The Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education voted to name Aaron A. Walton as the president of Cheyney University during a late meeting on Monday.
Walton, who has been serving as interim president of the historically Black institution outside of Philadelphia since May, will serve as president through June 30, 2021.
“Mr. Walton has clearly demonstrated that he can in fact make meaningful changes that will move the university forward,” said Cheyney University Council of Trustees Chair Robert Bogle.
Bogle, who is also the president and CEO of The Tribune, said a presidential search had begun, but was later halted.
The Council of Trustees met with administrators, faculty, alumni and students during a meeting held on Cheyney’s campus Nov. 2, at which time they were notified that Walton was being considered as the college’s next president.
The move comes as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education will vote on Thursday regarding the accreditation status of the 180-year-old institution. Middle States was concerned about Cheyney’s finances, majors and permanent leadership positions.
Bogle said Middle States did not inform Cheyney that Walton had to be named, but felt compelled to recommend him because of the work he has done. The school has hired a provost and is now looking for a Chief Financial Officer.
Earlier this year, the Board of Governors for PASSHE said it would forgive $30 million in loans if the school could maintain a balanced budget and could meet certain benchmarks.
Kenneth Mash, the president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), spoke in opposition of the appointment of Walton and said board policy was not followed.
“Regardless of any words or assurances that may follow, a vote to make the appointment will be demoralizing and diminishing to students, alumni and faculty,” said Mash.
Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira said Walton would provide stable leadership ahead of the Middle States vote and ensure Cheyney’s long-term future to continue to serve students.
The vote was made due to the circumstances the University is facing and the Board of Governors said it would not open the door for other university’s to do the same because no other institution is facing the lost of accreditation.
“From my perspective there is no stronger advocate for Cheyney University and no one better to lead the efforts to shape the future of this historic institution,” said Shapira. “These are extraordinary circumstances that are facing Cheyney University and that requires extraordinary leadership on the part of many including the Board of Governors of the PAHSSE.”
State Rep. Jordan Harris, also chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, says it is an unprecedented time for Cheyney, which may call for unconventional leadership and an unconventional process for picking that leadership.
“The PLBC continues to be in contact with the leadership as well as the Board of Governors to keep an eye on the progress of Cheyney University,” Harris told The Tribune. “We must remain steadfast that our current goal is the accreditation of the university from Middle States...that accreditation is the ball game.”
The school plans to begin a search for a president about a year before Walton’s term ends in 2021.
“While I came here to help transform Cheyney University, I can tell you that Cheyney University has changed my life,” Walton said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity that has been given to me today, and commit my all toward working together with the board, the trustees, and the students, faculty, staff and alumni to ensure there is a Cheyney today, and a Cheyney forever.”