Dear Student, Faculty, and Staff of the Cooper Union:
This message is to inform you of the urgency regarding the institution of tuition at Cooper. As you may know, the original date for the administrative decision in this matter was set for December 7, 2011 when President Bharucha was scheduled to present his plan for dealing with Cooper’s 26 million dollar financial deficit. As of Friday, October 28, this date has been moved ahead four weeks to November 8. This is a deliberate attempt to push the Cooper community out of the decision-making process by severely reducing the amount of time in which the community may react to this issue. Furthermore, this move also reduces the administration’s risk of being exposed to media attention concerning finances tuition at Cooper.
Up until this point, the administration has feigned transparent operation and communication with the Cooper community, the media, and the public. However, the President and the Board of Trustees have ignored the response and reaction of the Cooper Union community and will continue to do so, as the decision regarding tuition has already been made - as is indicated by the abrupt re-scheduling of the official decision date.
Now is the time for alternative solutions and modes of communication with the administration. Direct communication between the administration and the current students and faculty of the school is no longer sustainable. In this time of emergency and crisis we can no longer depend on the administration to listen and serve the current vision and mission of The Cooper Union.
We call for voices outside of the immediate community to join us in opposition to tuition and expansion at Cooper. We want the numerous friends, family, alumni, media, and the entire public sphere to know that the mission and identity of The Cooper Union is threatened by an opposing vision, which will eventually destroy the long-standing history, reputation, and value of the institution.
Help us prevent the dissolution of The Cooper Union by informing yourselves, everyone you know, and the media about this issue. In this effort, please share the following open letter and declaration with anyone. Help us to save The Cooper Union: Free As Air and Water.
The students of The Cooper Union are calling for immediate attention to the current crisis circulating about the financial stability, identity, social integrity, and ultimately the future of The Cooper Union.
Within the past 10 years this current crisis has been in constant discussion amongst the trustees board, the president, and financial advisers of The Cooper Union. However this year, upon the inauguration of The Cooper Union’s twelfth president, Jamshed Bharucha, there have been two new financial models brought to attention schoolwide, in order to address the $26 million yearly deficit.
Two of these financial models being:
1. the implementation of charging tuition among all students, which would result in school wide expansion through
a) having all students charged with tuition
b) every one student that can afford tuition, there will be three students given full
2. reducing/cutting the entirety of school expenses by 50% (faculty, staff, facilities, programs, etc.) which would result in a dissolution of the school
The decision of which of the two financial model plans is predicted to be made by the president and the board of trustees on NOVEMBER 8, 2011. The students of The Cooper Union want to make everyone fully aware that the current mission, vision, and identity of The Cooper Union is currently being threatened by an opposing vision which seeks to force it into an incompatible and inadequate model of what the board of trustees and the president perceive to be the ideal model in undergraduate education today.
The students of The Cooper Union are seeking your help to communicate to the board of trustees and the president of The Cooper Union that we adamantly want to preserve the current mission of the school which we value so highly. In our efforts to preserve this mission we have composed a declaration:
1) The Cooper Union community stands in staunch opposition to the tuition-based model.
2) The tuition based-model is a complete contradiction to the school’s current vision of providing educations that is “as free as air and water”.
3) To charge to tuition at The Cooper Union is to simultaneously destroy the essence of the institution.
4) The school’s essence is formed by the dedicated, passionate, and close-knit community, which cannot exist under a policy of expansion.
5) The survival of the community and the institution is dependent on its small scale through the intimate relationship amongst students, faculty, professionals, and with the city of New York
6) This intimate relationship allows for the multifaceted cultivation of discourse and ideas towards the advancement of science and art
7) Students that are granted The Cooper Union’s full merit scholarship are empowered with a unique singular educational experience which provides its students allows for their talents, ideas, voices, and passions to thrive free of economic and political constraints.
