enhanced. Instead, we feel very much lost. The law school and its reputation that the professors and students have built have been taken from us. We’re getting nothing in return.”

Now Wesleyan Law alumni are doing what lawyers do: They are organizing and gathering evidence as though preparing for a court case. Some alumni started Facebook groups on which people have discussed taking legal action against A&M.

Fort Worth attorney Warren Norred, who calls himself a “happy warrior,” created a petition imploring A&M to reissue the alumni’s law degrees. So far the petition has 243 signatures. In the petition, Norred writes that he and other Wesleyan graduates have looked for and could find no legal basis for A&M to claim it can deny them their reissued diplomas.

“The petition doesn’t say emphatically that we’re right,” he said. “It just says we couldn’t find anything.”

Norred is frustrated that so many questions about the sale of Wesleyan remain unanswered, such as whether his school records are now subject to public information requests and how the erasure of Wesleyan Law will affect its graduates who seek to practice outside of Texas under reciprocity rules. In 26 states, lawyers who have passed the Texas bar exam are not required to take the other states’ bar exams in order to practice there. But one of the requirements is that the lawyer must have graduated from an accredited law school.

“There is no place on the A&M law school website that tells Wesleyan Law alumni how you handle these issues,” he said. “They don’t want to take responsibility.”

He believes that he is now an A&M School of Law graduate.

“Texas A&M purchased and renamed this school,” he said. “They did not make it up out of whole cloth. If I were to ask Texas A&M School of Law for a list of graduates from 1994 to 2012, would I be on that list? If I am on that list, how can I not be called a Texas A&M School of Law graduate?

“The fact is, we do have a degree from Texas A&M,” he said. “We just haven’t been issued it.”

Former student Matthew Graham, who practices in Dallas, noted that on its website, A&M often trumpets the accomplishments of Wesleyan Law graduates when they do something noteworthy. In those cases, he said, they are happy to acknowledge Wesleyan Law graduates as A&M alumni.

“It’s a sort of strange, self-serving use of our accomplishments without allowing us to use their name on our resumé,” he said.

Julian also feels that the relationship between A&M and Wesleyan graduates is decidedly one-way.

“[A&M officials] are saying ‘Thank you very much. On the one hand, you created an excellent law school, and your reputation of the quality of attorneys is the reason we were attracted to the school. In return, we’re not willing to recognize you,’ ” he said.

Graham isn’t looking for a job, but if he were, he said, he wouldn’t know what to put on a resumé.

“I don’t even have a bread-crumb trail to get back to where the school is,” he said. “If you go on the internet and look around a bit, it’s been expunged.

“You can’t buy a Wesleyan Law t-shirt, you can’t buy a Wesleyan Law coffee mug,” he said. “It’s history now.”

********


31 Comments


  1.  
    Kathryn Freed-Collier

    I feel cheated. I spent six figures on my law degree from Texas Wesleyan School of Law. I endured Alton and Gray. I prevailed, when more than half our section was washed out by the pressure of ABA attorneys auditing all the classes.

    So, for the money, I am now cheated. A & M is making up excuses that make no sense. I want a refund of my money, because I can’t get my time and effort back, nor the pain and suffering this school put me through in order to make their reputation.

    Class of 2000




  2.  
    Out of State

    As a Wesleyan grad living and practicing in another state, I know first hand what it’s like to have someone not recognize the name of your law school. As well known as Wesleyan wants to think it is, I assure you, it is not. I attended Wesleyan because it was a small, intimate, law school that I felt would provide a great education and network of good attorneys and even better people. I am not ashamed of that. I took the Texas bar, planned to practice exclusively in Texas, and had that been the path my life took, I would not be as outspoken about this issue. However, due to issues beyond my control, I was forced to move to a state that probably would have had to look up my law school on Google even when it did exist, but now that it’s vanished into thin air, doesn’t even have that option available. The fact remains, we paid a lot of money (and will forever be paying back a lot of money) for an education from a law school that DOES NOT EXIST. Maybe those Alumni remaining in Texas will benefit from the media attention of the acquisition (and thus be able to fully explain the situation better to those not personally affected- call it the “oh yea, I heard something about that” response), but those of us in other states do not have the same benefit. When future employers, or even future clients, of out-of-Texas Alumni search to find the status of our degrees, what will they find? At best, they will assume we attended a NON-ABA school and at worst, that we are untruthful about attending a law school at all. Neither option is sufficient for me.

