By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The nation’s oldest African American institution of higher learning is expected to announce on Monday its effort to revive a decades old civil rights lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The suit claims the state discriminates against Black colleges when distributing state funds.
“Cheyney is treated like the step-child when it comes to the state’s 14 institutions,” says Michael Coard, a Philadelphia attorney and 1982 graduate of Cheyney University.
Coard is leading the grassroots effort “Heeding Cheyney’s Call,” which seeks to revive a 1980 lawsuit alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and numerous other laws. The suit claims the Commonwealth’s state-college funding formula is inequitable because it ties funding to enrollment. Coard claims the method effectively discriminates against black institutions because they tend to be smaller.
“It becomes a circular argument,” says Coard. “The state doesn’t provide Cheyney with the money it deserves because Cheyney doesn’t have the student enrollment that the other schools have. But how come Cheyney doesn’t have the enrollment that the other schools have? Because they don’t have the money.”
Coard says the suit will seek past and present damages.
“It would take approximately 100 million dollars to put Cheyney on equal footing with the other schools based on decades long discrimination,” he says.
Coard says the university settled the 1980 lawsuit 14 years ago, but the Commonwealth has failed to fully comply.
According to a press release sent out on Saturday, Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, as well as other elected officials and Cheyney alum will attend a 10 a.m. press conference at the federal courthouse on Market Street in Old City. Coard says the coalition will send a demand letter to the Commonwealth, the first step to reviving the lawsuit.