On Nov. 17, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) officially informed Cheyney University that its accreditation will continue. That’s major news because, without accreditation, a university cannot receive federal or state financial aid for its students. And since more than ninety percent of Cheyney’s students are on financial aid, the loss of accreditation would have meant the death of my historic alma mater.
But before state officials, especially those at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), start expecting us to thank them for helping Cheyney by assisting Cheyney in complying with MSCHE’s requirements in order to maintain its accreditation, they need to remember what Malcolm X said: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it out all the way, that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the… (stabbing) made….”
Cheyney’s dire situation involving its all-time low student enrollment along with its all-time high budget deficit is the general stab wound Brother Malcolm talked about. If you don’t believe me, check out the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania/PASSHE’s specific stabbings of Cheyney in 1901, 1969, 1983, and 1999.
1901- While Cheyney was a stand-alone teacher training school, the Commonwealth paid the full yearly tuition and stipend of $140 to white students to attend white state-owned teacher training schools but paid only $25 to Cheyney students.
1969- The Commonwealth was identified by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the ten worst states (including the usual suspects, namely Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, et al) discriminating against Blacks in higher education.
1983- The Commonwealth, via PASSHE, for the first time ever, finally submitted a formal anti-racial discrimination plan that was deemed acceptable by the U.S. Department of Education following repeated warranted rejections. But it was later discovered that plan wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
1999 — At the insistence of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Commonwealth, via PASSHE, signed a contract to resolve issues of racial discrimination against Cheyney. Then-Governor Tom Ridge, through his PASSHE Chancellor James McCormick and his Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok, signed that contract which, by 2017, would’ve resulted in $100 million to Cheyney for essential resources including attractive academic courses, quality administrators, new buildings, etc. However, 18 years later, PASSHE still owes Cheyney most of the $100 million.
Even though Cheyney remains wounded, we also remain accredited. But it’s not a complete accreditation. Instead, it’s a one-year continued probationary accreditation That means it has until the end of 2018 to resolve severe problems regarding financial and institutional resources. And that means PASSHE must provide the resources it owes and also must end its lax oversight and poor management of Cheyney.
Apart from that, on May 11, a recently formed entity (curiously) known as the Cheyney University Task Force, whose goal is to get Cheyney back on track, distributed its report during a presentation on campus. That Task Force consists primarily of PASSHE staffers. Based directly on the verbatim language in that Task Force report, I, as a member of and attorney for Heeding Cheyney’s Call (HCC)- which was founded in 2013 by Professor E. Sonny Harris and Junious Stanton and which continues to lead the battle to save Cheyney via litigation in the federal courthouse and negotiation in the State Capitol- began publicly ringing the alarms.
The Task Force apparently has/had a plan to sell Cheyney’s land, eliminate its NCAA sports teams, and cut its academic programs from 18 to 10. However, HCC was accused by certain unnamed state officials of misrepresenting the situation. They said there was no plan. They said the land will not be sold. They said the NCAA sports will not be eliminated. But they did admit that the academic programs will be severely cut, which is counterproductive since the goal is- or at least should be- to attract more, not less, students. The last time HCC checked, a “plan” was defined as a “method for achieving an end.” And that word, “plan,” is used twice on page eight of the report. Also, on that same page, the report lists the “sale” of Cheyney’s land as one of “various options.”
Despite all of that, the Task Force is now saying the land definitely will not be sold and the NCAA teams definitely will not be eliminated. HCC will hold the Task Force and newly appointed permanent President Aaron Walton to that in the event they catch a sudden case of amnesia.
But HCC doesn’t expect that to happen because, so far, President Walton by his actions seems like he sincerely wants not only to save Cheyney but also to enhance it. I must be clear in stating that HCC strongly opposes some of his decisions, especially the harsh ones. However, HCC realizes that drastic times call for drastic measures. And even though Cheyney now keeps its accreditation due in large part to him, HCC, as the Cheyney Watchdog/Wolf, will continue to watch (and, if necessary, bite) him and all other pertinent state officials.
In conclusion, as a result of the Commonwealth’s decades-long and still ongoing systemic racism in the form of blatant discrimination, inadequate resources, destructive past administrative appointments, and maliciously aloof oversight, Cheyney almost lost its accreditation and died. But it didn’t. Just like Cheyney/Institute for Colored Youth alumnus Octavius Catto never really died, neither will Cheyney.
Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1-FM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.