8) Our efforts are not in articulating full-tuition, merit-based scholarship as an entitled privilege but rather as a necessity of The Cooper Union to “foster rigorous humanistic learning”.
9) This declaration foremost is about preserving the mission, spirit, and passion of The Cooper Union which is created from the students being granted and honored with the most unique educational experience of a lifetime. The Cooper Union creates an invaluable social contract and responsibility between students and their education that is unparalleled by any other educational institution. We want to ultimately save and preserve the integrity of this relationship and its existence.
10) Without the continuance of the full-merit scholarship for all students at The Cooper Union, the school’s administration will fail to uphold their responsibility to honor and serve the past, present, and future members of the Cooper community.
With this declaration, the students of The Cooper Union urge you to stand with us in opposition to these financial models of expansion and tuition in order to show resistance to the board of trustees and the president, before the decision is made.
The current administration needs to begin to understand the vital necessity of preserving our current mission, in order to completely disregard the financial models which threaten the full-tuition, merit-based scholarship, which is the heart of The Cooper Union. If the administration can begin to understand and respect the values that the current mission holds, they will be forced to find alternative solutions.
Help us become the inspiration towards the alternative solution.
“For the object of life is to do good”- Peter Cooper
This is information from 990 tax forms publicly filed by the Cooper Union over the last decade (available here). The pdf shows the information graphically, and pasted below are notes.
Notes on Cooper Union 990’s
Between 1995 and 1998 the total annual compensation expense was about $12.5M. Then it started increasing by about $1M per year until 2003. After a downward dip for 2003 and 2004 the annual increase went up again to about $ 1M per year. Over the period 2001 – 2011 full-time faculty salaries increased steadily by about $ 1.25M, an annual rate of around $ 0.114 M per year.
• What happened in 1998? • The salaries and compensation has risen by a steep rate since 1998 (except for 2003 and
2004), much more steeply than faculty salaries – what are the reasons?
Other employee benefits between 1995 and 2002 were trending up by about $40,000 per year only. In 2003 they took a big jump and started trending up by almost $600,000 per year.
• What happened in 2003? • What accounts for this sudden 1500% jump in annual increase?
• What is the periodic jump in Other professional fees to about $ 1M that occurs approximately every two years?
• What accounts for the massive jump in Supplies expense from 2007 to 2010? • Why are these costs staying at over $ 3M when they were around $ 1M for so long?
We assume that the jump in depreciation charge results from the new equipment etc. in 41 CS. • When will these charges start coming down?
We assume the 500% in Interest charges are due to borrowing $ 175M to build 41 CS.
• What are the future charges associated with that debt? • What are the possibilities of refinancing?
• Are there any penalties for refinancing?
• What is this? • What caused the peak? • Why have they come down?
• What is this? • What causes the peaks?
Letter from Faculty Union President:
> Subject: Message from Richard Stock
> Members of the CUFCT:
> I want to update you on some of the issues I covered in our last general meeting, specifically the financial situation. As you know The Cooper Union is facing financial difficulties. The President has asked that the full-time faculty and librarians help him and the administration address the various problems. Before doing so we have asked the administration to provide us with reliable data so that we understand what are our expenditures. The source we decided to use was the 990’s filed with the IRS.
> I have attached a couple of pdf’s (ed. see the post on Cooper’s financial documents). One is a set of graphs representing data extracted from the 990’s. This is public domain information and is not confidential. The graphs show data for categories of expenditure that have significant impact on Cooper Union’s “bottom line”. For example, the first graph shows the increase in Compensation (Salaries and Wages) since 1995. You might be interested to know that the annual total of the base salaries of the members of the CUFCT has hovered around the $5M mark since 2000. Occasionally we go above $5M but then a senior member retires and we drop below that mark. So the $10M increase shown in the graph is absolutely nothing to do with the CUFCT!