    I fully understand and agree that I did not attend Texas A&M School of Law, and to be honest, with the way they are treating Wesleyan Alumni, I am pretty damn proud to say I am NOT an Aggie. But, I WAS a part of the Wesleyan law community, and I did rely on the “partnership” that was supposed to be formed between these two schools. I fully supported the acquisition because the network would be larger, not any prestige element. People may know A&M’s name better than Wesleyan but I do not feel that A&M will produce better attorneys, I do not feel that A&M has better professors (in reality, the same professors are there), and I especially do not feel that A&M is a more prestigious law school that what Wesleyan was. We all know rankings are based on money. Will A&M have a higher ranking than Wesleyan, yes, undoubtedly . Not because the quality has improved, but simply because they bought it…They lied for it. They lied to the ABA, they lied to the SACS, and most importantly, they lied to the Alumni.

    Unfortunately, I do not feel A&M will ever come around and acknowledge Wesleyan Alumni as their own. What I hope comes of this is a change in the way the ABA handles acquisitions. Don’t remove Wesleyan from your history like it never existed. At least honor those that attended by qualifying it. A&M was NOT accredited in 1994. Wesleyan was. Maybe leave Wesleyan’s name there with the years next to it. Just a suggestion. Whatever happens, it is wrong to leave Wesleyan Law Alumni out in the cold like both the institutions did. However, I do have more disdain for A&M because they gave us the proverbial boot after the sale was finalized and they no longer felt they needed Alumni support. But in reality, all agencies and institutions have some blame here.




    •  
      Kathryn Freed-Collier

      I agree with you. I am practicing in Maryland. Lucky for me, I have my own practice, otherwise, this would negatively impact even more than it does now.

      I will say that I am tired of the disrespect that this purchase has cost me, personally, and professionally.




      •  

        When Enron empties the retirement accounts of a municipal power company in Montana, none of you guys have a problem with that.

        How about “I attended Wesleyan, an accredited school, purchased by Texas A&M.” They paid $70 million, end of story. Your school was SOLD. You guys are smart, and know what sold means. You are lucky to have a diploma without A&M on it. The school has spawned a cottage industry of joke books. I graduated from Wesleyan. My dad paid a woman to write his master’s thesis in education at A&M back in 1950. He went on to make a lot of money as basically one of the bigger slumlords in Polytechnic Heights. All of your concerns and claims and imagined slights amount to nothing.




        •  
          Steve Wayne

          I have nothing negative to say about Texas Wesleyan or Texas A&M. But I know what “SOLD” means. Maybe your issue should be with the seller and not the buyer….?




  3.  
    James Parsons

    I graduated in May of 2013, and have been very disappointed with “alumni” relations so far. I’ve received five pieces of mail since graduating; one was a thinly-veiled request to stop whining sent to all graduates, and the other four were strongly-worded, borderline rude demands to fill out an employment survey for an institution that won’t claim me as an alumnus.

    Our school had, and may continue to have, a requirement to complete pro bono hours. It’s worth noting that a number of my classmates, previous students that have not taken a class since May of 2013 like me, simply waited until winter to turn in this form and received an A&M diploma as a result. If A&M is holding onto accreditation by as thin a thread as they claim, I guess it’s time to report them for forfeiting it due to a clerical error – but that report would be just as silly as their reasoning.




  4.  
    Llisa dean

    So, Wesleyan bought the DFW School of Law years ago. Anyone crying about that?




  5.  
    James O'Sullivan

    While it is clear that there are some kinks to work out, this whole thing is laughable. I graduated from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, and am free to note on my resume that this has subsequently been assumed by Texad A&M. Problem solved. I would never want or expect any university to confer a degree on a student who did not attend it, that would make a mockery of what it means to attend a particular university. The fact that a big state school chose to purchase it speaks highly of Wesleyan, and they should be expected to boast of the achievements of the school it bought.

    Show me an alum who was unable to enroll in further education or to get licensed in another state and I’ll take these complaints more seriously. There may well be issues that need fixing, but asking a university to confer a degree on someone who graduated from a school just because that university subsequently bought it is farcical. Academic integrity is far too high a price to pay for a period of mild inconvenience.




    •  
      Matthew Graham

      I understand that you “would never want or expect any university to confer a degree on a student who did not attend it, that would make a mockery of what it means to attend a particular university.” That is a principled position. But do you not find it inconsistent to also list that you attended Texas A&M School of Law on your Facebook page, as you do? Texas Wesleyan University School of Law is still available to be listed as the school you attended in 2007. I’m certain of this because It is listed on my page.

      “Academic integrity is far too high a price to pay for a period of mild inconvenience.” True that.




      •  
        Angela Sessions

        “But do you not find it inconsistent to also list that you attended Texas A&M School of Law on your Facebook page, as you do? Texas Wesleyan University School of Law is still available to be listed as the school you attended in 2007.”

