Historic Cheyney University Needs Help!
Junious Ricardo Stanton
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, a member of the state owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the oldest institution of higher learning for people of African descent in the United States. It’s origins date back to 1829 with the Last Will and Testament of Richard Humphreys a white man who was born on February 13, 1750 on the British Colonial Island of Tortola in the West Indies.
Slavery was deeply rooted in Tortola, it was the engine that drove the colonial island’s agrarian economy. Humphreys father who raised sugar and cotton owned slaves. Humphreys’ parents died when he was a young boy but his father’s will provided for Richard and his older brother Thomas to be apprenticed in America; Richard as a gold and silversmith and Thomas as a tanner working in animal hides.
In America Richard eventually became a successful silversmith operating a shop at 54 High Street in Philadelphia. Humphreys was also an upstanding member of The Religious Society of Friends also known as Quakers. The Quakers were renowned for valuing education, thrift, hard work and piety. While living in Philadelphia Humphreys became keenly aware of the horrid conditions of Blacks and provided in his will for the establishment of an institution that would, “.. having for its object the benevolent design of instructing the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of mechanik arts, and trades and in Agriculture: in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers in such of those branches of useful business as in the Judgment of said society they may appear best qualified for...”
Humphreys bequeathed $10,000,one tenth of his total estate, to fund that institution. Richard Humphreys died on February 5, 1832. The thirteen trustees he named in his will, all fellow members of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends accepted the challenge to execute Humphreys’ wishes. During their planning it was first named The African Institute but was later changed to the Institute of Colored Youth.
ICY was not founded or chartered as a college. It didn’t have to be considering the lofty standards the Quakers set for all their educational institutions. Plus ICY was created to also teach mechanical arts, trades and agriculture. ICY became a forerunner of American land grant colleges and universities by several decades.
The Quakers (actually the Humphreys Foundation) administered ICY which later changed the name to Cheyney after the Quaker who sold farmland for the school in Delaware County Pennsylvania to the Trustees, until the foundation sold the school to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1922. Needless to say the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania lacked the same passion, concern and commitment for Cheyney’s mission to educate Blacks as the Quakers. The Commonwealth’s lack of fervor and vision resulted in decades of neglect and racist policies that continued after the creation of PASSHE in 1982. This neglect has continued to the present.
Despite an uninterrupted denial of equal support by the Commonwealth, Cheyney’s administrators still retained the commitmentto education, moral uplift and service the Quakers infused in it when they founded ICY. Under Commonwealth and PASSHE ownership, Cheyney suffered from a continuous lack of equal and adequate funding from the state. In the mid to late 60’s student unrest, protests and direct action forced the state to pay attention and up the ante. But once Wade Wilson who was appointed President of Cheyney State College after the first wave of student uprisings retired as Cheyney president, the Commonwealth and PASSHE refused to recruit the innovative leadership needed to position Cheyney as a premier educational institution.
But it wasn’t just Cheyney, PASSHE as a system proved not to be ready for prime time. Many think because of the early Quaker influence in Pennsylvania that it is a progressive state, it is not. It is as benighted and backward as its some of its more infamous sister states, especially when it comes to public higher education!
Just two years ago the Commonwealth out of necessity was forced to merge six universities into two new regional schools due to massive fiscal and enrollment challenges. Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom as far as public higher education goes and is one of the least affordable states for pubic higher education in the nation. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/admissions/traditional-age/2023/07/12/pa-public-colleges-battle-students-and-funding,
In many ways PASSHE is merely a “good ol’ boy’ network, a bastion of cronyism and political appointees with little or no insight into the complexities and dynamics of higher education. Governors and the legislature with the exceptions of Tom Wolf the immediate past governor and the current Governor Josh Shapiro, have not prioritized public higher education in the Commonwealth with the exception of Penn State University. PASSHE as a system has failed in its mission to provide low cost quality public higher education in Pennsylvania for working class families. https://www.cbsnews.com/pittsburgh/news/study-ranks-pa-worst-state-for-higher-education/
Now Cheyney faces yet another challenge. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education the regional accreditation agency placed Cheyney University of Pennsylvania on probation on November 16, 2023. The Middle Sates Website posted this, “To acknowledge receipt of the supplemental information report requested by the Commission action of June 22, 2023. To note the on-site follow-up team visit by the Commission's representatives to the main campus at 1837 University Circle, Cheyney, PA 19319 on September 5-6, 2023. To acknowledge receipt of additional information provided by the institution on October 23, 2023. To place the institution on probation and note that the institution's accreditation is in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with Standard II (Ethics and Integrity), Standard III (Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience), Standard VI (Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement), and former Requirements of Affiliation 5 and 11. To note the institution remains accredited while on probation. To note further that federal regulations limit the period during which an institution may be in non-compliance, which started on November 16, 2023.” https://www.msche.org/institution/0480/
The underlined emphasis is mine. Go to the Website and read it for yourself. The wording of this post is a direct indictment against the administration of President Aaron Walton and an indirect indictment against PASSHE and the Governor who appointed him. Middle States is saying the institution lacks integrity and ethics and questions the administration's ability to even accomplish the mission of the university! This is a huge development. It places the Commonwealth in a major conundrum. What to do, how does PASSHE get out from under this indictment by an extremely influential and independent third party accrediting agency?!
The knee jerk letter of support from the Chancellor and the PASSHE Board of Governors is worded in such a way when you read it, it is obvious they didn’t even take the time to read the Middle States’ notice. Contrary to their letter, Middle States did request additional documentation and additional meetings with the university.
Let’s be honest, Aaron Walton did not create the problems at Cheyney University, Cheyney was a mess. However he continued them as a member of PASSHE’s Board of Governors by being a company man especially when he served as Vice Chair. Walton exacerbated the school’s problems when PASSHE sent him to Cheyney as president! He was simply not a good leader. There is no way to get around Middle State’s placing Cheyney on Probation without a change of leadership! That is the first step towards a practicable solution.
It is one thing for a president to be inept or incompetent but it is catastrophic when he or she is inept, unethical and unable to carry out the processes for accomplishing the university’s mission and reason for existence! Frankly I don’t see how any additional documentation will alter this reality!
Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve problems using the same consciousness that created them.”; to which I add or the same energy and the same people who created or contributed to the problem! The bottom line is, Aaron Walton must go!