Heeding Cheyney’s Call (HCC) was founded in 2013 with the goal of securing “parity through equity” for Cheyney University, the oldest Black institution of higher learning in America, established in 1837 as the African Institute and later renamed the Institute for Colored Youth.
HCC is pursuing that goal through political activism and civil rights litigation. In other words, it will raise hell in the street through planned demonstrations and is raising issues in the court through the civil rights lawsuit it filed in October. And it will save and enhance historic Cheyney, even if it has to set the federal government straight in the process.
HCC recently learned from confidential political insiders that the U.S. Department of Education was scheduled to release a report on August 26 that would, in effect, condemn Cheyney for failing to track or “reconcile” $48.9 million in federal grants and loans to students from 2011-2014. (However, as of that date, the report had not yet been released but is expected to be shortly after the writing of this weekly column.)
Accordingly, Cheyney could be forced to repay all or much of that amount, which due to the current approximately $42 million budget deficit, that is projected to increase by about $13 million in 2015-2016, could throw the school into a door-closing, lights out, end-of-Cheyney finale. But HCC ain’t gonna let that happen. And here’s why.
HCC has informed and will continue to inform, louder and louder each day, every member of the state legislature, every education and law-related appointee of the governor, and the trial judge that Cheyney didn’t cause this problem; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did, and the federal government allowed it. How, you ask? Let me count the ways and the whens:
1901- As noted by Junious Stanton of HCC, “In 1901, when Cheyney was a stand-alone teacher training school operated by the Richard Humphreys Corporation, Pennsylvania paid the full tuition of $140 to white students being trained at white teacher training schools but paid only $25 to the Black students at Cheyney.”
1969- The U.S. Department of Education’s predecessor, namely the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, determined in 1969 that Pennsylvania was one of only ten states (including, e.g., the notoriously racist culprits of Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia) still operating an illegal racially segregated system of higher education.
1980- A successful racial discrimination lawsuit was filed in 1980 against Pennsylvania by Cheyney students, faculty, and staff.
1983- It wasn’t until 1983 that Pennsylvania- for the first time ever- finally submitted a formal anti-racial discrimination plan that was deemed acceptable by and to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
1999- Because Pennsylvania’s 1983 plan was all talk and very little action, OCR compelled Pennsylvania to the negotiation table to enter into a formal contract that would guarantee an end to the state’s racial discrimination against Cheyney by providing adequate resources and would guarantee a beginning of its equitable treatment of the university. Although Pennsylvania signed that contract (which, by 2015, should have resulted in $100 million in long-overdue resources to Cheyney), it later breached it and, through Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), continues to do so.
These and many other examples are how Pennsylvania caused the problem. People might respond by asking, “What about the past Cheyney presidents? What about Cheyney’s past administrators? What about Cheyney’s Council of Trustees (COT)? Aren’t they at fault?” And my answer would be “Not really, when you consider the big picture.” Presidents are selected and kept or removed not by COT but by PASSHE.
Also, people must keep in mind that Cheyney has always been under-funded through a crippling “funding formula” used by PASSHE. Unlike the 13 traditionally white state-owned universities, Cheyney has never been treated like an equal partner by PASSHE. Cheyney has always been treated like a stepchild ever since PASSHE was created in 1982. And every time that PASSHE has claimed to and appeared to help Cheyney, it has always been piecemeal. There has never been a comprehensive review of Cheyney across the board in terms of creating attractive academic programs, enhancing marketing, increasing enrollment, tutoring students, improving faulty, training staffers, constructing buildings, and otherwise expanding resources. If PASSHE had done that, Cheyney would have become the crown jewel of HBCUs throughout America.
I hope the feds factor in all this before blaming Cheyney for the financial aid problems. I also hope the feds keep in mind that 77 percent of Cheyney’s students are low-income and therefore in need of continued aid. And, I hope the feds realize, as reported in hbcudigest.com on April 15, 2015, “In 2014, state legislators appropriated just $13 million in support for… (Cheyney) university, the lowest amount for any school in the state system and more than eight times below the university’s economic impact on the state- roughly $115 million in 2013-2014.”
Even PASSHE had to concede that based on direct, indirect, and induced considerations, that beneficial “Total Economic Impact” was $115,406,159 plus an additional beneficial “Employment Impact of $45,118,143.”
This week’s column is part one of two parts. This week is the smoke. Next week, after the federal report has finally been released, will address not only the specifics of that report but also PASSHE’s proposal to purportedly save and enhance Cheyney via a “collaboration plan” with West Chester, although knowledgeable sources are reporting that it’s actually a “takeover scheme” to make Cheyney subservient to its “masters” at PASSHE and West Chester.
That’s why next week will be akin to what James Baldwin called “The Fire Next Time.” Stay tuned. And remember, “Black Minds Matter.”
The words from David Walker’s Appeal, written in 1829, along with the words of Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of The Tribune in 1884, are the inspiration for my weekly “Freedom’s Journal” columns.
In order to honor that pivotal nationalist abolitionist and that pioneering newspaper giant, as well as to inspire today’s Tribune readers, each column ends with Walker and Perry’s combined quote- along with my inserted voice- as follows: I ask all Blacks “to procure a copy of this… (weekly column) for it is designed… particularly for them” so they can “make progress… against (racist) injustice.”