What’s in a Name? Plenty, Law Grads Say

           FORT WORTH (CN) – Texas A&M University disavowed graduates of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law as alumni after buying the school in 2013, 32 law graduates claim in a federal class action.
     Kristin Brown et al. sued Texas A&M University School of Law, Dean Andrew P. Morriss, Texas Wesleyan University and its President Frederick G. Slabach on Tuesday.
     Texas A&M, in College Station, agreed to purchase Texas Wesleyan’s private downtown Fort Worth law school in June 2012, making it the first public law school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Since the purchase closed in 2013, the law school’s new graduates have been accepted as alumni, have the updated Texas A&M school name on their diplomas and are eligible to receive Aggie rings.
     Five hundred pre-acquisition law graduates of TWU asked Texas A&M in July 2014 to reconsider its refusal to reissue them law diplomas with the updated school name. When the school rejected them, a dozen of them filed a complaint against Texas A&M with the American Bar Association. The ABA responded that it has no role in student-school disputes.
     In the new lawsuit, the graduates say: “This decision has damaged the disavowed graduates, who have lost the ability to easily show that their juris doctor degrees are valid to potential employers and clients, as their law school is no longer easily located on many lists of accredited law schools.
     “This suit seeks to require TAMU School of Law to recognize the disavowed graduates based on estoppel. TAMU could have started its own law school, but having chosen to purchase one and backdate its accreditation to 1994, capitalizing on the bar results, hours of pro bono service, and other accomplishments of its pre-acquisition graduates, TAMU School of Law cannot now treat pre- and post-acquisition graduates differently. TAMU School of Law must complete the name change process it began by recognizing all its graduates in the same way, and reissue diplomas to those graduates whose work TAMU School of Law uses for recruitment daily.”
     Texas A&M Provost Karan Watson said the university has worked to welcome the TWU alumni “into the Aggie family.”
     “But there are limits on our ability to accommodate some of their requests,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “We have strived to ensure the continuity of networking, professional development, mentoring and leadership opportunities at the law school. We regret that a small group of alumni have decided to file suit, but we know that we have been fair in our dealings with the Texas Wesleyan law school alumni.”
     The law school was founded in 1989 as the Dallas/Fort Worth School of Law; it joined TWU in 1992.
     The plaintiffs say that despite not being recognized as alumni, Texas A&M asks them for money as if they were.
     “Plaintiffs have received emails from the TAMU Association of Former Students and TAMU School of Law asking plaintiffs to add their names to the directory of former students,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs have received emails from the Office of Gift Planning soliciting donations from plaintiffs.”
     They also claim that they believed they would be able to use after-hours law library cards at the law school, but the “promise continues to be unfulfilled” two years after the purchase.
     “To create their own cards, plaintiffs would have to violate defendant TAMU School of Law’s marks,” the complaint states.
     To top it off, they say, they cannot prove to potential employers that their law school still exists.
     “For example, in one faculty recruiting service, users can select TWU School of Law from the drop-down menu of law schools, but then the potential employer is given the information without a means of explaining that the school still exists and that it has merely been acquired and renamed,” the complaint states.
     “At the time that plaintiffs accepted TWU’s offer of enrollment and began paying tuition, plaintiffs reasonably expected that the law degrees they were to receive from TWU would come with all of the rights and privileges as any other ABA-accredited degree.”
     Texas A&M did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment of non-infringement of trademark for use of the law school’s marks, breach of implied contract, breach of faith, negligence and tortious interference. They are represented by TWU graduate Warren V. Norred in Arlington.
     Norred told Courthouse News the pre-acquisition graduates want to complete the name change on the students’ side, since Texas A&M claims accreditation since 1994.
     “When my wife changed her name, she did not become a new person and have a new birthday, though she did have to obtain a new drivers’ license and update other documents,” Norred said after filing the July 2014 ABA grievance. “This is no different.
     “The school has changed its name, but it is the same school. It has not changed its accreditation date. TAMU has changed many of the documents, and needs to complete the job.”

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