Cheyney alumni say Pa. has shirked its duty to the school

     Michael Coard, a Cheyney University graduate and lawyer for a coalition suing Pennsylvania, speaks Tuesday at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda organized in an effort to press the state to help the financially struggling school. Listening are state Reps. Curtis Thomas, left, and Stephen Kinsey. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

    Michael Coard, a Cheyney University graduate and lawyer for a coalition suing Pennsylvania, speaks Tuesday at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda organized in an effort to press the state to help the financially struggling school. Listening are state Reps. Curtis Thomas, left, and Stephen Kinsey. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

    Champions of Cheyney University filled the state Capitol rotunda Tuesday, bringing a decades-long fight for more funding to lawmakers’ doorsteps.

    The historically black state-owned university has been plagued by an enrollment slump, administrative turnover, and what one federal judge called “historic neglect” by the state.

    To the advocates at Tuesday’s rally, the difficulties are an outgrowth of systemic racism. One sign hoisted on the Capitol steps said, “PASSHE doesn’t care about black students.” PASSHE is the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees Cheyney University and the other 13 state-owned schools.

    Cheyney University alumnus and lawyer Michael Coard said the school’s current share of the money set aside for PASSHE schools isn’t enough to make up for decades of underinvestment.

    “Equality works only if everybody is put at the starting line equally,” said Coard.

    Last year, Coard led advocates to file a civil rights suit in federal court, charging state and federal officials with discriminatory practices toward the school. A similar lawsuit led to a federal settlement in 1999 and a boost in state dollars.

    PASSHE disputes that Cheyney, which straddles Delaware and Chester counties, is being unfairly funded now.

    “Cheyney University over the last number of years has received significantly higher level funding per student than any other of our universities,” said PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall. “They’ve received more capital funding.”

    He added that PASSHE is working with the school on a plan to attract more students.

    Cheyney boasts a number of prominent alumni, including the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and CBS “60 Minutes” journalist Ed Bradley, also deceased.

    Rep. Curtis Thomas, D-Philadelphia, said “people” take pride in the university’s history and “how well Cheyneyites are doing.”

    “But when it come time to signing the check,” Thomas said, “folk get senile.”

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