Texas A&M University is rushing to complete its purchase of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law — a complex process that includes gaining the appropriate accreditations — in time for the fall semester.A year ago, the Texas A&M University System announced its plan to buy the downtown Fort Worth law school for $25 million with the promise to make it a top-tier institution that draws students from around the nation.But before it can issue degrees bearing the Texas A&M emblem — and its students can call themselves Aggies — Texas A&M’s plan must be approved by several accediting agencies.The two schools also must negotiate a final contract to complete the acquisition, Pamela R. Matthews, vice provost for academic affairs at Texas A&M University, recently told the Star-Telegram.“We are proceeding with plans to begin law school classes in Fort Worth for the fall semester,” Matthews said.Texas A&M’s proposal to acquire the law school is on the agenda for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges board of trustees meeting Monday through Thursday, Matthews said, the first of two key steps in the process.The SACSCOC is the recognized regional accrediting body for 11 Southern states, including Texas, for institutions that award higher education degrees.Texas A&M is also awaiting a decision in early August from the American Bar Association concerning the accreditation process, according to the university.The ABA’s approval process is intricate. An emerging law school needs to be in operation for one year before applying for provisional approval, according to the ABA website. The process calls for schools to develop a study that describes the school in detail and explains strengths and weaknesses.The process also includes a hearing with representatives of the school, and they must show “a reliable plan for bringing the school into full compliance” within three years of receiving provisional approval.During a school’s provisional status, there is close monitoring, according to the ABA. The ABA’s Council decides whether to grant full accredtitation after a series of reviews.Texas A&M University’s plan already received the green light from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in January with the approval to create a Juris Doctor degree in law.John Veilleux, vice president for marketing and communications at Wesleyan, said they have been careful to stress the details to students. They have told applicants and students enrolled for fall 2013 that they won’t be Aggies until the partnership is complete.“Students are not applying to the Texas A&M School of Law right now,” Veilleux said.However, the minute the partnership is complete, those students would become Aggies, he said, adding: “The goal is to have that happen before the first day of school.”Student orientation at the law school is Aug. 14. Classes start Aug. 19.Interim deanIn the meantime the universities are working closely together to create what will be called the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University.When the sale of the law school was announced last June, the deal was described as mutually beneficial because A&M gets a long-awaited law school while Wesleyan gets to collaborate with a top-tier university on academic programs and boost its endowment.Last week the two schools’ colleges collaborated in the selection of an interim dean of the law school through the transition.Aric Short, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law, has been selected to serve as interim dean of the law school. Professor Maxine Harrington has been named associate dean for academic affairs.Short was chosen through a Texas Wesleyan faculty survey sanctioned by both universities.“In making this appointment, I have been in close consultation with the provost and dean of faculties at Texas A&M University. Aric received overwhelming support for this appointment from the law school faculty and was the consensus choice of both Texas A&M and Texas Wesleyan,” Texas Wesleyan University President Frederick G. Slabach said in a statement.If the A&M acquisition is finalized in time for fall, the administration and faculty of the new TAMU/TWU law school will decide next year on the process for selecting a permanent dean, Matthews said.Decisions about any new faculty hires resides with the dean (whether interim or permanent) of the law school, in consultation with university administrators, based on the budget and needs of the law school.Short, who has been with the law school for 10 years, served most recently as associate dean for academic affairs.His efforts included developing a skills-based winter term, building new clinical partnerships with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office and the Federal Aviation Administration, and helping implement an oral skills graduation requirement.The law school’s previous dean, Frederic White, announced that he was stepping down in May. He was the institution’s fifth dean. White, who was at the end of his five-year contract, said he is on sabbatical. The law school’s new chapter should be a benefit to the community, he said.“I would think the transition is going to be a good thing for the law school, alumni, the students and the city of Fort Worth,” White said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1