        Newsflash! The Texas Wesleyan name is NOT available to be listed as the school I attended (2002 graduate). Facebook automatically updated the school name on my page, and I CANNOT change it back to Wesleyan. Try it yourself…a lesson in futility. I guess I should delete the fact that I even graduated from law school on my profile, since I DID NOT GRADUATE FROM A&M. Either I did, or I didn’t. A&M says I didn’t…so why is my only facebook option to show that I did? Seems to me that A&M wants the cake we gave them and eat it too. They can bite me instead.

        And now I am paying another 20 years on a student loan to get a diploma from a school that does not exist any longer. And I can’t claim I graduated from A&M. So what the hell am I paying for exactly? Yes I am licensed to practice law. But I appear to have graduated from a defunct law school. If anyone here thinks this acquisition will not affect them now or in the future, think again. In a profession that is more networked up and concerned with prestige, I appear to have not existed, along with Wesleyan. This could highly impact my future earning power. I will be happy to accept a cash settlement equal to the amount of the cost of my education. I think that is fair, since A&M wants to reap all the rewards on the backs of the alumni.




      •  
        Steve Wayne

        If your whole concern is your “Facebook” status. You have more serious issues then you realize. Get a life.




        •  
          Angela Sessions

          I was merely responding to your point to the other post, and if you cared enough to read my entire response there was much more there than facebook “status” as you incorrectly pointed out. You obviously are no attorney, or perhaps just a very bad one Steve Wayne.




    •  
      Kathryn Freed-Collier

      I don’t understand your need to demean or degrade my loss, or position in a contractual and legal conflict with TWU and TAMU for which I am negatively impacted.

      Are you a party to this case, or just another uninterested party who thinks that he is superior enough to make such a snide and uncalled for comment?

      I do not concern myself with your opinion. Res ipsa locator.




  6.  
    Jeff Gooch

    After talking with alumni relations about this subject and being basically placated and told there was nothing we could do.I am frustrated. it is my opinion that some very fine attorneys came out of Wesleyan and it seems to me that we should band together and figure out if a lawsuit should be pursued. I believe we can and would prevail.




  7.  
    Scott Wonder

    A&M’s attitude is curious. Seattle University bought and moved the University of Puget Sound’s law school a number of years ago, and offered to (and in fact did) reissue a number of SU law degrees to UPS alumni. It is not unprecedented to do so, nor would it jeopardize the accreditation. TW alumni might want to look at this example.




  8.  
    Scott Wonder

    A&M’s attitude is curious. Seattle University bought and moved the University of Puget Sound’s law school a number of years ago, and offered to (and in fact did) reissue a number of SU law degrees to UPS alumni. It is not unprecedented to do so, nor would it jeopardize the accreditation. TW alumni should look at this example.




  9.  
    Scott Wonder

    A&M’s attitude is curious. Seattle University bought and moved the University of Puget Sound’s law school a number of years ago, and reissued a number of SU law degrees to UPS alumni. It is not unprecedented to do so, nor would it jeopardize the accreditation. TW alumni should look at this example.




  10.  

    A&M’s attitude is curious. Seattle University bought and moved the University of Puget Sound’s law school a number of years ago, and reissued a number of SU law degrees to UPS alumni. It is not unprecedented to do so, nor would it jeopardize the accreditation. Texas Wesleyan alumni should look at this example.




  11.  
    D Webb

    I absolutely agree with Jeff Gooch ( and that may not be used in litigation or quoted!) it seems that TAMU is forgetting that this is an issue that a bunch lawyers feel strongly about, and that is usually a good formula for a lawsuit!




  12.  
    D Webb

    I absolutely agree with J Gooch ( and that may not be used in litigation or quoted!) it seems that TAMU is forgetting that this is an issue that a bunch lawyers feel strongly about, and that is usually a good formula for a lawsuit!




  13.  
    Big D

    Good news everyone. As long as your law school was accredited at the time of your graduation you are still eligible to sit for the Bar even if the school ceases to exist. See excerpt below from ABA Accreditation Standard 102.

    Also, my Dad graduated from Arlington State College. Do you think he might be able to get a diploma reissued ti him by UT-Arlington? At the time it was part of the Texas A&M System.

    “Individuals who graduate from provisionally approved school are considered by the ABA to be students attending an ABA-approved law school. It does not matter that the school was not approved when the student first enrolled in the school or that the school loses its approval subsequent to an individual’s graduation.”

    http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/frequently_asked_questions.html




  14.  
    Big D

    Good news everyone. As long as your law school was accredited at the time of your graduation you are still eligible to sit for the Bar even if the school ceases to exist. See excerpt below from ABA Accreditation Standard 102.

