Cheyney University staff is among the 5,500 faculty and coaches awaiting a new contract with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. - Submitted Photo

Last week’s column was one of two parts. In it, I wrote that the U.S. Department of Education was expected to soon release its response to the scathing Aug. 26, 400-page report by Financial Aid Services, Inc. (FAS) that condemned Cheyney University for failing to track or “reconcile” what was initially believed to be $48.9 million in federal grants and loans to students from 2011-2014.

However, as of the writing of this column, that response has not been released. Despite that, there’s still a lot of important news about Cheyney.

FAS, which was contracted by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), concluded that the $48.9 million figure was inaccurate and that the correct amount is $29.6 million. Accordingly, the Education Department is deciding how much, if any, of that amount has to be returned and what, if any, penalties will be assessed.

I must concede the obvious: some Cheyney staffers and managers screwed up royally. In fact, the report indicates that they made paperwork and accounting mistakes in almost 85 percent of about 4,400 financial aid documents during the three-year period beginning in 2011. I love Cheyney and I always defend Cheyney. But I gotta admit that this is indefensible. But it is explainable.

Consider this: If West Chester University (WCU) or Indiana University of Pennsylvania or any of the other white state-owned universities had displayed such clerical and administrative incompetence for three months or even three weeks, does anyone really believe that PASSHE would have stood by idly and allowed it? In other words, PASSHE saw Cheyney on fire for three consecutive years — whether it was bombed by scheming outsiders or torched by inept insiders — and did nothing about it.

Well, on second thought, PASSHE did do something. It waited until Cheyney was nearly burned to the ground in accounting and record-keeping errors and then blamed it despite not having provided sufficient resources and then brought in FAS and then offered piecemeal so-called help for this and some other problems. That purported help included the providing of loans to the residents of a smoldering building who had no way of repaying it due to PASSHE’s decades-long history of treating it like a stepchild compared to PASSHE’s thirteen white children. And those loan shark-like loans that usually result in broken knees could soon result in broken dreams for hopeful Black students and a broken legacy for devastated Black alumni. I say “could,” not “will.” That’s because Heeding Cheyney’s Call (HCC) has come to the rescue like firefighters against arsonists and the FBI against Mafioso loan sharks.

HCC consists of hundreds of alumni, students, faculty members, staffers, civic leaders, clergymen/women, community activists, and elected officials. It was founded in 2013 to save and enhance the oldest Black institution of higher learning in America. In early 2013, HCC began negotiations with Corbett administration officials. HCC’s Negotiation Team consists of Dr. Earl S. Richardson, a nationally renowned expert on discrimination in higher education who served as president of Morgan State University for more than a quarter century; attorney Pace J. McConkie, the director of the preeminent Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights which serves as a national Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) legal resource center (that, along with Dr. Richardson, led the recently successful HBCU lawsuit in Maryland); attorney Joe H. Tucker, the head of The Tucker Law Group which is the most prominent Black law firm on the East Coast; Junious R. Stanton, past President of the National Alumni Association; Professor Sonny Harris, former Campus Faculty Union president; and yours truly.

HCC’s negotiation sessions with the Commonwealth were somewhat productive in the beginning but eventually became frustratingly unproductive, thereby requiring us to file a major civil rights lawsuit in October 2014. However, because we believed that the Wolf administration would be more receptive to equal rights in higher education, our attorney petitioned for and, in June, 2015, was granted a “civil suspense order” from the trial judge for the purpose of focusing on a quick negotiated settlement as opposed to protracted litigation. HCC understood from the beginning that this negotiation would involve many considerations, including a probable “collaboration” between Cheyney and nearby WCU. Initially, we had no objection to it. But things have drastically changed.

As an attorney, I generally do not give any credence whatsoever to rumors. However, I must mention that it has been and continues to be disclosed by many reliable sources that the initial “collaboration plan” has become a “takeover scheme” by WCU or PASSHE, or both, to benefit WCU and to exploit Cheyney by destroying, undermining, or otherwise adversely affecting its historic institutional identity and undercutting its autonomy of its own land, buildings, facilities, departments, and other resources, thereby rendering it subservient to WCU. In fact, a WCU official has gone on record stating that the collaboration will “benefit WCU because WCU is rather landlocked and CU has 275 acres of rolling farmland in Delaware and Chester Counties.” Such a statement could raise legitimate concerns about WCU’s (and PASSHE’s) ulterior motives.

PASSHE and WCU, as well as the governor, need to address this issue. And they will because HCC wrote them a powerful letter a few days ago requesting a response to that particular issue along with other essential issues and also requesting a detailed response by next week. If the response is timely and favorable, Cheyney alumni everywhere will be pleased and calm. But if it’s untimely, absent, or unfavorable, Cheyney alumni everywhere will be displeased and angry. And hundreds of them and their supporters will express that anger politically through demonstrations in Harrisburg and economically through boycotts in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

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.”

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD900AM.

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