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Texas A&M Buying Texas Wesleyan Law School

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - Texas A&M is buying the law school at private Texas Wesleyan University, a purchase that sets up a public law college in the metroplex and fulfills a long-sought goal for officials at one of the nation's largest universities.

The schools jointly announced the deal Tuesday after Texas Wesleyan officials approved the sale Monday night. Texas A&M will pay $20 million and sign a 40-year lease to use the law building at Wesleyan's campus in Fort Worth. Texas A&M regents are expected to approve the purchase on Friday.

The school will be known as the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University with a concentration in business and intellectual property law, starting in the 2013-2014 school year.

The law school announcement comes just a week after the Texas A&M System won a major federal grant to host one of three national biodefense centers for the quick development of vaccines in the event of a pandemic and strategies for responding to bioterrorism.

Adding the law school is the "next step in Texas A&M's dramatic evolution from its beginnings as a regional, military-focused institution into one of the largest and most prestigious comprehensive universities," Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said. "If you look at the top universities -- our peer institutions -- most of them have a law school."

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board must still approve the deal. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp predicted that will happen and said Texas A&M officials have kept the board apprised of the plan throughout the process.

Texas A&M officials have been pursuing a law school for at least 40 years. Sharp estimated that starting a law school from scratch could have cost Texas A&M more than $100 million, money that would be hard to come by when the Legislature is urging universities to cut their budgets and rein in tuition rates.

The move also sets up a budding rivalry for students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The University of North Texas fought long and hard to establish a law school, which state lawmakers finally approved in 2009. North Texas is planning to open its law school in Dallas in 2014. Private Southern Methodist University in Dallas also has a law school.

"We're not going to compete with anybody on a regional basis," Sharp said. "We will draw students from 254 counties (in Texas) and all 50 states ... and produce a world-class law school."

The rest of Texas Wesleyan will remain independent from Texas A&M. Founded in 1890, Texas Wesleyan is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and has about 3,000 students. It established its law program in 1989. Texas A&M has about 50,000 students at its College Station campus.

The deal will move all Wesleyan law school faculty and staff under Texas A&M. It also will create special dual-degree programs for Wesleyan students who want to expedite their undergraduate and law degrees, or earn a master's of business degree while studying law.

Sharp said he approached Wesleyan officials about buying the campus in October 2011. Texas Wesleyan President Frederick G. Slabach said the school would benefit academically and financially, but declined to say if the Wesleyan law school has struggled to stay afloat.

"We both consider this to be a mutually beneficial collaboration with limitless possibilities," Slabach said.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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