> The second document attached is a set of questions we have presented to TC. They are self-explanatory. As yet we have not received any answers but the data and the graphs do show that the major increases in expenditures are not due to the academic programs, e.g., an increase in the Interest Cooper pays from around $1M to just over $10M due to the $175M borrowed for the new building! Indeed, the academic programs have consistently been effective and productive despite the last eleven years when they were left to languish by the Trustees and the administration. More importantly the data shows that much of the increased costs can be laid directly at the feet of the previous administration. Remember, President Campbell was touted as the President who was going to set The Cooper Union straight financially. Instead he has sent us on a path to ruin and the Trustees signed off on his every decision.
> We have told TC that the financial predicament that we find ourselves in was not caused by the academic functions of the college. The CUFCT’s position is that the cause of the problem was extremely bad management, outrageously bad decisions and complete lack of oversight or engagement by the Trustees. Specifically, we told TC that the Trustees “broke it”, they now “own it” and they must “fix it” and that means they should “break out the check books!” It is imperative for the Trustees to take ownership of this disaster if they want to have any credibility and cooperation in their plans to pull The Cooper Union out of this hole. We must be vigilant, engaged and vocal about proposed plans especially as they may undermine our programs and jeopardize our academic stature.
> The CUFCT believes that our new President is a breath of fresh air after a long and painful decade. I am sure we all want The Cooper Union on a path to sustainability, however, if we want to retain our reputation and our excellence we must be active in the recovery process.
The information we received tonight from President Bharucha is that the institution is losing 16.5 million a year and has been for a long time. They have gone back as far as the 1960s but recently discovered more documents they have yet to read. He also showed us a chart with a steep downward slide that shows the unrestricted endowment ($50 million) will run out in two years.
There are two kinds of endowments, one can be used to pay our bills, the other kind is restricted to specific programs and can not be spent on anything but those programs. (The Katz chair in painting for example, that money can only be spent on the chair, not on paying our bills.)
My understanding is that we have 70 million in the restricted endowment, and 50 million in unrestricted.
President Bharucha mentioned that Cooper Union survived all these years by selling assets (property) or because Cooper did well in the stock market. He added that we have no assets left to sell and that the stock market has yet to come back.
When asked about how much we would charge if we did charge tuition, President Bharucha said they would have to work on a model for that with “Enrollment Management” consultants. He described a tuition model that is need based, merit based, and would remain free for many students. But those who could pay something would pay something. He never said “yes we are going to charge tuition” but he did say that the “likely emerging roadmap” is to alter our full-scholarship model.
When asked about alternatives to charging tuition he mentioned government grants, but it was also discussed that grants require an investment of more money, and a few years, in order to generate any money that would make a difference in the short term.
The President was asked about the fact that trustees do not pay to be on the board and the President said that was a matter for the board. When we discussed the fact that the blame for this was with the board, and that trustees should start writing checks to get us out of it, the president told us again to bring it to the board. It was discussed that institutions like the Met or MoMA trustees pay between 1 to 10 million to join the board. President Bharucha countered that institutions like that spend money courting big name trustees.
One thing President Bharucha continued to stress is that large donors will not donate to the school without a plan to get out of the current situation. He relayed a story about how one donor told him this directly. But he also said that because of social media and Facebook that we can talk about it. In this Daily News story TC is quoted as saying to the owners of St. Marks Books that Cooper Union is “broke.”
Ever since hearing rumors that Cooper Union may start charging students for tuition, I have reflected upon my experiences at Cooper and thought about its value and impact upon my life. I have signed the petition, but admit that I have largely neglected to understand the scale of the issue until today. I will explain why I believe there is a moral obligation to care about this issue.
To say that attending Cooper Union has fundamentally changed the way I see and interact with the world would be a severe understatement. The value of the opportunities and revelations that happened within and through this great institution cannot be calculated. The way that I came to believe that higher education can change a person’s nature and affect his character and way of life came from the people and resources that I was fortunate enough to encounter and receive at The Cooper Union. It troubles me that the essence of the institution may change irreversibly if the present and succeeding generation of students were to be charged for tuition.
