The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost Part 2

Junious Ricardo Stanton


On November 16, 2023 the Middle States Commission on Higher Education placed my Alma Mater, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania on probation, again. From my vantage point it was only a matter of time before something like this occurred. The fault lies not with Cheyney but with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) the parent organization created by law to administer and oversee the fourteen state owned universities. When Dr. Michelle Howard Vital retired in 2014, after serving seven years as president, PASSHE chose not to conduct a regional or national search to find the most qualified leader who could steer the university off the rocks and into deep waters of viability and promise. An interim president and two acting presidents steered the ship until Aaron Walton was appointed permanent president.

PASSHE requested and was granted a waiver from the Pennsylvania State Senate to forgo the legislatively mandated search process, then they summarily anointed Walton as the permanent president. That decision while it may have been practical and expedient for PASSHE, it has proven to be disastrous. It did not address the root causes of neither Cheyney’s nor PASSHE’s problems: a lack of vision, foresight and the political will to do the right thing!

In previous years the Commonwealth commissioned several task forces and studies to recommend ways to keep Cheyney viable; specifically in 1992-93, 2009 and 2017. However once the ink was dry on the reports, the Commonwealth stopped short of doing what needed to be done to save the school which was adequately funding the school, selecting bold innovative leaders and fully supporting the university. In short, they carried on business as usual.

This may be news for some of you, but the fact of the matter is, Pennsylvania ranks at or near the bottom in higher education of all the fifty US states, despite former Governor Tom Wolf’s best efforts.

We think because Pennsylvania is located in the North and because of its Quaker founding tradition and influence Pennsylvania is a progressive state; it’s not, especially when it comes to public education.

For decades PASSHE, had its’ own problems which were kept quiet and were often overshadowed by Cheyney’s more highly publicized situation. In many ways Cheyney was used as a scapegoat by PASSHE to obfuscate the problems within the whole system. Cheyney’s predicament was/is not due to any inherent fault of the university but the deleterious policies of a succession of governors, the General Assembly and PASSHE which not only weakened Cheyney but the whole state system as well! Things were so bad that in 2022 the Commonwealth had to merge of six of the fourteen PASSHE schools into two new regional entities just to keep the system viable and afloat.

Back in 2014 Heeding Cheyney’s Call a group of alumni and higher education activists proposed what we called a “Framework For Remedies” to resolve the Commonwealth’s enduring legacy of neglect and under-funding of Cheyney. One of our demands was to: “Establish permanent reforms of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) policies and practices necessary to fully implement an essential remedy...” We knew back then, the Cheyney’s problems were caused by PASSHE and a malignant racial bias against the institution by the Commonwealth.

Cheyney’s difficulties, were exacerbated by the Commonwealth’s lack of attention to demographic trends, their failure to adequately sustain PASSHE’s mission by providing visionary leadership and support, in addition to the decades of under-funding of Cheyney and selecting inept presidents fueled by a racism and bias against the venerable institution. Cheyney’s woes were a direct reflection of the Commonwealth’s shortcomings in public higher education and racism.

Former Governor Tom Wolf attempted to address these issues, he called himself the “education Governor” and he was. Under Wolf, public education became a top priority, but unfortunately there was no political will on the part of the Republicans to do in Pennsylvania what states like Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, recently Maryland and now Tennessee and Kentucky are doing; righting wrongs, being more equitable in funding their HBCUs. Wolf did what he could but Pennsylvania has not balanced the scales respective to what it owes Cheyney!

Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve problems using the same consciousness and energy that created them.” To that I add, and the same people who created them. The Middles States Commission on Higher Education placed Cheyney on probation on November 16, 2023. Middle States is fully transparent and outlined the totality of its actions. You can read them here We can read between the lines to infer why they did what they did and why they are asking Walton to provide documentation and proof!

Resolving this situaton may be as simple as Aaron Walton providing the documentation Middle States requested to address the non-compliance issues. Worst case scenario it may be a precursor to major problems for the university; problems PASSHE brought on by it’s recent and long term actions.

Perhaps Middle States’ actions will be the catalyst and opportunity to spur the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to do what must be done to get it right, to upgrade the PASSHE system, find a dynamic leader for Cheyney University and provide the support to help the institution thrive. Failing that, we may see the demise of a once great institution.



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