Last week, a group of concerned Cheyney University supporters accused the state of discriminating against the historically Black institution, hurting its ability to attract new students and stay economically stable.
Pennsylvania officials denied any racial bias against Cheyney, one of 14 public universities overseen by the State System of Higher Education.
But a coalition called Heeding Cheyney’s Call sent a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett demanding equitable funding for the struggling school, and warned of a possible lawsuit.
Michael Coard, the group’s attorney and university alumnus, said the current fiscal formula has led to inferior facilities, plummeting enrollment and a $14 million deficit at Cheyney.
Coard said that puts the school on an unequal level with the other 13 mainstream universities, making it harder to attract badly needed tuition dollars.
“We don’t have enough students because you’re not giving us enough money,” Coard said at a news conference outside federal court.
The state has 10 days to respond to the letter. The next step would be to file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of current, former and prospective staff, students and faculty, said Coard.
Under funding at the university is a longstanding problem that remains unresolved.
Cheyney supporters filed a similar bias lawsuit against the state exactly 33 years ago this past Monday. The resolution of that case—along with a 1999 agreement between the state and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights—was supposed to bring parity to Cheyney’s funding and facilities.
Yet serious inequalities persist.
Enrollment at Cheyney has dropped from 3,000 in 1977 to about 1,200 today, according to the coalition.
Coalition members include current Cheyney student body president Malik Williams. The 21-year-old junior from Pittsburgh said at the news conference that the university needs better facilities and more modern classroom technology.
“Money talks,” Williams said. “And the message that we are hearing is the state does not care.”
Founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is known as the first institution for higher learning for African-Americans. The state and region has benefited tremendously from the service and economic contributions of its thousands of graduates in education, business and other fields.
Noted alumni include “60 Minutes” newsman Ed Bradley and civil rights activist Octavius Catto.
Without more state funding for better facilities and more modern classroom technology it will become increasingly difficult for Cheyney to compete and remain economically afloat. That is something the state should not allow to happen.
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)