In 2007, my father lost his job. I had no idea that It indicated the beginning of a giant shift in the political, economic, and cultural climate that we were used to. My father’s situation began to affect my life and education as soon as he was laid off. Every type of expense was scrutinized and debated, and anything considered non essential was eliminated. My parents and I came to depend heavily on credit, and to this day we still have considerable debts to pay. The idea of completing my education on time with my peers was at risk. I discussed ideas about how I could take time off from school to find temporary work and help pay bills. However, I was encouraged to continue with my studies despite the enormous amount of stress and anxiety that burdened my parents for over two years. I think about just how extraordinary it was that I was able to receive a full tuition scholarship during such a stressful time. To learn that this blessing could be taken away from succeeding generations of students causes me to feel guilt and shame.
A full tuition scholarship based on merit is needed more than ever. It accounts for the sudden tremendous rise in applicants over the past three years, and it is one of the attributes that put Cooper on the map and into the public’s consciousness. It raised issues about how higher education could, and should be functioning within the society we live in now. I didn’t really realize just how radical Peter Cooper’s mission was until I graduated and started to reflect upon my time there. I am inspired by the spirit and audacity of an institution that builds upon a moral and ethical belief; that simply, higher education should be free. It is truly a rare conviction in the context of our time, and to see that disappear indicates the loss of a virtue within a much larger fabric.
To start charging students for tuition would be taking a step back in what should be a highly respected and progressive legacy. Aspiring students of higher education in the arts and sciences are deeply drawn to The Cooper Union because of its radical ideal: An unparalleled education in the arts and sciences of the highest caliber, within one of the greatest cultural centers in the world, all provided free of charge, by one great school that stands as a peculiar yet amazing example of what it means to be a player and contributor to culture and society. It stands in history as a strange and unique beacon of hope and resolve, something that I personally strived to earn and aspired to.
Cooper Union has defined what it means to provide a quality education, and have always done so on its own terms- that at its core, higher education should be free, with the hope that some day, the people that this institution cultivates would serve and uphold the rights, virtues, and ideals that the mission of the school helped provide. I believe that I am practicing what I have learned from that statement. Let us fight not just for the present, but for the future generation that may pass through those battered brown iron doors- that they may receive the same kind of generosity and opportunities that I, and countless previous generations have had in learning that there is a much greater, richer, deeper, better world out there that we can reach through an institution that will surprise and change them through its radical spirit and agenda.
Tuition was free while I was at Cooper, and Pluto was still regarded as a planet. Although I don’t care about Pluto, I do care about Cooper, and so should you.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” - Nelson Henderson
The conventions of capitalism break down when applied to family. You can’t treat a loved one like a business. Why shouldn’t the relationship between individuals in the school community be more like that of family members than that of a service provider and consumer?
The value of a school doesn’t lie in the price. It can’t be denoted by thousands of dollars or years of debt. It’s in the community of people. It’s in the union of people. There is something extremely special and rare in an institution that recognizes that what is truly valuable is also immaterial, and that a person’s potential to make a creative and enlightened contribution to society is more important than their ability to pay tuition.
I believe that people are inherently more valuable than their material assets. This belief is uncommon among institutions, yet Cooper Union exists as a physical manifestation of it. I couldn’t be anywhere else.
In American schools, the value of education has been entangled with material wealth. Many students are encouraged to pursue higher learning as a means of securing a job, not as a means of securing consciousness.
I came to the Cooper Union with the hope of consciousness. And that hope was encouraged by what Cooper has claimed as its founding philosophy: that all people are entitled to an education. If all were truly entitled, higher education could not be misconstrued as a way to have an advantage over others in the job market. American education ought to be redefined not as a means to employment, but as a means to intelligence, creativity and integrity–something that all people deserve to cultivate.
