10 Reasons Cheyney Alumni Are Suing Pennsylvania and the Federal Government

Here's what the federal civil rights lawsuit we filed today is about.

A coalition known as “Heeding Cheyney’s Call” (HCC), which consists of Cheyney University alumni, students, professors, staffers, and retirees, as well as community activists, religious leaders, and elected officials, today is suing the Commonwealth (full suit below) for continuing what we believe are decades-long civil rights violations against this great school.

HCC is also suing the federal government, claiming that it’s stood idly by and enabling those violations by doing nothing to stop them. You want proof? Here’s the good, i.e., Cheyney’s greatness, the bad, i.e., racial discrimination, and the ugly, i.e., well, that’s the previously mentioned racial discrimination stuff.

Let me count the ways: All 10 of’ ’em:

1. Cheyney University, founded during slavery in 1837 right here in Philly as the African Institute (before changing its name to the Institute for Colored Youth), is the oldest black institution of higher education in America. No disrespect to Lincoln University, admittedly the oldest black college in America. But it was founded 17 years later as Ashmun Institute.

2. Cheyney has produced alumni like Julian Abele (architectural designer of the Philadelphia Free Library and the Art Museum), Ed Bradley (60 Minutes correspondent), Octavius Catto (martyred Philadelphia civil rights activist), Dr. Rebecca J. Cole (one of the first African-American female physicians in the country), Marcus Foster (nationally renowned educator), Joseph E. Lee, Esquire (one of the first African-Americans to practice law in Florida), Bayard Rustin (national civil rights activist), and Andre Waters (Philadelphia Eagles star).

3. Cheyney’s Masters in Educational Leadership program has been one of the nationally ranked leaders in producing Masters’ degrees in education for students of color, and one of the major producers of teacher and administrative leaders in the tri-state region, including Philadelphia.

4. Cheyney’s impressive undergraduate and graduate “Call Me MISTER” teacher leadership program encourages African-American men — who are much needed and woefully underutilized in the field of education — to dedicate their lives to becoming role models. The university’s outstanding “Teach STEM Scholarship Project” prepares African-American women to become highly qualified teachers who will change paradigms in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education through positive role-modeling and high tech innovation.

5. Cheyney’s extraordinary “Aquaculture Research and Education Center” meets the needs of the region’s critical waterways with the objective of training students to become professionals in various scientific areas in the U.S. and abroad.

6. Cheyney’s distinguished “Keystone Honors Academy” is a far-reaching academic excellence program that fosters intellectually enriching experiences for students with impressive GPAs. In addition, it positions students to receive Bond-Hill Scholarships that provide for complete tuition funding to attend state graduate programs in the fields of medicine, law, education, and business.

So why then is HCC filing this major federal civil rights lawsuit? Here’s why: Cheyney University, an all-time great institution, has an all-time low student enrollment and an all-time high budget deficit caused by:

  • racial discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  • the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 Fordice decision proclaiming that states can be compelled to pursue corrective affirmative action to remedy discrimination against African-American students despite purported race-neutral policies;
  • and Presidential Executive Order 12232 of 1980 issued “to overcome the discriminatory treatment and to strengthen and expand the capacity of historically Black colleges and universities to provide quality education.”

These violations constitute the following bad and ugly facts:

7. The U.S. Department of Education’s predecessor, namely the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, determined in 1969 that Pennsylvania was one of only 10 states (including, e.g., the notorious culprits of Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia) still operating an illegal racially segregated system of higher education.

8. As recently as 1980, a successful racial discrimination lawsuit was filed against the Commonwealth by Cheyney students, faculty, and staff.

9. It wasn’t until 1983 that the Commonwealth — for the first time ever — finally submitted a formal anti-racial discrimination plan that was deemed acceptable by and to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) following repeated rejections.

10. In 1999, just 15 years ago, the Commonwealth signed a formal agreement with and at the request of OCR in order to resolve then-unresolved and still-unresolved issues regarding Cheyney as mandated by federal law.

HCC — through its lawsuit against the governor on the state level for unlawful commissions in engaging in discrimination, and the secretary of education on the federal level for unlawful omissions in refusing to enforce anti-discrimination laws — is seeking “parity through equity” so that the historic university can be placed on a level playing field in order to effectively compete with Pennsylvania’s always and unfairly much better-equipped 13 white state-owned universities.

For more information about the lawsuit and about HCC, go to HCC’s website at HeedingCheyneysCall.org or go to its Facebook page, or go to its Twitter feed at @heedingcheyneys. Or, if you’re the Governor or the Secretary, go get a lawyer.

Michael Coard’s radio show, “The Radio Courtroom,” airs at noon on Sundays and Wednesdays. It can be heard locally on WURD 900 AM and on the Internet at 900amwurd.com. Follow @MichaelCoard on Twitter.