Cheyney

On Nov. 25, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) officially announced that Cheyney University’s accreditation will remain intact. In other words, the oldest Black institution of higher learning in America — founded in 1837 — will continue its unparalleled 182-year history without any interruption of its accreditation.

MSCHE reached its decision based on the miraculous work done by President Aaron Walton- the accounting, fundraising, coalition-building, educational, and cultural lifeguard who took over at Cheyney in June 2017 when it was drowning in nearly a decade of debt and mismanagement that was primarily externally-imposed, not self-inflicted.

Thanks to the remarkable diligence of President Walton and the powerful game-changing reinforcement of Governor Tom Wolf, Cheyney was able to meet MSCHE’s rigorous accreditation requirements. Because of Walton and Wolf, Cheyney won.

But it wasn’t just those two unwavering Cheyney stalwarts. It was also several others, including- but certainly not limited to- Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes, House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, House Democratic Education Chairman Jim Roebuck, Senate Banking & Insurance Chairman Sharif Street, Senate Democratic State Government Chairman Anthony Hardy Williams, Senate Democratic Health & Human Services Chairman Art Haywood, Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC) Chairman Stephen Kinsey, Council of Trustees Chairman Robert Bogle, Council of Trustees Treasurer Samuel Patterson, National Alumni Association President Kevin Guile, and the National Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Not only did they and others help Cheyney overcome tremendous odds in meeting those aforementioned rigorous accreditation requirements, they did it despite the haters.

Who are the haters? Well, I’ll tell you. In my personal opinion (and my personal opinion only), it was- surprise, surprise- some white guys.

One is a local journalist who always went out of his way to put a negative spin on positive Cheyney news- and he did it repeatedly while MSCHE was in the process of determining Cheyney’s very existence!

When Cheyney was making significant progress in its historic Resurgence Fundraising Campaign, that guy described the university as “beleaguered” and “struggling.”

When Cheyney exceeded its four million dollar goal by nearly a half million dollars in that aforementioned Resurgence Fundraising Campaign, that guy undermined it by claiming there were “discrepancies in donations.”

When the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) approved the budget submitted by Cheyney and pointed out that the school “appears to be following the protocols that are in place for all 14 universities,” that guy countered it by alleging that the “university’s budget figures don’t add up.”

And in nearly every single article, that guy constantly focused on Cheyney’s state and federal debt over and over and over again as if it was breaking news that readers hadn’t seen from him time and time and time again.

But he never- I repeat never- writes about finances and figures not adding up at any of the 13 state-owned white universities. For example, why hasn’t he written about the lawsuit filed by the former director of budget and financial planning at West Chester University who accused that school of corruption in defrauding PASSHE out of nearly $150 million?

And he never — I repeat never — puts Cheyney’s finances, figures, and debts in context. For example, he never mentions the following:

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 white state-owned teacher training schools but paid only $25 to Cheyney students.

1969 — The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 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 of Pennsylvania for the first time ever finally submitted a formal anti-racial discrimination proposal that was deemed acceptable by the U.S. Department of Education following repeated warranted rejections. But it was later discovered that the proposal 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 of Pennsylvania signed a contract to resolve issues of racial discrimination against Cheyney. Commonwealth officials signed that contract which, by 2019, should have resulted in approximately $100 million to Cheyney for essential and long-denied resources. However, 20 years later, much of that $100 million is still contractually owed to Cheyney.

Apart from all of that, I must make it crystal clear that the resolved accreditation issues never had anything to do with Cheyney’s impressive academic qualities but everything to do with its financial situation, which, as I just pointed out, was primarily externally-imposed, not self-inflicted. And in regard to its academics, MSCHE previously and specifically pointed out that “The university has provided... compelling evidence that the quality of student learning has not been compromised....”

When enrollment at Cheyney increased by almost 33 percent this year, that guy subverted it by writing, “However, the latest enrollment figures were the second ‘lowest’ at the school in the last decade.” What is wrong with him?

The other white guy who I describe as a Cheyney hater is PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein. While MSCHE was, as I earlier mentioned, in the process of determining Cheyney’s very existence, Greenstein- the man who should have been Cheyney’s number one cheerleader- said the following on February 21 to the Senate Appropriations Committee, “[You must] acknowledge the likelihood that... [Cheyney’s] accreditation will be lost....” That sounds like sabotage talk to me. He then mentioned the option of turning Cheyney into a type of non-degree trade school or something like that.

Turn the university founded during slavery into a trade school? Turn the alma mater of Octavius Catto, Martha Fairbeau, Dr. Rebecca Cole, Julian Abele, Bayard Rustin, Marcus Foster, and Ed Bradley into a trade school? I can’t say what I’m really thinking right now because The Tribune is a professional newspaper that doesn’t allow profanity. So I’ll just end it right here.

In closing, I’m not necessarily saying those two white guys are racist. But I am saying, in my opinion, they are guilty of the kind of implicit racial bias that fuels structural racism.

But enough about condemning the hating losers. Instead, let’s commend the Cheyney winners, meaning those who I already praised along with other persons who responded immediately and favorably to my request last month- on behalf of Heeding Cheyney’s Call (an activist and advocacy group of which I am spokesperson and attorney)- that they write and submit letters to MSCHE setting forth justifications as to why Cheyney should and must remain accredited.

As a result, powerful letters were separately written and submitted by Mayor Jim Kenney, Cheyney alumna Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell with the endorsement of President Darrell Clarke and the entire City Council, PLBC Chairman Stephen Kinsey with the endorsement of the entire PLBC Philadelphia delegation, Congressman Dwight Evans, and Senator Bob Casey as well as the office of District Attorney Larry Krasner and the office of Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, both of whom expressed their interest in helping to create a pre-law program on campus.

Cheyney’s winning. After all, that’s what winners do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinions on phillytrib.com.

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as at AvengingTheAncestors.com. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1FM and his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCAM/Verizon Fios/Comcast.

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