Cooper’s full-tuition scholarship is not simply a $30,000 gift from the institution, it is a redefinition of the value of education. The education Cooper enables is not just the gratis version of another school’s program, it stands for a much more worthwhile ideal of education.
In answer to the administration’s call for new ideas that might help with this current crisis, I’d like to submit that no idea which further aligns this school with financial value is fit for the ideal Cooper defines. The Cooper Union must remain a place where educational worth is never confused with the financial, not through tuition, not through research grants or expansion. The project of the Cooper Union should be to learn how to operate based on its own, unique values.
What kind of education would match our founding philosophy, that all people are entitled to an education? We need to work towards creating the sustainable program which best embodies that philosophy. Any solution that does not embody this philosophy will change the meaning of our school in a way that would destroy its uniqueness in this nation’s failing educational system.
Students come here under the agreement that the tuition gift we are given each year will be matched by our own dedication, and that our dedication will in turn be challenged by the school’s unique programs. If the true value of this school–the intelligence, creativity and integrity that is fostered in its students–becomes in any way compromised, then it would not continue to exist as an institution any nobler than any other school in America.
Please do not turn The Cooper Union into an American college like any other. It is a wonderful place where young people can enjoy receiving an education without saddling themselves with enormous debt. Consider what is happening to members of my generation as they graduate from other institutions of higher learning:
Because the average person grabs 70 percent of their total pay bumps during their first ten years in the workforce, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, having stagnant or nonexistent wages during that period means you hit that springboard at a crawl. Economist Lisa Kahn explained to The Atlantic in 2010 that those who graduate into a recession are still earning an average of 10 percent less nearly two decades into their careers. In hard, paycheck-shrinking numbers, the salary lost over that stretch totals around $100,000. That works out to $490 or so less a month, money that could go, say, toward repaying student loans, which for the class of 2009 average $24,000. Those student loans (the responsible borrowing option!) have reportedly passed credit cards as the nation’s largest source of debt.
–Noreen Malone, “The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright.” New York Magazine, Oct. 16, 2011.
Malone also writes that one in five young adults now lives below the poverty line, and that for the first time ever “a majority of Americans say that this generation will not be better off than its parents.” Why charge tuition, when it is turning more and more people away from learning?
I realize that the school needs to generate revenue in order to continue its existence. But why should future students of The Cooper Union and their families pay for the extremely poor judgment of the Board and of the former President? The challenge now is to completely reformat the school without changing what makes it unique and invaluable; its mission to provide an inspiring, tuition-free education to all those willing to apply and work hard for it.
Professor Diane Lewis, ArchitectureOctober 31, 2011
I attended one of the standard introductory meetings with the new president in August, which included a group of ten faculty members. Professor Christine Osinski asked the first question which i remember as:
” did the board give you a mandate.”
Towards the end of his agenda for the meeting, the new President related his research on the founding years of the board meetings in the mid 19th century. He informed us of the fact that as early as the beginning of the institution the laborers and women for whom the school was founded attended free, according to the principle of the school, but because the courses were excellent, people of means wanted to attend and that the board decided to call those people ” amateurs” and they paid a small fee. Presdient Bharucha pro- rated the amateur fee of the 1850s to determine what is would be worth today and told us the figure.
Therefore, at the meeting I attended, President Bharucha was giving a historical example of a financial solution from the founding period,
to allow some special persons of means at that time,
who wished to study with those covered by the mandate for free study-
to enter the school with those people who were attending free.
That is not what the contemporary financial structure of the school has evolved to represent -in the present.
And our structure is not one of awarding those of little means a scholarship- its a more complex and important model for the nation and the world at present.
Most importantly- In the arts, it is one of the few remaining ” prix de” models- where only excellence and aptitude in the fine arts and architecture is rewarded with the recognition of a studio school of practicing artists and architects, and is unique in that fact.
