Pennsylvania's Moves On Cheyney Just Got a Little Bit Tougher, and Cynthia Jackson-Hammond's Last Big Win in Ohio

PASSHE Moves Towards Mergers and Consolidations; What Does It Mean for Cheyney?

Pennsylvania lawmakers have proposed for the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to have greater authority in merging and consolidating its 14 member institutions, including the state’s historically black flagship institution, Cheyney University.

From WHYY:

The proposal, as amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee, creates a stronger board to oversee the fourteen-school Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). The reconstituted PASSHE board would have the authority to consolidate schools, eliminate programs, turn existing schools into branch campuses of other universities, create new schools, and share back-office services.

In essence, the schools would be bound tighter together under the auspices of an empowered PASSHE board and chancellor.

The measure, which awaits a signature from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, comes two years after legislators published a study on how the institutions could be most effectively consolidated. That proposal cited Cheyney’s woeful trends in enrollment and finance and was a signal that the system was moving to finally rid itself of a cash-siphoning, politically delicate, racially-complex money pit amidst several cash sinkholes that comprise the PASSHE system.

But the turn of a new decade and a global pandemic have reversed Cheyney’s fortunes, sort of. A week ago, Cheyney posted the system’s highest marks in projected enrollment based upon student deposits. Earlier this week, the university welcomed a new corporate tenant to the campus in its growing bio-tech real estate repurposing project.

From the Philadelphia Business Journal:

The strategy is a novel one for the nation's first and oldest historically black college that counts among its alumni the late Ed Bradley, who was a "60 Minutes" correspondent.

Part of the effort involves attracting companies such Sure-BioChem to lease space at the campus to bolster the school’s career-informed curriculum and provide internships, potential job opportunities and training for students.

The school has already formed several of these public-private partnerships and plans to add more. To date, it has partnered with: Navrogen Inc., a Glen Mills biopharmaceutical company that also occupies space at Cheyney’s science center; Epcot Crenshaw Corp., which focuses on technology that addresses environmental issues; ASI Chemicals, a startup that manufactures chemicals for pharmaceutical companies; and Advanced Alchemy Labs, which farms and processes hemp for medicinal use.

The working theory is that Cheyney was never really targeted to be saved, even when Gov. Wolf personally pledged resources and attention to its cause. PASSHE’S movement and programming, when accompanied by legislative action and research, always suggested that the campus was being readied to become a STEM-based extension branch of the system’s other institutions, with a focus on training minorities in applied scientific fields.

And so the system has painted itself into quite a tight corner now, with space growing more restricting by the day. Moving on Cheyney now exacerbates racial tensions that are already sky-high. Attempting to merge or to consolidate the nation’s oldest HBCU in the aftermath of the George Floyd lynching? After hundreds of thousands of people ignored social distancing guidelines and braved police violence in metropolitan Philadelphia in the name of justice?

But how long should Cheyney University exist in name and form? An expanding corner of Cheyney’s acreage is dedicated to bio-tech industry, and while the short-term public reason have been training for students, their leasing agreements certainly aren’t the long-game for the system or its efforts to get out of the way of CU’s debts to the government or to system schools which have had their budgets cut in recent years to keep Cheyney above water.

No one expected a pandemic or national racial unrest to grip the country. No one expected that social distancing would last beyond the spring semester, and no one expected that budgets for states would be this depleted this quickly. More than this, no one expected that this many students would be interested in going to Cheyney in some form this fall.

With all of these realities, it looks like efforts to take Cheyney off the map may be progressing quickly, but at what cost to Pennsylvania’s political and economic power structures?

Ohio Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Central State Annexation

Ohio’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Township of Xenia, Ohio will be able to enter into an annexation agreement with Central State University, a move that will give the school substantial savings on municipal utility charges and create extended research and development opportunities.

The ruling comes three years after CSU’s initial support of the annexation plan.

“The Supreme Court ruling is encouraging for Central State University’s vision for expansion with the city of Xenia,” said Central State President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond. “The expansion promotes the mission of a land grant institution which is guided by the principle of enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Green County and other Ohio counties.”

“Central State and the city of Xenia are finally able to formally collaborate, grow, and become stronger partners for social, economic, and community development.”

It’s fitting for the legal victory to come as the exclamation point on Dr. Hammond’s tenure in Ohio. A career punctuated by earning federal land-grant status, civic expansion, and record fundraising show that in our sector, dynamic leaders can forge successful tenures and leave a legacy behind them, and at the same time, excitement for what is to come.