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 the legal profession, prestige is a big deal. An attorney’s school carries a lot of weight in hiring decisions. The Wesleyan School of Law has about 3,800 graduates. In 10 years, it went from an unaccredited night program based in Irving to a fully accredited school in the heart of downtown Fort Worth.

Gaining accreditation isn’t easy. Students who attend an unaccredited school are taking a risk. There’s a chance the school won’t gain accreditation by the time students finish their course work, if ever.

Julian: “It’s been disheartening.” Courtesy Jared Julian

Julian: “It’s been disheartening.” Courtesy Jared Julian

But the pioneering Wesleyan students persevered. Though the school is still not ranked highly in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report rankings, 80 percent of its 2012 graduates have found jobs, according to Law School Numbers, a statistics-driven website that compares law schools. The list of Wesleyan Law alumni includes several local judges, members of the legislature, and other elected officials such as Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Graham, the Dallas attorney, was in the first class that attended school in the downtown campus. He graduated in 2000.

“That is the way prestige comes to a law school, he said. “It’s a group accomplishment. It was our accomplishments in getting jobs that got Wesleyan accredited. It wasn’t free, and it wasn’t easy to go there during that [early] period.

“It was because we accomplished that goal that A&M purchased the school. They didn’t have to go through that process and ask students to take a risk by going to an unaccredited school. They bought that process. In fact, they bought the prestige that came with that.”

Judge Nancy Berger of the 322nd District Court in Tarrant County attended the first class at Wesleyan. She remembers scrounging for books and using Southern Methodist University’s law library.

“Of course I have a lot of emotion invested in it, because I was there hoping it would become accredited, taking a chance on its success when I started out,” she said.

“There was a lot of effort and a lot of synergy from the students who started the school,” she said. “And you can see that enthusiasm waning after the purchase.”

Berger, who is running unopposed for re-election, said she has a great deal of respect for A&M. One of her daughters attended that school.

“We have a lot of really good graduates from there,” she said. “But the people who are caught in the middle who are younger than me, I worry about them finding a job later on when a potential employer tries to look up the Texas Wesleyan School of Law and there’s not one.”

Houston attorney David LaRue graduated from Wesleyan in 2000. He and many others wonder why the Wesleyan administrators didn’t negotiate anything for the alumni.

“When I went to Wesleyan, it was only provisionally accredited as a law school,” he said. “It became accredited on our clock. We paid our dues there, and when they sold it there were no provisions made for us.”

Veilleux said that reissuing diplomas is an issue between A&M and the ABA.

“That’s not within our power to negotiate,” he said. “We simply don’t have the authority to do that.”

Norred, whose view represents the majority of Wesleyan Law alumni interviewed for this story, feels A&M is treating the Wesleyan Law alumni unfairly.

“All of this goes back to that meeting,” he said. “We were all told we were going to be taken in, and we were going to be a part of their family.

“It’s really not about the diploma,” he said. “It’s really not about the ring. It’s just about their attitude.”

Graham said that many of the alumni he’s spoken to were excited by the prospect of joining the A&M tradition. He feels that Wesleyan, though it wasn’t as established, had created its own tradition.

“You’ll hear a lot of people talk about A&M’s legacy and wanting to be a part of that,” he said. “We have our own accomplishments, and they were purchased from us.

“We had it, we were developing it, and we were proud of our heritage,” he said. “And now we sort of don’t have one anymore.”

********

Nationally, the job market for attorneys is in rapid decline, as are the number of admission applications being received by law schools.

According to data from the ABA, 11 percent fewer students applied for law school in 2013 than in 2012.

Furgeson said the legal profession is going through a sea change.

“There are not as many jobs as there were,” he said. “Some of the statistics indicate that 30 or 40 percent of graduates across the nation don’t get jobs right off the bat. The legal market has been hit hard by the recession, and jobs are not as plentiful as they used to be.”

Despite the toxic job environment, Texas A&M School of Law saw a dramatic increase in the number of applicants in 2013 compared to 2012.

“Other law schools [around the country] are falling in admissions, and this one is bucking the trend nationwide,” Sharp said. “We’re pleased with what the A&M brand is going to be doing for that law school.”

Furgeson believes that the A&M brand will be good for Fort Worth and the state as a whole.

“I think the Wesleyan brand was a strong brand in this region,” he said. “Their graduates have made a place for themselves and brought repute to that law school. I just think it’s going to get better because of the A&M brand and the resources A&M can bring to bear on that school.”

Sharp told the Weekly that he is committed to keeping the law school in Fort Worth. In the future, he said, some freshman law students might take classes in College Station, and A&M administrators have discussed legal clinics or masters’ programs on other campuses.

“I don’t know of any conversation anywhere that would suggest that the main campus of the A&M school of law wouldn’t be right where it is,” he said. “In the acquisition contract there’s a 10-year requirement that we have to stay in Fort Worth, and we put that in there to try to allay those fears.”

Short said he hasn’t heard any “substantive” discussion about moving the law school. The university, he said, is focused on strengthening its ties with the legal community in Fort Worth.

“Our graduates are passionate about the school and their involvement in our community,” he said. “Some alumni are frustrated that they can’t get diplomas from Texas A&M University, and I understand their perspective.

“But I’ve also heard from many alumni who are proud of their Texas Wesleyan diploma, and they have told me that they have no interest in a Texas A&M diploma,” he said. “So there are different perspectives out there. Since this is an issue that is fully outside of our control at the law school, we try to remain focused on building the strongest law school, with the most successful and talented alumni, that we possibly can.”

Norred said he would like to see Sharp address the alumni personally and tell them they are alumni of A&M law school. He added that he doesn’t care as much about the diplomas as being able to count himself as an A&M alumnus.

“In doing that, it’s a public promise to include us that I can rely on,” he said. “Then it’s a question of, is that enough? For me, that would probably be enough if they did it right. I would probably stand down.

“The worst thing they can do is nothing,” he said.

And in that case, Norred said he would move forward with the petition, though he would prefer not to have to seek more confrontation with A&M.

“I will send it openly to everyone,” he said. “That’s not the right way to handle it. That will cause problems for them. I want to give them as much time and as much opportunity to do the right thing on their own, without us having to say, ‘Look you’re doing something wrong.’

“It’s a big ship, and it takes it a while to turn around, especially when it doesn’t want to,” he said.


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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