Losing the full scholarship tuition in the fine arts and architecture has a different significance to our future, and to the history of those disciplines, than in the sciences.
I had hoped to hear more about how we evolved from that to the important status of our admissions and full scholarship policy from the 1850s to today.The historical analysis will be useful to our challenge and our solutions. Our faculty has not formally discussed any of this, and there has been no discussion as of yet, of for example, cutting the enrollment during this diffcult time in order to maintain the quality created by the fact of a meritocratic only admission policy.
He also told us that
this was our first meeting and that we should be a family and be confidential as none of the issues discussed were being put forth until we all examined them according to proper institutional and academic form.
As a tenured faculty member of 29 years, I have had no formal communication from the Dean or the President that there is a proposal or a plan being put forward for tuition.
I suggest, for the benefit of the cause of keeping our school a meritocracy with full scholarship tuition-that there be a very precise record of the events that have spawned the current discussion.
I have no formal announcement of a proposal for changing the status of our school from that of a full scholarship tuition to an alternative financial model and will appreciate if anyone has received one to document it on this site.I have not been informed by the Dean or the President that this is a formal action.
I am on sabbatical and was guest lecturer at the University in San Juan Puerto Rico last week, and returned to a barrage of emails talking about the threat of a major change to the school , and the invitation to this site.
I am not informed of what has been told to the students during this short period since the inauguration, and suggest that there be a very precise time line built by all those participating in this site so that we may find out if this situation is one of extreme emergency and whether such an enormous transformation to the quality and principles of the school is going to be conducted without respect for academic order and sovereignty.
No emergency if it is one, should be allowed to shake the foundations of such a great sustained accomplishment as our school. I am sure that the community, if properly informed can find a manner by which this proposal and its source and its precise raison d’etre can be addressed with the proper form of voting and analysis within the academic order.
I am expecting that any such changes conceived by the board, will be presented in a manner by which the rules and procedures for examining it by the faculties, and the students, and their analysis and findings sent to the Deans for discussion with( a Provost is necessary here) and the President will be followed.
Having returned yesterday, to a barrage of emails that made me aware of this site, but that does not reveal the order in which this crisis has evolved,
I will appreciate any record of the exact events or words in which any concrete mention of changing our status from that of a meritocratic full scholarship tuition school was made.
It is very important to me, that before i write a letter of response that i can find out if there has been any written document or spoken description of the proposal, formally administered to any one in the Cooper Union.
I haven’t heard any evaluation or slate of potential solutions to financial crisis presented to our faculty either. Has anyone in the community been presented with a precise analysis of the thinking the duration proposed etc?
One obvious route is to cut the enrollment to weather this period which would allow us to remain true to the excellence of our record.
When, and in what form are we going to evaluate or work to derive the method by which the financial crisis that the entire economy must survive, should be addressed by our ideals?
And when are we going to know, r have proof as to whether the trustees have been working to secure our status with the Mayor, Clinton Foundation, the present President, the governor, senators, and major foundations, who have sat, and do sit on the board of this school,
over many years and the recent past.
These are the responsible civic figures we have witnessed on the stage of the Great hall over many years, paying homage to our educational model and pledging their recognition and support of this school as the ideal model in the world. I would like to think the Trustees can enlist the brilliance of the new President to go up into the ranks of national vision to preserve our status before sending a message out of the administration into our educational community ,which in my view could become divisive and detrimental at this time in the semester, and in history.
I got to Cooper Union after 2.5 years at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. Bezalel is a fantastic school. Its promise is to make you a real pro in the discipline of your choosing. It is hard to get it. It is prestigious and snooty. And it grooms the leaders of the design fields in Israel.
Cooper Union’s promise is quite different. Its promise has to do more with a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world. A way of imagining what’s possible. For me, Cooper is about challenging the presumptions you had (about art and design and/or life at large). It is an idealistic, naive (in the most beautiful sense), exceptional place where the best kids (and really, the best kids) get a rare chance to really kick ass without thinking about student loans or the job they will secure after. For me Cooper is like a lab where rules can bend the other way.
