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

In an e-mail to the Weekly, Watson explained that A&M’s decision not to issue A&M diplomas to Wesleyan Law alumni was based on the school’s interpretation of the state’s education code, which reads, “… no new department, school, degree program, or certificate program may be added at any public institution of higher education except with specific prior approval of the board.”

By her logic, since A&M wasn’t accredited until January 2013, the school didn’t have the authority to operate a law school program before that time or to issue a JD degree.

During the September meeting, Watson told the group that A&M received a dispensation from SACS, the regional accreditation agency, to allow students who were set to graduate just after the acquisition but did the majority of their course work at Wesleyan Law to be treated as transfer students. Federal law requires that transfer students must complete one-third of their course work at the university granting the degree. The dispensation, Watson said, allows those students to graduate with degrees from A&M.

“We got a one-time exception for those students who are currently enrolled who will graduate in December that they could have less than one-third of their hours from Texas A&M and still get a degree,” she said. “That’s as far as we were able to get the [accrediting body] to bend.”

Belle Wheelan, the president of SACS, said she did not recall A&M asking for any waivers and that the reissuing of diplomas “is not an accreditation issue; that is the university’s issue.”

“What would have happened once the two institutions merged, then Texas A&M’s name would go on that diploma because that was the school that was granting the degree now,” she said.

For the alumni, she said her organization has “no prohibition against putting both [school] names on the diploma. They could do that.”

Watson said A&M is working on some sort of certificate, not a diploma, that would be issued to Wesleyan Law grads.

“It would say your name, and we’ll work on it so that it’s clear that you graduated from this university,” she said. “We recognize this is an unusual situation for you — that in some ways your school of law is here, and in some ways it’s not.”

Of course, a “Texas Aggie Bar Association” already exists. It’s made up of attorneys who earned undergraduate or other degrees from A&M and then went to law school elsewhere. But, Watson said, Wesleyan alumni wouldn’t qualify for membership.

********

The Texas A&M University System is a sprawling empire of 11 universities, seven state agencies, and a health science center. It has a physical presence in 251 of the state’s 254 counties, the most of any system in the state.

To the Aggies, the state’s academic landscape looks like a Monopoly board. Small schools often get caught up in the conflict between the A&M and University of Texas systems. It’s the same kind of hegemonic campaign that European colonial empires once engaged in as they planted their flags all over the globe.

Graham: “I don’t even have a bread-crumb trail to get back to where the school is.” Courtesy Matthew Graham

Graham: “I don’t even have a bread-crumb trail to get back to where the school is.” Courtesy Matthew Graham

Buying a law school is tricky business. A university system must get the OK of the American Bar Association, SACS, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Even if a university gets approval from those three organizations, the Texas Legislature could still kill the deal.

As complicated as that process is, starting a law school from the ground up is an even more arduous task. A new law school would have to be approved by all of those same bodies and by the legislature, and the whole project can be four to five times more expensive.

“Starting one is a $200 million to $250 million proposition, and buying one is a $70 million proposition,” said John Sharp, the chancellor of Texas A&M University.

Retired U.S District Judge Royal Furgeson took the job in January 2012 as founding dean of the nascent University of North Texas Dallas College of Law. He is now going through the process of creating a law school from scratch.

“It is a challenge to start a new law school,” he said. “For one thing, you have to start unaccredited. That takes two years before you can get provisional accreditation, if you do get it in two years. It creates anxiety. A number of things could happen, and you could be delayed.” At his law school, he said, the vast majority of applicants are UNT graduates.

When UNT started talking about creating a law school, there were no public law schools in North Texas. Before A&M’s acquisition of Wesleyan, the Metroplex was the country’s largest urban metropolis without such a college. Because of the relatively short amount of time it takes to purchase a school versus building one, A&M beat North Texas to the punch.

It’s easy to understand why A&M would want to buy a law school instead of build one from the ground up. What’s less clear is why Wesleyan would want to sell the law program that students, faculty, and alumni worked so hard to build.

“You’ve got to understand: There’s a number of us over here at the administration who spent a lot of time at that law school, so the law school was very dear to us,” said John Veilleux, spokesperson for Texas Wesleyan.

