What’s In Store for PASSHE and Cheyney? Part 2
Junious Ricardo Stanton
“The working theory is that Cheyney was never really targeted to be saved, even when Gov. Wolf personally pledged resources and attention to its cause. PASSHE’S movement and programming, when accompanied by legislative action and research, always suggested that the campus was being readied to become a STEM-based extension branch of the system’s other institutions, with a focus on training minorities in applied scientific fields.” Jerrett Carter Sr HBCU Digest June 25, 2020 https://hbcudigest.substack.com/p/pennsylvanias-moves-on-cheyney-just
Pennsylvania legislators have passed legislation that would give the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors power to redesign the whole system. House Bill 2171 authorizes the PASSHE Board of Governors to: “create, expand, consolidate, transfer, dissolve, or close an institution or college, empowering the Board to better align the system with Commonwealth workforce needs and enrollment; providing minimum qualifications for Board members and the Councils of Trustees and permitting their removal for cause; clarifying that the Board may delegate duties to the chancellor; clarifying the powers and duties of the Councils of Trustees and presidents; and vesting the Board with the power to enforce Board policies and require institutions to share services and participate in collaborations, where appropriate.” https://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?c
This is a significant piece of legislation. It has been signed by Governor Wolf so now it will provide broad and sweeping powers to the Board of Governors to revamp the whole system, they can remove Board and University Council of Trustee members for cause and compel PASSHE schools to share services and participate in collaborations. In effect the legislature is giving the very entity that oversaw the system’s decline the power to revive it.
Personally I find this legislation ironic because in 2014 when the Heeding Cheyney’s Call negotiating team met with Governor Tom Corbett’s legal staff and the PASSHE legal staff, to seek redress for the decades long history of disinvestment discrimination and failure to comply with agreements with the federal government, one of the items in our Framework for Remedies was to: “Establish permanent reforms of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) polices and practices necessary to fully implement an essential remedy…” We were told by Corbett’s legal team that was a legislative process, which we already knew. We knew the whole system was in trouble and were attempting to put that issue on the table as an action item.
In 2017 the PASSHE Board of Governors commissioned a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems that also recommended the restructuring of PASSHE. In their report NCHEMS recommendation #2 stated “Amend Act 188 to replace the current Board of Governors with a Board of Regents made up of lay members and to clarify the distribution of authority among the Board, the Chancellor, the institutional presidents and the Councils of Trustees.”
Not satisfied with NCHEMS report and recommendations that did not push for or recommend mergers or closings; in 2018 the Republican controlled legislature commissioned a study by the Rand Corporation. Unlike the NCHEMS report, the Rand Corporation offered several options that called for mergers, consolidations and various ways to reconfigure or eliminate the state system structure. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2486.html
House Bill 2171 gives the PASSHE Board of Governors the power to redesign the system. What does this mean for Cheyney the oldest institution of higher learning for Africa-Americans in the nation? How will these new powers impact a PASSHE Board of Governors that has a long tradition of discrimination against Cheyney?
Jarrett Carter Sr. the founder and editor of HBCU Digest pondered this issue. He astutely points out, “Pennsylvania lawmakers have proposed for the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to have greater authority in merging and consolidating its 14 member institutions, including the state’s historically black flagship institution, Cheyney University. The measure, which awaits a signature from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, comes two years after legislators published a study on how the institutions could be most effectively consolidated. That proposal cited Cheyney’s woeful trends in enrollment and finance and was a signal that the system was moving to finally rid itself of a cash-siphoning, politically delicate, racially-complex money pit amidst several cash sinkholes that comprise the PASSHE system. But the turn of a new decade and a global pandemic have reversed Cheyney’s fortunes, sort of. A week ago, Cheyney posted the system’s highest marks in projected enrollment based upon student deposits. Earlier this week, the university welcomed a new corporate tenant to the campus in its growing bio-tech real estate repurposing project…
And so the system has painted itself into quite a tight corner now, with space growing more restricting by the day. Moving on Cheyney now exacerbates racial tensions that are already sky-high. Attempting to merge or to consolidate the nation’s oldest HBCU in the aftermath of the George Floyd lynching? After hundreds of thousands of people ignored social distancing guidelines and braved police violence in metropolitan Philadelphia in the name of justice?” PASSHE Moves Towards Mergers and Consolidations; What Does It Mean For Cheyney https://hbcudigest.substack.com/p/pennsylvanias-moves-on-cheyney-just
It remains to be seen how the PASSHE Board of Governors will weld their newfound powers if this Bill is signed by Governor Wolf. From my perspective and experiences, PASSHE’s history does not bode well for the system as we know it, especially given their long neglect and disinvestment in Cheyney.