The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost Part 1

Junious Ricardo Stanton



I wasn’t surprised when a friend sent me the November 28, 2023 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s education section with the headline After a seeming comeback Cheyney University lands back on probation. I have been a critic of current President Aaron Walton who was anointed president of Cheyney University by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) in 2017 after spending time on the PASSHE Board of Governors ascending to the position of Vice Chairman. Aaron Walton was sent to Cheyney by PASSHE and subsequently made permanent president because they circumvented Pennsylvania Act 188 1982 P.S. &20-2001-A et seq which states a search must be conducted involving students, alumni and the Council of Trustees to find a replacement for a PASSHE university president. But PASSHE requested and was granted a waiver by the Pennsylvania State Senate exempting them from conducting a legitimate regional or national search.

No search was conducted in part because the Commonwealth was afraid their search might fail to attract the highly qualified candidates needed to turn the university around. I received a letter (and still have it in my possession) from Mr. Peter H. Garland the Executive Vice Chancellor of PASSHE dated March 9, 2016; in response to my letter dated February 28, 2016 (which was part of a Heeding Cheyney’ Call letter writing campaign). I was requesting a thorough presidential search to find the best qualified candidate willing to accept the challenge of piloting the venerable institution through the unprecedented times higher education was facing but especially the major problems Cheyney was then experiencing. The new president would have to address a myriad of challenges: declining enrollment, escalating debt, fiscal-aid mismanagement, abysmal public perceptions/branding, federal government scrutiny and ineffective governance.

In his response Mr. Garland alluded to the possibility a search might not produce significant interest in the Cheyney presidency. He said and I quote, “On behalf of the Chancellor, I have served as the liaison to a number of presidential searches in the System. While strong candidates do not shrink from challenging leadership positions, questions regarding Cheyney’s enrollment, financial stability, financial aid mismanagement and the university’s probationary status with its regional accrediting body will likely limit the pool of candidates severely, potentially yielding no acceptable ones. Frankly, the prospect of a failed national search of the presidency could irreparably derail the institution’s path to recovery.”

He also stated PASSHE, the Chancellor and Board of Governors were awaiting “the best time to launch the search.” promising students, faculty and alumni would be involved in the search process. Evidently either highly qualified prospects/candidates did not materialize or the “best time to launch the search” never materialized since no search was ever conducted. Aaron Walton was summarily anointed president.

My problem with Walton’s appointment is he was part of the problem. Therein lies the reason for Cheyney’s current predicament: the powers that be decision not to conduct a genuine search and their subsequent appointment of Aaron Walton to the position. Walton was not an educator and other than serving on the PASSHE Board of Governors which in conjunction with a series of governors and the General Assembly had an abysmal record of managing the whole system, therefore he was part of the problem. Walton showed his shortcomings as an administrator time and time again. He’s not an expert on the collective bargaining agreement or higher education. He fired several staff and was forced to bring them back or pay them. As PASSHE Board of Governors vice chair, Walton co-chaired a task force designed to chart a course out of the existential crisis Cheyney was facing; but his plan did not call for boosting enrollment, seeking more funding from PASSHE which had a long and sordid history of discriminating against Cheyney (which was the reason I was a plaintiff in the Heeding Cheyney’s Call 2014 Federal Lawsuit against the Commonwealth, Governor Tom Corbett, the Chancellor, the PASSHE Board of Governors and Arne Duncan the Secretary of the US Department of Education) proposing/promising new academic programs, upgrading or maintaining facilities. He did tear down several dilapidated or deteriorating buildings.

When Tom Wolf who ran on an education platform was elected governor, Pennsylvania was ranked by US and World Report #50 out of fifty states in higher education. .Pennsylvania is still one of the least affordable states for college putting college beyond the reach of many students which has resulted in a drop in enrollment in PASSHE schools.

To his credit Governor Wolf kept his promise that Cheyney would not close on his watch. It was Governor Wolf who erased Cheyney’s forty million debt to PASSHE not Aaron Walton. Wolf’s efforts are what allowed the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to view Cheyney in a more favorable light which helped to restore Cheyney’ accreditation; not any plans Walton devised or executed.

As president, Walton made numerous errors that have come back to bite him. He cut staff to the bone and never assembled an effective governance infrastructure able to grow or promote the university enrollment wise or via fundraising. He failed to establish an amicable and cooperative relationship with alumni; although he was chummy with the immediate past national alumni association president who gave Walton (in clear violation of The Solicitation of Funds for Charitable Purposes Act 10 P.S. & 162.1 et seq) $250,000 dollars of alumni scholarship money which Walton “repurposed” for things other than scholarships! When that issue was recently re-raised by alumni Walton allegedly promised to put the money back but has not done so to date. Walton has also failed to cultivate the support of key influencers and power brokers in Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester Counties, or Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.

Walton has often misrepresented the university; for example, he says the university has a STEM program when in fact it has no engineering or technology degree programs whatsoever. The university’s Middle States Self-Study report said they have a dual enrollment program but I have seen no evidence of one. Some of the people he brought in to fill important positions like Provost and Admissions were not up to the task and there has been a constant shake up and revolving door of lower level administrative personnel.

We must understand, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has no subpoena powers, no on staff auditors or forensic accountants to check Cheyney’s or any other university’s books so they are reliant on what the university tells them. Evidently Middles States is skeptical of Cheyney’s ability to accomplish and sustain its stated mission and asked Walton for documentation and proof. Middle States placed Cheyney back on Probation on November 16, 2023,

To quote Albert Einstein, “you cannot solve problems using the same consciousness and energy that created them.” The chickens have come home to roost, it’s PASSHE’s and Walton’s KARMA; they are reaping what they’ve sown! Hopefully this will be the impetus for real change


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