The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has given Texas A&M University “preliminary authority” for “the proposed purchase of an existing private law school . . .,” according to a Sept. 13 letter that THECB assistant commissioner MacGregor Stephenson sent to Texas A&M provost Karan Watson.
But the proposed Texas A&M University School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University, which A&M and Texas Wesleyan School of Law announced would open in June 2013, does not yet have all the approvals from accrediting bodies that are needed to open.
On June 26, the two schools and the Texas A&M University System announced they had signed a letter of intent for Texas A&M in College Station to assume ownership and operations of Texas Wesleyan’s law school in Fort Worth for a payment of $20 million at closing and another $5 million within five years. Under the proposal, Texas Wesleyan would remain the owner of the land and facilities and would offer a 40-year lease to rent them to A&M for $2.5 million per year.
The deal requires final approval from three accrediting bodies: the THECB, the American Bar Association and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Texas Wesleyan law school would go from a private to a public law school to open in June 2013, according to the timetable the schools announced.
The THECB’s Sept. 13 letter makes clear that its members and staff believe “a number of issues . . . will need to be addressed in the program proposal” before the board gives final approval.
In the letter, the THECB asks Texas A&M to provide “[m]easured plans, assessments and goals” for recruiting and retaining underrepresented students and for placing students willing to practice in rural areas. It asks for “evidence that there is sufficient student demand for another public law school”; a “[t]imeline, budget, and plans to increase the quality of graduates, including bar exam passage rates and competitiveness for job placement within the legal field”; “[p]lans, budget and timelines to lower the student/faculty ratio”; and “[c]redible evidence that other Texas law schools could not educate law students” in practice areas such as intellectual property, maritime, immigration, disabilities law and rural practice.
The University of North Texas in Denton has plans to open a public law school — the UNT Dallas College of Law in downtown Dallas — in August 2014.
Dominic Chavez, senior director of the THECB’s Office of External Relations, writes in an email: “Since we are in the middle of the two step approval process, it would be inappropriate for staff or the Commissioner to comment at this time. To date, the boardhas not received a program proposal from Texas A&M related to the law school. The letter makes clear some of the information staff would need to fully and effectively evaluate the program once submitted.”
Chavez also writes that it will take the THECB about 12 to 15 months to review the A&M law school proposal once it is submitted.
Since A&M has not submitted the proposal, it is unlikely the THECB will approve the new law school by the June 2013 opening date A&M and Texas Wesleyan announced.
Jason Cook, Texas A&M’s vice president for marketing and communications, writes in an email, “We have not yet finalized our response to the Coordinating Board, so it would be premature to address specifics related to the timeline at this point.”
Texas Wesleyan President Fred Slabach says Texas A&M has led the process of seeking approval from the THECB. “They’ve been asking us for information, but they are the ones that are most knowledgeable,” Slabach says.
But Texas A&M and Texas Wesleyan are working jointly on the approval process with the SACS, Slabach says. He writes in an email that Texas Wesleyan “intends to have the Prospectus for Substantive Change filed with SACS no later than April 15, 2013. It is our understanding that the SACS Board of Trustees will consider and vote on this matter in June, 2013.”
Slabach says Texas Wesleyan has taken the lead on seeking formal approval from the ABA, as required for any major modifications to an ABA-accredited law school. Slabach says Texas Wesleyan is “developing the acquiescence application” and hopes to submit it within a few weeks.
The ABA declines comment. A message left with the SACS was not returned.
UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson says he has not followed closely any changes in the timetable for the Texas A&M takeover of Texas Wesleyan but that the plans for UNT’s proposed school remain on course.