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Under accreditation threat, Cheyney to hire permanent president

Aaron A. Walton could become Cheyney University's permanent president. He's currently serving as interim.

Aaron A. Walton , interim president at Cheyney, could get the permanent post.
Aaron A. Walton , interim president at Cheyney, could get the permanent post.Read moreBob Williams

Cheyney University Thursday asked to have its interim president be made permanent, a move that officials hope will help the school keep its accreditation and remain open.

The request from Cheyney to have Aaron A. Walton elevated to the permanent post comes one week before the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is expected to rule on whether the nation's oldest historically black university can keep its accreditation. If the school were to lose accreditation, it  no longer would be eligible to receive state and financial aid on which many of its students depend and would almost certainly have to close.

The board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education could act on Cheyney's request at a meeting next week.

"It's essential as we near a decision from Middle States that we have strong, stable leadership in place," Robert Bogle, chair of the council of trustees, said in a statement. "Aaron Walton is the leader we need now, and into the future."

The commission placed Cheyney, which has faced crushing debt, plunging enrollment and management problems, on probation in 2015 and earlier this year cited the school's lack of permanent leadership and deficit as issues that must be addressed. The university has had an interim president since Michelle Howard-Vital left in 2014.

Walton, 70, a former Highmark executive, stepped in to lead the school in May and has been making efforts to balance the school's budget. The state system extended a lifeline to Cheyney in August, offering to forgive $30 million in loans if the school can achieve and maintain a balanced budget for four years.

Cynthia Shapira, chair of the board of governors, issued a statement in support of Walton's appointment.

"I am willing to entertain any prudent and legal action within our authority that can help preserve the university's future," she said.

The board of governors will have to grant permission for Walton to be appointed absent the usual presidential selection process, which can take months. Walton previously served on the state system's board of governors and co-chaired a task force on helping Cheyney.

He has a bachelor's degree in speech pathology and audiology from California University and a master's degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Walton, whose salary is $248,000 annually, will appear before the accreditation commission next Thursday.

"I will do everything within my power to demonstrate to Middle States that Cheyney University deserves a future," Walton said.