Wendy Davis Explains Her Time at Harvard Law School.

February 12th, 2014

The NY Times Magazine has a lengthy profile of Texas gubernatorioal candidate, Wendy Davis. Part of the piece focuses on her decision to go to Harvard Law School over the nearby University of Texas at Austin, how her kids stayed with her for the first year but they were sent to live back home, and how often she visited (somewhere between weekly, every two weeks, and once a month):

Having been accepted to the University of Texas Law School in the spring of 1990, Wendy began looking with Jeff for a residence in Austin where she and their two children — Amber, who was 8 (and would be adopted by Jeff a decade later), and Dru, who was not yet 2 — would live, a three-hour drive from Fort Worth. Then the acceptance packet from Harvard arrived, and both agreed that the opportunity was too great for her to pass up. She moved with the girls to Lexington, Mass., and began attending classes that fall.

She did not let on to her husband during their nightly phone conversations that she was intimidated by her classmates and at pains to juggle her class work with parenting. Dru had asthma that got worse after the move; at one point, Davis recalled, she had to take her daughter to the emergency room. She later saw a doctor herself. After observing her abnormally high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, the physician held her hands and asked, “What is going on in your life?”

After four months, she told her husband, “I can’t do this.” She suggested that the girls move back to Texas to live with him and that her mother, who lived a few miles away, be recruited to help out while he was at work. The girls went back to Texas, and she tried to fly back to see her family whenever she could. According to the timeline laid out by the Davis campaign after the Dallas Morning News article, the law student “commuted weekly” back home, which the candidate later acknowledged to me was inaccurate. Instead, she said, her commuting routine was “10 days at school followed by five days at home.” Her daughter Amber remembers differently, telling me that her mother “flew down every two weeks to be with us” for “a long weekend.” In Jeff Davis’s memory, “Her goal was to come back every third weekend. And she didn’t. I’d say once a month would be closer. I didn’t blame her. She had schoolwork and a circle of friends.”

She [update: considered finishing her 3rd year at SMU but decided against it] finished her third year at SMU Law in Dallas.

Whenever she did return, her friend and former T.C.U. professor Michael Dodson recalled: “I could tell she was energized by the experience. What I remember her talking about was her aspiration to be a U.S. attorney. She saw it as a way to use the law to influence public policy.” It was in this state of intellectual ferment that Davis considered plans for her final year at law school. Harvard’s guidelines would allow her to finish her degree at Southern Methodist University’s law school, just 30 miles from home. That the option of living near her daughters was available to Davis is a matter that has not been previously reported on, nor one that her campaign has volunteered. When I brought it up with her last month and asked her if she began attending classes at S.M.U., she replied: “No. I went to the orientation.”

And a subtle benchslap at SMU Law!

She then explained: “It’s hard to describe the law-school experience if you haven’t been there. But third year, after you’ve created the bonds that you do there, becomes kind of the pinnacle experience.” She continued: “I learned as much from my fellow students and from class discussions as from my professors. These are brilliant people. I’m not saying there aren’t brilliant people at S.M.U. — I’m sure there are. But I really wanted to finish my experience in this extraordinary academic setting that I’d been in. It was the reason I wanted to go there. I didn’t just want to go to have a diploma that said Harvard Law on it.”