Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Saving Cheyney University


                                                    From The Ramparts
                                                    Junious Ricardo Stanton
                                                Saving Cheyney University

            On Tuesday November 10th three busloads of alumni and students along with supporters and alumni from as far away as Atlanta Georgia, Washington D.C. and the surrounding five county area drove by car to converge on Harrisburg to  pressure Governor Wolf and the legislature to commit to saving historic Cheyney University. Several hundred students, alumni, supporters and friends marched, chanted, sang and assembled outside the capital building then met inside the rotunda to hold a press conference where they presented over one thousand signed letters to Governor Wolf, Legislative Black Caucus Chair Vanessa Lowery-Brown and later that afternoon at the Dixon Center Headquarters of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education  additional copies of the letters demanding an immediate search for a permanent president, increased marketing, equitable funding for Cheyney including new academic programs and state of the art facilities for the students.
            During the press conference activist attorney Michael Coard, Heeding Cheyney's Call's legal advisor and leader rattled off a litany of deliberate neglect and racially motivated discrimination against Cheyney dating back to 1901. Twelve legislators including State Representatives: Stephen Kinsey, Education Committee Minority Co-Chair James Roebuck, and Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus Vanessa Lowery Brown along with Curtis Thomas, Ed Gainey, Donna Bullock, Dwight Evans, Joanna McClinton and Thaddeus Kirkland pledged their support for Cheyney and their determination to insure the institution received equitable funding as they labor to break the current budgetary logjam and partisan impasse.
            Students and alumni carrying placards, banners and signs, sang, chanted and spoke during the almost one hour press conference. The rally was planned and coordinated in partnership between Representative Stephen Kinsey and Heeding Cheyney's Call a grass roots organization composed of alumni, students, HBCU supporters, higher education advocates and elected officials. Heeding Cheyney's Call has been working for over two and a half years to get the Commonwealth to honor a 1999 agreement with the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to adequately fund the university, cease and desist its discriminatory practices and provide modern facilities and programs to make Cheyney competitive with the other thirteen PASSHE schools. During that time Cheyney's situation has worsened.
            When Heeding Cheyney's Call's negotiations with the Corbett administration stalled, their legal team filed a federal lawsuit on October 29, 2015 seeking redress and remedy from decades of deliberate neglect, violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,  failure to comply with the 1999 Consent Decree agreement and numerous US Supreme Court rulings on behalf of  HBCUs against de jure  and de facto segregation in higher education.
            The lawsuit is still in progress but in June of 2015 based upon favorable communications with the Wolf administration the Heeding Cheyney's Call lead attorney Joe Tucker asked the federal judge hearing the case for a "civil suspension" to allow all parties time to attempt to reach an amicable settlement agreement. The judge agreed and set specific reporting dates to advise him of the status of the negotiations. Thus far negotiations have not been productive due to the state's budget impasse. But as a result of the November 10th demonstration and rally, Governor Wolf reached out to schedule a meeting with the Heeding Cheyney's Call negotiating team.  A face to face meeting is scheduled for December 2 with the governor.
            Cheyney like many HBCUs is facing declining enrollment, fiscal uncertainty, low morale due to forced lay offs and talk of additional faculty retrenchment (layoffs). Recent disclosures about mismanagement in the financial aid office have added to the gloom and exacerbated the financial situation because the institution may be forced to pay millions of dollars in fines and restitution to the federal government because an audit revealed federal financial aid was either not documented correctly or mismanaged. This is millions of dollars Cheyney does not have because it is already deeply mired in red ink from its failure to consistently reach recruitment and  enrollment goals, raise significant grant and scholarship dollars, rebrand the institution and overhaul its image.
            This is why one of the main demands  of Heeding Cheyney's Call is the immediate search for a permanent president. The Governor Wolf  and PASSHE need to signal and demonstrate to the world they are serious about rebranding and resurrecting Cheyney.  The best way to do so is by putting it on sound operational footing by searching for and bringing in an innovative administrative team.
             Several  HBCUs around the country that were facing similar challenges as Cheyney have turned the corner and are in a growth and progress mode. Claflin University in Orangeburg South Carolina and North Carolina Central in Durham N.C. have made great strides developing new academic programs, expanding their enrollment, boosting corporate support and fund raising. Claflin is a private institution while NCC is a state owned school.
             It would be a simple matter for the Commonwealth to look at what those schools did to turn themselves around and apply the same or similar best practices at Cheyney.  That is if the state was serious about saving Cheyney. Apparently it is not. The fact of the matter is PASSHE is experiencing declines in enrollment throughout its system because higher education is not a priority in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center  Pennsylvania ranks forty-fifth in education k-12 and forty-eighth in per capita appropriations for its public colleges and universities and forty-sixth in terms of investment in higher education. Pennsylvania is cheap, stingy and out of touch for  all students black and white students when it comes to education whether it is primary, secondary or higher ed. When you add racism to this mix it is deadly and does not bode well for the future of the state.
            To add insult to injury Pennsylvania spends far more on incarceration than it does on higher education. It costs over $35,000 a year to house an inmate in the Pennsylvania "correctional System" while tuition at a PASSHE school, including Cheyney,  according to PASSHE's Website is around  $ 19,838 a year http://www.passhe.edu/answers/pages/cost-breakout.aspx . What makes these figures so disturbing is Pennsylvania is currently building additional prisons at a time when their own published crime statistics show crime has been fluctuating downward since 2009! http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/pacrime.htm
            This is why Heeding Cheyney's Call went to Harrisburg, why the fight to save Cheyney University and make education a priority in Pennsylvania must go on!



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