Sunday, June 11, 2017

Saving Cheyney University


                                     

                                         Saving Cheyney University
                                             Junious Ricardo Stanton

            On Monday evening June 6, Heeding Cheyney's Call held a rally to provide information, status updates and dispel rumors the historic institution, the oldest institution for higher learning in the United States for African-Americans, is about to close.
            Heeding Cheyney' Call is a grassroots, coalition made up of alumni, students, higher education advocates and activists who were called together in 2013 by the late great Professor Edgar "Sonny" Harris to save the school. Harris was a former professor of mathematics and mathematics instruction at the university who served for many years as the president of the faculty union and the retired faculty union. In 2013 he became increasingly alarmed at the declining enrollment, escalating deficits, lack of viable leadership and willful neglect on the part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
                        Harris called one of his mentees, activist attorney Michael Coard and several other alumni (myself included) who began meeting to investigate exactly what the status of the university was and strategize how to reverse the dangerous trends and save the school.
            After a series of meetings with US Department of Education officials, the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights staff,  federal, state and local elected officials a press conference was called to announce our intent to revisit the 1999 federal consent decree agreement between the University and the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Heeding Cheyney's Call as we call ourselves began searching for an attorney or law firm willing to take on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on behalf of the university in federal court. Following our press conference in October of 2013, Governor Tom Corbett and his staff presented counter claims that they had adequately funded the university. After a public rebuttal of their claims by Michael Coard, the Governor's office reached out and offered to meet with HCC.
            After eight months of face to face meetings and attempts to negotiate with the Corbett Administration, in July of 2014 Corbett's team informed us they were not going to give Cheyney any additional funding.  HCC decided to file a federal lawsuit in October of 2014 several weeks prior to the upcoming gubernatorial election. We engaged Joe Tucker who agreed to handle the work pro bono and he quickly went into action building a solid case.
            Once the paperwork was filed, HCC prepared for a protracted legal battle but Gov. Corbett lost the November 2014 gubernatorial election. His successor Governor Tom Wolf indicated he wished to avoid the expenses and potentially negative consequences of litigation. Heeding Cheyney's Call entered into good faith negotiations with Gov. Wolf and his staff and the process moved along smoothly; so much so HCC agreed to ask the presiding judge to set it aside while we worked out a settlement. The case was withdrawn without prejudice in January of 2016. We have the option of reopening it!
             Since 2010 the university has experienced a fifty-three percent decrease in enrollment from 1,406 undergraduate students to a mere 660 in 2017. The university is also burdened with escalating debt due to loans from PASSHE to keep it operational, and because the federal government has delayed paying owed financial aid monies to the university. The university also experienced challenges with the NCAA but avoided sanctions because they self-reported violations.
             Due to the press the university's fiscal position was generating, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education returned to campus to look at Cheyney despite having granted the university full reaccreditation status in 2014. The new Middle States team discovered Cheyney lacked the financial wherewithal to sustain itself and carry out its mission. They were especially concerned about Cheyney's declining enrollment and lack of permanent leadership. Middle States subsequently placed the university on probation in November of 2015. Cheyney has two years to rectify its shortcomings, November 19, 12017 is the deadline.
            The Commonwealth has steadfastly declined for over two years to initiate a search for a permanent president and despite several high ranking PASSHE officials managing and stabilizing the departments of enrollment, financial aid and the bursars office, the university failed to meet its enrollment projections for Fall 2016. Now PASSHE says it cannot lend Cheyney any additional funds.
            The state convened a special Task Force charged with coming up with a new institutional model for mission, operations and sustainability. The Task Force was composed of a Wolf administration cabinet head, legislators, PASSHE  Board of Governors and Cheyney Council of Trustee members. They published their final report in May. The report proposes a radical reconfiguring of the university. It specifically recommends exploring ways to monetize Cheyney's real estate, tearing down several buildings,  cutting staff and discontinuing NCAA Division II sports.
            Cheyney is one of several PASSHE schools experiencing fiscal and enrollment difficulties: Mansfield, Clarion, California and Edinboro are the others. Each of these schools have historically been stepping stones for working class families to acquire a college education. Their demise would be catastrophic for the state. http://www.pennbpc.org/sites/default/files/20170608_RisingCostsPaper.pdf
            It was in response to the Task Force's report that Heeding Cheyney's Call convened Monday's meeting. HCC is asking everyone concerned about saving Cheyney to do three things immediately: call Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500, Chancellor Frank Brogan (717) 720-4000 and the PASSHE Board of Governors Chairperson Cynthia Shapira (717) 720-4028, demand they rethink the Task Force recommendations and work to immediately resolve the chronic systemic causes of Cheyney's problems. After you do that please send HCC an E-mail at HeedingCheyneysCall@gmail.com, leave your name and phone number, the date, time and person you spoke with. Your participation, whether you went to Cheyney or not, is crucial to our success keeping the oldest institution of higher learning for African Americans in this nation open, alive and thriving! Please make the calls.

                                                            -

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home