    Also, my Dad graduated from Arlington State College. Do you think he might be able to get a diploma reissued ti him by UT-Arlington? At the time it was part of the Texas A&M System.

    “Individuals who graduate from provisionally approved school are considered by the ABA to be students attending an ABA-approved law school. It does not matter that the school was not approved when the student first enrolled in the school or that the school loses its approval subsequent to an individual’s graduation.”




    •  
      Warren Norred

      That’s not been the issue. We’ve all passed the bar. If it is the logistical issue about which you are inquiring, there are many times in a typical attorney’s career where he has to provide exact details about his graduation, and have those details sent directly from the accrediting institution. In reciprocity situations, we fill out a form to allow us to join the bar of another state, and that form asks for us to list the ABA-accredited institution from which we graduated.

      We have been told by Karen Watson, Provost of Texas A&M University, that we are not A&M alumni, so we can’t put down TAMU. If we put down TWU School of Law, then the other state’s bar personnel red flag the application. Even if we explain it in some letter, that organization has to run it through their discipline and enforcement committee (various names for this organization are used) to approve the letter, which takes additional time. You can lose a month or several while this gets worked through.

      As for whether a person who has graduated from one of the earlier incarnations of UT-Arlington can have a reissued UTA degree, I don’t know. What I can tell you is that I have three degrees from UTA, and it is clear that UTA is very proud of its heritage, services the graduates of the earlier schools with great pride, and there is no doubt that UTA includes its predecessor schools’ graduates.

      And that’s the real difference. A&M representatives have commented about how they have made their law school now. They claim to have been accredited since 1994. It is as though a new pharaoh has decided to eliminate from history any mention of any previous ruler, rather than celebrating the history that came before it. TAMU’s response has been very, very different, both in action and attitude from that of UTA.

      I hope that answers your question.




  15.  

    I think it is time we formally organize as a group with a governing body. Unfortunately, that is the only way we are going to be taken seriously. We need to decide what steps need to be taken and in what order.




  16.  
    Binx

    As mentioned in the article, A&M thinks it will be able to attract a higher class of student and get the school ranked, so it does not want to claim 20 years’ worth of alumni that it perceives as graduating from a lesser school. This is the whole issue. All of the other stuff is just BS.

    And while there are some valid concerns from the TWU alumni, if many alumni are honest, the desire for a new diploma stems from this same issue. The TWU alumni would like to have a degree from a school that is going to have much more prestige than the school they intended, and frankly, one where they may not have even been accepted.




    •  
      Angela Sessions

      Excuse me, but we would like to have a degree from a school whose records have not been purged from existence. A&M wiped us out. They paid for the law school, and all that came with it, but they misled the alumni for support for this venture. They needed our support and now issue nothing but lame excuses while ignoring the valid concerns, only some of which have been expressed here.

      I am perfectly willing to be a life-long, fully recognized graduate of Texas Wesleyan, but why purge Wesleyan from existence? WESLEYAN students made this school what it is, not the name of A&M. Wesleyan students provided the basis for which accreditation was obtained. To create their own law school, A&M would have had to endure what the former Wesleyan students endured, and I doubt if they could ever pull it off. We are a unique group of individuals that not only succeeded in completing the requirements to graduate, but also overcame the obstacles we suffered during the accreditation process. Were you there in those years? Easy to dismiss the name of those that made this school what it is today, and sell us up the river by failing to recognize our contributions to the instant law school accreditation process…on our backs!! If you read the article again, note that we were under the impression that the school would be called Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University. What happened? Not enough prestige for A&M to be associated with this name? They were all too anxious to gain what WE all worked so hard to obtain, but not willing to honor the deal we thought WE were getting. I don’t want the A&M name. I can’t use it, but the sad fact is that I can’t use the Wesleyan name either, because it does not exist.




  17.  
    Rick Turner

    I am a proud graduate of Texas Wesleyan School of Law ’98. I am an attorney at Hewlett-Packard Company. The Alumni built the law school and its reputation to the point that made it attractive to Texas A&M to purchase. The name change requires that diplomas should be issued in the name of the new law school so as not to disenfranchise Texas Wesleyan School of Law Alumni. For the Texas A&M School of Law administrators to give only lip service to what is accomplished by Texas Wesleyan School of Law Alumni and not re-issue diplomas leaves one feeling outraged and surprised that something like this could happen. This issue should be taken to the Texas State Legislature seeking ethical fairness.




  18.  
    Clint

    It’s little wonder A&M’s brand color is maroon.




  19.  
    Todd prine

    Interesting discussion. Where do we sign the petition?





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