A student implies Cheyney University’s wounds are self-inflicted.
In the Black Community there’s a saying: “What goes on in this house, stays in this house.”
However, the ramifications of this silence, depending on the situation(s), can have devastating results.
By now, due to the overwhelming media coverage on the issue, I would assume most people are aware that Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is in dire straits. The Huffington Post recently reported that the university could be on the verge of collapse. Some people speculate what’s causing this and those same people also believe they’ve found the answer. Everyone has an opinion about it, but only a small few know exactly what’s going on. As a current Senior Honors student – majoring in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing – student worker and resident of Cheyney University, I perceive myself to be a very credible source.
There were multiple colleges I’ve could’ve attended, but I selected Cheyney University because I am a third generation HBCU (Historically Black College & University) attendee and I believe HBCUs are the foundation for African-Americans pursuing higher education.
After being there for three years and working closely with faculty and staff, I realize why the school hasn’t developed into being one of the leading HBCUs: The alumni haven’t maintained their accountability; instead they have minimally funded the institution. Furthermore, alumni don’t actively support and engage the students during their growth and development.
Cheyney University isn’t different from any other HBCU when it comes to their alumni giving. Cheyney has been graduating students since 1837 and has an operating budget of $135 million dollars. I attended a board of trustees meeting in September and they reported that the alumni giving for one year was about $1 million dollars. Unfortunately, that report was actually one or two years old, not because of the one year delay.
They fired their sole fundraiser, so the Institutional Advancement is working off of that budget. If the alumni utilized the Sullivan principles, which was created by the late Rev. Leon Sullivan, then those funds would grow the school exponentially. Example: Cheyney University’s enrollment peaked at 1983 with nearly 4,000 attendees. Generously, that would be about 2,000 students for each entering freshman class. If you took every student who attended the school from 1980 to 1989, that would be about 20,000 people. If each person then pledged to give $25 a month for twelve months, it would generate $6 million dollars, without interest.
The alumni just give “liberally” and there hasn’t been an alumni ball in three years, which only raised $1 million dollars towards scholarships. There are alumni chapters all over of the country. The purpose of these chapters is to raise funds as well as try to provide financial support to the students whom they recruit. None of the students that I am aware of have stated they have received that type of support. It seems that these chapters are just social organizations.
I challenge the presidents of these chapters to make their presence known so that the students become aware of the resources they offer. I also challenge them to contact the Director of Alumni Affairs to ensure that any contributions they’re sending goes directly to the students, not to the administration.
Some alumni have decided that financial support should come from the state of Pennsylvania, instead of their own pockets. This group of alumni and their supporters are called “Heeding Cheyney’s Call.”
They have gotten together to sue the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), declaring that Cheyney has been consistently underfunded in comparison to neighboring white institutions. In an email last month by an official from PASSHE, it was acknowledged that Cheyney was underfunded, but racism had nothing to do with it, because the majority of PASSHE schools were underfunded. I was in my Freshman Seminar class when the then-Director of Financial Aid came to speak about the state funding changes.
She knew the news would devastate the student body, so she decided to tell us personally, as to soften the blow. The other PASSHE financial aid directors, who was in the meeting when the news broke, had no intentions in telling their students nor did they seem alarmed, she told us. In my opinion, Heeding Cheyney’s Call, instead of investigating the other PASSHE schools that are equally disenfranchised by the system, pulled the race card and played on the emotions of African-Americans in order to shift public will in their direction.
And though I do believe that the lawsuit has it merits, it still won’t solve the problem with the famed university. Cheyney University is like a bucket with holes in it: no matter how much water you fill it up with, it won’t stay in the bucket. The leaks at Cheyney are the passive employees in Institutional Advancement, the self-interested and self-absorbed Board of Trustees, and the condescension and disorganization of Enrollment Services (Admission, Registrar, Bursar, and Financial Aid).
Heeding Cheyney’s Call in an open meeting with the student body announced their plans to change the school once they win their $20 million lawsuit, which could take years in the courts, and during that time the debt will continue to grow.
Some have reported that the debt is about $16 million, while others put the figure closer to $50 million. If the latter is true, then where would the rest of the money come from: Another lawsuit? Institutional Advancement doesn’t have a major corporate sponsor that gives more than half-a-million dollars nor a collective of corporate sponsors that exceed one million dollars. The responsibility falls back on the alumni and how they choose to financially support the institution.
On December 2nd, 2014, the students of Cheyney University voted for the ratification of a new constitution, but this has resulted in a potential lawsuit from the Alumni Association. For years, the Student Government Cooperative Association (SGCA) has had a board of directors which was populated by members of the Alumni Association. These people controlled any and everything that the SGCA did. Recent events have caused SGCA to take action and fight for independence.
In the constitution, we voted to have a board of advisors, instead of a board of directors and only one of the directors would be an alumni. We wanted to put things back into perspective: it’s the students who run the school and without them there would be no Cheyney University. We followed the election guidelines to ensure that we were in compliance of the University. However, the Director of the National Alumni Association, who I won’t name, tried to sabotage our election by telling the IT department that we couldn’t use the school’s computers.
Luckily, our Chief of Staff and Interim President intervened on our behalf, though we had already figured out a more effective alternative: stationing ourselves in high traffic areas with paper ballots.With the help of our passionate and supportive Student Activities department, we got the votes needed to ratify our constitution.
Our Interim President had a meeting with the board of directors of SGCA relieving them of their duties. Instead of accepting it and offering to support to the students, they are in the process of using the students’ attorney, who is paid with students’ activity fees, to sue the SGCA. They are using underhand tactics and allegations to build their case. This is not how you develop students into being the next generation of leaders.
Anytime I have tried to express my concerns with any alumni, I’m pushed to the side, like I don’t know what I’m speaking about. I once tried to dialogue with a well-known alumnus through Twitter. Instead of asking questions to find common ground on the issue, he responded indirectly on his talk radio program, totally dismissing me and my issues. Most likely, if he reads this post, he’s going to do it again and he’ll probably add a few choice words that’ll give the perception that he’s more knowledgeable on the issue than I am. As a wise man once told me, you can argue theories, but you can’t argue experiences.
At first I was upset by his initial, indirect response to me because at that time I was only at Cheyney for a year. But the longer I have been there, I understand that it’s not him, it’s how the alumni operate… they are stuck in glory days of Cheyney University; when it was one of the best learning institutions in the country, but this love affair with the past has caused them lose touch with reality.
Now that the chickens have come home to roost, it’s time to be accountable. This is just the beginning of things that I will be exposing. I hope that the alumni take a good look in the mirror and say, honestly that “Cheyney University is falling apart because I let it happen.”
Until the alumni get it together and fight for the students, not against them, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania will be nothing more than a historical site.
Johnathan Cooper is an entrepreneur, blogger and Honors business student enrolled at Cheyney University. CLICK HERE to follow him on Twitter.
Thanks for reading!