Raising the bar: From Wesleyan to A&M, law school welcomed by Fort Worth community

A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

Two months after acquiring Texas Wesleyan University’s School of Law, Texas A&M University reports success in adjusting to the Fort Worth campus as it prepares students for career success. “So far, everything has gone smoothly,” said Aric Short, interim dean and professor of law at the school, which Texas A&M acquired on Aug. 12. The $73.2 million acquisition not only heightened Texas A&M’s name recognition in Fort Worth, it brought a top educational institution closer to prospective law students in North Texas.

“There is a better name recognition,” said Short, citing the Aggie alumni network as critical to supporting graduates and nurturing their post-graduate career development. When classes began on Aug. 19, professors and faculty had little time to prepare.

“We were on the fly,” Short said. “We were welcoming students and pulling down signs at the same time.” Gone was Texas Wesleyan University School of Law signage. In its place appeared Texas A&M University School of Law lettering. But that wasn’t always the plan. In fact, when first announced in June 2012, the school was expected to be known as Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University. The name denoted a merger, which later became an acquisition. “The name was changed as a result of the terms of the deal changing, and so this became more of an acquisition by Texas A&M rather than a partnership,” Short said. “So it made sense to name the school Texas A&M School of Law.” Short said he played no role in that decision. The original deal called for Texas A&M to buy the school for $25 million, paying $20 million at the time the sale closed and $5 million five years later.

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Under the agreement, Texas A&M would have acquired ownership and operational control of the law school as a going concern, with all law school faculty and staff becoming Texas A&M employees. Meanwhile, Texas Wesleyan would have retained ownership and control of the law school building and four city blocks at the downtown campus and would have leased the facilities to Texas A&M for 40 years at $2.5 million a year adjusted for inflation. But terms changed, with Texas A&M paying Texas Wesleyan $30 million and agreeing to pay the $43.2 million balance between 2014 to 2017. About 700 students attend the school, which is staffed by about 33 full-time faculty members. Its dean’s advisory council includes lawyers and judges. “We have built relationships and partnerships with the legal community in Fort Worth. That’s something that’s really important to me,” Short said. Equally important are law school certificate programs focused on intellectual property, family law, business law, estate planning and dispute resolution.

“We allow students to concentrate their coursework on those areas … so that they are marketable in their areas of interest,” said Short. “It’s pretty extraordinary for a law school at a private university to become a law school at Texas A&M, a public entity, and it’s had a pretty seamless transition so far,” he said.