Part of Wesleyan’s motivation to sell was to provide funding for the continued renovation of the main campus on East Rosedale Street, he said. The university is the centerpiece of the city’s $32 million  plan to improve Rosedale and reinvigorate the Polytechnic neighborhood. Among its announced projects, Wesleyan is planning a $1.3 million entryway for the school that will include a clock tower and new parking areas. There are also plans to build a $3 million conference center and renovate a historic building into a business center.

“It was a win for Texas Wesleyan because it allowed us to focus on our historic campus,” Veilleux said. “It allowed us to bring in some resources, and Texas A&M will be able to elevate that law school with resources that we, Wesleyan, didn’t have. So it’s going to make the law school a nationally ranked law school in a very short amount of time, I’m sure. That’s not something we would have been able to do.”

In a way, A&M and Wesleyan were bound to find each other. In the years just before A&M came to the table, both Texas Christian University and UNT were reportedly interested in buying the Wesleyan law school.

It was no secret that A&M wanted a law school. The university has been trying to purchase one since the 1920s. The closest it came before the Wesleyan acquisition was in 1998, when a deal to purchase the South Texas College of Law went sour after a lengthy legal fight with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the governing body of the state’s public institutions of education.

Though A&M has bought many colleges from various universities through the years, their acquisition of Wesleyan was a unique circumstance. Only a few times in the state’s history has a public university bought a school from a private university without the purchased school going out of business.

In 1996 A&M bought the Baylor School of Dentistry. In that case, the name Baylor still appears in the official name: Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry. Retention of the Baylor name was a rare exception for A&M, which historically has been extraordinarily protective of its brand. In 2006 the university sued the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks for unauthorized use of the phrase “12th Man.” Texas A&M copyrighted the term, which refers to its football fans at Kyle Field. The two sides settled, with the  Seahawks acknowledging A&M’s ownership of the phrase.

When Wesleyan and A&M began negotiations, Wesleyan administrators sent a letter of intent to its alumni, supporters, and staff. The letter indicated the two sides were working toward a “strategic partnership” and that the school would be known as the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University.

Alumni like Graham were excited that  their school was to be a part of the A&M brand.

“When we learned that it was going to happen, we were all laboring under the false assumption that A&M would do whatever they had to do to put as many A&M law degrees on as many walls as possible in North Texas,” he said. “It just made sense to us that they would create a network of alumni where they didn’t have one before.”

Veilleux said Wesleyan didn’t put the law school up for sale.

“We weren’t thinking of selling the law school,” he said. “Texas A&M approached us with a partnership that sounded interesting. We looked into it. Then we began negotiating.”

He said that when the letter of intent was sent out, the two universities were hashing out joint masters’ degree programs and shared space. But as the negotiations wore on, the discussion moved toward A&M buying the school outright.

“The structure of the deal very much changed,” he said. “It became more of a transaction. The focus of some of those joint programs that were very much a part of the original deal didn’t really make sense [anymore].”

Sharp confirmed that A&M was open to a partnership. However, he said the deal was never about who was going to operate the law school, but rather how the school’s downtown facilities were going to be shared.

“It was originally a 40-year lease, and there was going to be some joint masters’ programs and some things like that,” he said. “In the end, both parties came to the conclusion that [that] was more complicated, and we just made it a straight-up purchase.”

In cases in which one university purchases another, and the school that is bought goes out of business, the buyer assumes all of the responsibility of the defunct university. Under those circumstances, the purchaser would be obliged to reissue diplomas. But that’s not the case in the A&M-Wesleyan deal, Veilleux explained.

“The reality is TWU still exists and is therefore the granting institution of those degrees,” he said. “We didn’t go away. We’re still here. Texas A&M does not have the authority to issue a Texas A&M School of Law degree from 2007. They weren’t the accredited agency. They don’t have the authority to do that.”

Short, the interim dean, said A&M still considers the Wesleyan Law graduates to be part of its law school community. He said he hopes the alumni will continue to mentor students and participate in seminars.

“All of our graduates — those from Texas Wesleyan law school and Texas A&M law school — remain an important part of our law school community,” he said in an e-mail. “We include them in our workshops, continuing legal education seminars, and social activities.

“The one thing we don’t control at the law school level is which diploma we hand out,” he said.

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30 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.





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