There are no real devisions between disciplines as Cooper doesn’t try to mold their students to fit into a niche in the real world of post-graduation.
In its core, it is radical, idealistic, naive, and subversive in many fundamental ways. And sure, as a student (and alumnus) it is many times annoying and confusing.
And the reason why Cooper is Cooper, is because it really does stem from a radical, idealistic, naive, subversive and rare concept: that education should be free as air and water. That was Peter Cooper’s (the school’s founder) vision. And from this vision the nature and spirit of the school is drawn. Out of that dream.
To this day all the students at Cooper gets full scholarship. That what gets this dream going.
There are now talks about starting to charge tuition at Cooper. Apparently it doesn’t do very well financially and this is the proposed solution. That might be true, I don’t know the numbers and I don’t think I’m the best person to consult on these matters. But one thing is clear to me and that is that charging tuition at Cooper Union means that Cooper will not be Cooper anymore. It will become an art school. Another art school. Maybe a good one, I don’t know. But we might just give it another name all together.
Several people point out that we are rallying around the phrase “free as air and water”—a phrase that Peter Cooper never used. However, we do not support these words because of who said them. We support them because they are part of what are school is now, and what it should continue to be in the future. Peter Cooper’s legacy is wonderful, but we should not compromise our hope for the future by bringing up pointless facts from the past.
It does not matter that Cooper Union charged tuition at some point in its past. The point is that it is essential to the future of the school that we continue to provide this opportunity to future students. This is especially true given the recent events with Occupy Wall Street. We feel atmosphere of discontent surrounding us; discontentment that stems from dishonesty and those on top taking advantage of those below.
Cooper is a beacon of hope for America. It has many flaws, like any institution, but its strongest redeeming qualities are its interdisciplinary philosophy, and its guarantee of a fully paid tuition for students regardless of their economic background. We must secure this, not only for Cooper students, but as a symbol of hope.
If we become one more institution that seeks to preserve its short-term gain by compromising its core values, we will be useless. There will be absolutely no incentive for anyone to support such a place, because we will be exactly like the next school. Perhaps our school’s reputation will bolster this model for a few years (long enough to secure the reputation of the current President), but what about a few decades down the line? The quality of education will diminish as soon as any student becomes a customer. Teachers will loose the unique relationship they have to their students that is only possible if they do not feel as though they were “hired” by the students, and the administration will no longer be able to make decisions based on their educational merits because everything will have to be measured against how well it does for the school financially.
Maybe Peter cooper never said “as free as air and water”, and yes, we all know education will always “cost” something, just as we all know that water is not exactly free. But this phrase stands for something, and we should all stand behind it together.
The situation reminds me of The classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when George, a man who strives to stand for what is true and good (Cooper Union) is considering suicide (Charging tuition) because he cannot see a way out of the financial trouble he is in (sound familiar?)
Then, when the people whose lives were positively affected by George (alumni) find out that he is in desperate need for help, they rush in to save the day, and all George’s toil and struggle triumph over the unscrupulous Potter.
I know this is overly simple, but I question why the school is not letting the world know we need help. WE NEED HELP. Why would alumni rush in to save us if they have no idea how serious the situation is. I am ready to work a phonathon… just tell me when.
To the Trustees of “The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.”
GENTLEMEN, — It is to me a source of inexpressible pleasure, after so many years of continued effort, to place in your hands the title to all that piece and parcel of land bounded on the west by Fourth avenue, and on the north by Astor place, on the east by Third avenue, and on the south by Seventh street, with all the furniture, rents and income of every name and nature, to be forever devoted to the advancement of science and art, in their application to the varied and useful purposes of life.
