A Response to Woods

Stephen Rustow January 17, 2012

I am very pleased that my colleague, Professor Lebbeus Woods, and I share so many points of agreement; our few differences speak more to method than substance. In the interest of dispelling any low-lying fog, let me briefly list our common views:

• We both agree that tuition-free education is a foundational principal that has made the school what it is today; it is indeed one of the things that makes Cooper unique;

• We both agree that the future of the school is what matters and should be the focus of the current debate; my interest in the past is neither in precedents nor justifications but for the ways in which it can inform our understanding of the possibilities before us;

• We both agree that this is a pivotal moment and what we decide now matters deeply for the school’s continued existence:

• And, finally, implicit in all these points, we both agree that principles are principles, and can’t be bent ‘as the contingencies of reality demand’;

Our differences can also be quickly summed up:

• Professor Woods believes that tuition-free education is the only principle worth defending; I think that other principles – academic freedom, institutional autonomy and basic fairness – all need to be considered as well, as they are inextricably linked;

• Professor Woods seems to think that declaiming a principle is the best way to defend it; I think debating principles is their best defense and that the more we are willing to honestly question our principles, the values they embody and the consequences they provoke, the stronger our defense of them becomes;

• Professor Wood’s would like to exclude certain questions from the debate; I think that we have learned in the last months that it’s been our failure to debate these questions, which have existed for decades, that has brought us to this crisis. My overriding interest is that we not make the same mistake twice; that was why my first comment was expressly directed to the debate, not its presumed outcome.

To close on one more point of agreement: Professor Woods ends his eloquent note with, surprisingly, a lesson from the past, recalling that Peter Cooper was a critical visionary because he “… put his personal resources into making what he believed would be a better future. How many of us are willing to do that today?” – Precisely!

Stephen Rustow
Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
More From Stephen Rustow A Comment on the Debate