Remarks of Dr. Kenneth M. Mash
Before the Board of Governors
June 30, 2015
Whither Cheyney University?
Chairman Pichini, Governors, Chancellor Brogan, University Presidents, and guests. I am Kenneth Mash, and I am the President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
A few Januarys ago, around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, a group of Cheyney faculty and I asked the members of the board to pay closer attention to what was happening there. Cheyney University, its students, its faculty and coaches, its mission, and those students it could potentially serve have not left our minds. In fact, for decades the university has been at the forefront of APSCUF’s concerns. APSCUF leaders from decades ago have told me that it seems that little has changed at the university.
Cheyney University’s problems have been well documented. So well documented that legislators, members of the administration, and average people ask about it routinely. And people consistently ask, “Whose fault is it?”
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Too many have turned the other cheek. “They” have allowed things to occur at Cheyney that would not have been acceptable at other universities. “They” have allowed Cheyney students to not have the same opportunities as students at other universities. “They” have allowed the faculty to toil in conditions that would be intolerable at other institutions. That the students, faculty, coaches, and staff there continue to achieve, in some cases in remarkable ways, says something about the underlying spirit of that university. And it says something about a mission that cannot be left to die. “They” is, of course, “we.” We all bear responsibility for what has occurred at that university, for none of us should have rested. We have all failed that university.
I understand that the System has sent personnel and resources to Cheyney on several occasions for months on end. I understand that there has been intervention. But those interventions were mere band aids for broad, very serious systemic problems. I understand that the other universities have lent money to Cheyney and will, we hope, again do so. But forcing the university to continually operate under a dependency relationship without a plan for success is not a viable option.
I want to commend Chancellor Brogan and members of this board for stepping up to the plate and facing the problems head on in a way that has not happened heretofore.
I do believe that he and members of the board are intent on taking serious action. We have seen the letters that have gone out from the System, Cheyney, and West Chester. And part of it is encouraging. Collaboration truly is one of the great hallmarks of academia, and there is plenty of room for additional collaboration between those two great institutions; it should have been occurring for decades.
Yet APSCUF, outside associations, including national ones, and other interested persons who truly care about the institution are apprehensive. There is a tremendous difference between collaboration and takeover. There is a big difference between empowering an institution and reducing it down to irrelevance. We have questions about the plans, and we look forward to additional conversations.
We are well aware of those who would just as soon close Cheyney University. We are well aware of those who question whether a HBCU has relevance today. Setting aside the cynicism and potential covert racist overtones of those questions, let us all agree that Cheyney’s historic mission is as important today as it has ever been.
To deny Cheyney’s mission is to deny that the Commonwealth’s largest city cries out for a university that can nurture students and ease the path from secondary to higher education.
It is to ignore that there are countless people in the workforce who would like the opportunity to return to college to better their lives.
It is to ignore that that Philadelphia’s high school students need help gaining access to dual enrollment opportunities.
It is to ignore that there are opportunities there for advanced technical education.
It is to ignore the opportunities in that city and the surrounding area for articulation agreements with community colleges.
The list could go on….
Enormous potential exists to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth and we have a university ideally suited to work; that the university is underused is nothing short of tragic.
We look forward to the details of the plan. We look forward to answers. But the time has come to not dwell on failure. It is not time to think that saving money at that university is the path to success; institutions cannot save their way out of structural deficits.
The time is now is for bold thinking. It is time for us to embrace even more of Cheyney’s mission. It is time for us to see the university for what it is – a tremendous resource for the Commonwealth.
If we fail to do so, the fault, dear Chancellor, Mr. Chairman, Governors, University Presidents, Governor Wolf, Members of the General Assembly, will lie, not in our stars, but in ourselves.