Coard

Here’s the good news: Cheyney University, founded in 1837, had its 180th birthday this week on Feb. 25. Here’s the bad news: Somebody’s trying to make sure it doesn’t reach 181, so they seem to be considering murdering it in 2017.

On March 2, 2016, State Senator Mario Scavello of Monroe and Northampton Counties equated Cheyney University with a run-down supermarket that should be shutdown because it hurts other stores in that supermarket chain.

On Feb. 13, 2017, State Senator and Education Committee Chairman John Eichelberger of Blair County said state money was being “misspent” on “inner-city students who are being pushed toward college and they’re dropping out. They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less intensive track, they would.” He then added that those students should seek vocational training instead of a college education.

As a senator from Allegheny County correctly stated in response to Eichelberger’s comment, “It’s pretty clear to me what he said is that he doesn’t believe minorities are deserving of state resources to assist them in going to college.”

In reaction to Eichelberger’s statements, State Sen. Vincent Hughes said he was “repulsed.” And Mayor Jim Kenney properly called those statements “racism.”

Although I certainly wouldn’t include Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Frank T. Brogan with Scavello or Eichelberger, I am concerned about his Jan. 26 comment in which he said, “States are wrestling with the same issues we are, leading to the reorganization of public universities systems in a number of states across the country, including the ‘merger’ or even ‘closure’ of institutions.”

I wonder if that means merging historically Black Cheyney University with traditionally white West Chester University or any of the other 12 Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs)? I hope not.

Thousands of Cheyney alumni, students, supporters, and voters will not allow that because Cheyney has a historic mission, historic legacy, and historic tradition that the TWIs don’t have and simply don’t understand.

As made clear on Cheyney’s official website, “Established in 1837, Cheyney ... cherishes its ‘legacy’ as America’s first institution for higher learning for ‘African’ Americans. Our mission is to prepare confident ... leaders. ... We uphold our ‘tradition’ ... as we maintain our historical commitment to opportunity...”

My question is where in the state system, besides Cheyney, is that mission, that legacy, and that tradition for African Americans.

For example, it’s only because of Cheyney that I — a poor Black kid from North Philly — was able to get elected to student government, be appointed as the student member of the Council of Trustees (COT), consistently earn spots on the Dean’s List, receive two degrees including a B.A. in Political Science and a B.S. in English Education, and then attain a full academic scholarship to Ohio State University’s School of Law.

That wasn’t me. That was Cheyney!

And that is the familial foundation and fair opportunity that Cheyney has provided and will continue to provide to all young Black students. And it is the kind of foundation and opportunity that TWIs cannot provide.

But there’s a big problem. Cheyney has only 746 students. It has a $57.2 million state deficit. It has a federal financial aid debt of $29.6 million. And although it truly appreciates the $8 million loan approved by PASSHE’s Board of Governors on Thursday, Cheyney nonetheless remains a house on financial fire, burning in a hellish blaze of debt.

And that fire wasn’t caused accidentally. It was caused intentionally. And it wasn’t done from within. It was done from without. And the inhabitants, which include students as well as alumni, faculty, and staff, are about to be incinerated, i.e., murdered- unless the Cheyney family and supporters come to the rescue. Allow me to expose the racist origins of this fire.

1901: While Cheyney was a stand-alone teacher training school, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania paid the full yearly tuition and stipend of $140 to white students to attend state-owned teacher training schools but paid only $25 to Cheyney students.

1969: The Commonwealth, as recently as 1969, was one of just ten states (including the usual suspects, namely Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, etc.) determined by the U.S. Department of Education to have been blatantly discriminating against Blacks in higher education.

1983: It was not until 1983 that the Commonwealth — 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 following repeated warranted rejections.

1999: At the insistence of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Commonwealth was compelled to “do the right thing” by signing a formal agreement to resolve then-unresolved issues regarding racial discrimination against Cheyney. However, that agreement has been breached by the Commonwealth and, as of 2017, those issues remain unresolved. As a result of that breach, the Commonwealth, since 1999, owed Cheyney at least $100 million as of 2015 (and obviously much more now in 2017).

By the way, we must blame the guilty of the past and especially of the present but not blame the innocent, such as the COT members. They’re innocent because state law, in particular Act 188 of 1982, puts all the power in the hands of PASSHE’s Board of Governors and the Chancellor and really none in the hands of the COT. Section 20-2009-A(1) pretty much sums up what the COT is legally authorized to do, which is basically nothing more than to make mere “recommendations” to the Chancellor and to the President who is selected by the Chancellor.

There’s been talk of a possible merger. But that would transform Cheyney University into a branch of West Chester University or some other TWI, so we ain’t gonna allow that. What about the “revamping” or the “new institutional model” that recently has been rumored as a possibility/probability regarding Cheyney?

So far, it seems worth considering, but only — and I do mean only — if it maintains the school’s mission, legacy, and tradition as a university without compromise or adulteration.

And what’s up with the possible “closure” talk? Nope. Not gonna happen. Black folks in Philly, in Pennsylvania, and throughout America are not gonna allow the oldest Black institution of higher education in this country to be murdered by closure or anything else.

We will vote to stop that, petition to stop that, protest to stop that, and engage in MLK-style civil disobedience to stop that. In other words, and in the spirit of Malcolm X, we will save Cheyney’s mission, legacy, and tradition “by any means necessary.”

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD900AM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.

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