By Cherri Gregg
CHEYNEY, Pa., (CBS) — Alumni from Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically Black institution of higher learning, are gearing up for a rally to show Governor Tom Wolf they’re serious about saving their beloved alma mater.
“Black lives matter, parity through equity!,” chanted members of Heeding Cheyney’s Call, a group of Cheyney University alumni and supporters. The group sued the Pennsylvania System of Higher Learning last year, renew a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleged decades of discrimination against Cheyney through inadequate funding. They claim the deficit accumulated to roughly $100 million and the result is visible today — Cheyney University is mired in millions of dollars in debt and a shrinking enrollment that hovers near 700.
“We had been negotiating we had been trying to work out a settlement, but we are a little disappointed,” says Coard.
HCC wants funding and other efforts from the Commonwealth that would help revive the institution. Coard says talks stalled under the Corbett administration and are slow under Wolf.
“We haven’t gotten the reception that we expected,” he says.
So HCC is hoping to show the Governor they’re serious about saving Cheyney. They are rallying alumni and putting them on buses headed to Harrisburg on Tuesday morning.
“We hope that we fill all the buses and take enlightened but mostly angry people to demand that Black minds matter,” says Coard.
The Philadelphia NAACP is backing the group.
“The math makes the argument right there,” says Minister Rodney Muhammad, president. “To have ill funded this instruction for that number of years is a travesty. We should not turn a blind eye and deaf ear to this problem.”
But funding is just part of the problem. Many of the school buildings are in disrepair. Enrollment is at all time low. Programs are shrinking. Cheyney created a partnership with nearby West Chester University to share resources.
“We don’t want West Chester or any other state school to take over Cheyney,” says Ron McCoy, Cheyney class of 1981. “We want Cheyney to continue to exist. It has a purpose.”
Ken Marshall, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education wrote in an email:
“We don’t comment specifically on ongoing litigation. In general, we believe both the Commonwealth and the State System are committed to the long-term success of Cheney University and we are working closely with the leadership of Cheyney, including the administration and the Council of Trustees, toward that shared goal.”
No comment from the Wolf Administration.
The rally will take place at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 10, 2015. Buses will leave from Philadelphia and Cheyney University Tuesday morning. More at heedingcheyneyscall.org.