The great object I desire to accomplish by the establishment of an institution devoted to the advancement of science and art, is to open the volume of nature by the light of truth — so unveiling the laws and methods of Deity, that the young may see the beauties of creation, enjoy its blessings, and learn to love the Being “from whom cometh every good and perfect gift.”
My heart’s desire is, that the rising generation may become so thoroughly acquainted with the works of nature, and the great mystery of their own being, that they may see, feel, understand and know that there are immutable laws, designed in infinite wisdom, constantly operating for our good — so governing the destiny of worlds and men that it is our highest wisdom to live in strict conformity to these laws.
My design is to establish this institution, in the hope that unnumbered youth will here receive the inspiration of truth in all its native power and beauty, and find in it a source of perpetual pleasure to spread its transforming influence throughout the world.
Believing in and hoping for such result, I desire to make this institution contribute in every way to aid the efforts of youth to acquire useful knowledge, and to find and fill that place in the community where their capacity and talents can be usefully employed with the greatest possible advantage to themselves and the community in which they live.
In order most effectually to aid and encourage the efforts of youth to obtain useful knowledge, I have provided the main floor of the large hall on the third story for a reading-room, literary exchange and scientific collections, — the walls around that floor to be arranged for the reception of books, maps, paintings and other objects of interest. And when a sufficient collection of the works of art, science and nature can be obtained, I propose that glass cases shall be arranged around the walls of the gallery of the said room, forming alcoves around the entire floor for the preservation of the same. In the window spaces I propose to arrange such cosmoramic and other views as will exhibit in the clearest and most forcible light the true philosophy of life.
This philosophy will always show, when rightly understood and wisely applied, an inseparable connection between a course of vice and the misery that must inevitably follow. It will always show that “wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
To manifest the deep interest and sympathy I feel in all that can advance the happiness and better the condition of the female portion of the community, and especially of those who are dependent on honest labor for support, I desire the Trustees to appropriate two hundred and fifty dollars yearly to assist such pupils of the Female School of Design as shall, in their careful judgment, by their efforts and sacrifices in the performance of duty to parents or to those that Providence has made dependent on them for support, merit and require such aid. My reason for this requirement is, not so much to reward as to encourage the exercise of heroic virtues that often shine in the midst of the greatest suffering and obscurity without so much as being noticed by the passing throng.
In order to better the condition of woman and to widen the sphere of female employment, I have provided seven rooms to be forever devoted to a Female School of Design, and I desire the trustees to appropriate out of the rents of the building fifteen hundred dollars annually towards meeting the expenses of said school.
It is the ardent wish of my heart that this school of design may be the means of raising to competence and comfort thousands of those that might otherwise struggle through a life of poverty and suffering.
It is also my desire that females belonging to the school of design shall have the use of one of the rooms not otherwise appropriated, for the purpose of holding meetings for the consideration and application of the useful sciences and arts to any of the various purposes calculated to improve and better their condition.
My hope is, to place this institution in the hands and under the control of men that will both know and feel the importance of forever devoting it, in the most effectual manner, to the moral, mental and physical improvement of the rising generation.
Desiring, as I do, to use every means to render this institution useful through all coming time, and believing that editors of the public press have it in their power to exert a greater influence on the community for good than any other class of men of equal number, it is therefore my sincere desire that editors be earnestly invited to become members of the society of arts to be connected with this institution. It is my desire that editors may at all times have correct information in relation to all matters in any way connected with this institution, believing that they, as a body, will gladly contribute their mighty influence to guard the avenues of scientific knowledge from all that could mar or prevent its influence from elevating the minds and bettering the hearts of the youth of our common country. I indulge the hope that the Trustees will use their utmost efforts to secure instructors for the institution of the highest moral worth, talents and capacity, fitting them to communicate a knowledge of science in its most lovely and inviting forms.
It is my design that the General Superintendent, under the direction of the Trustees, shall take all needful care of the building, and rent all unoccupied parts of the same.
The person to be appointed as a General Superintendent should be a man of known devotion to the improvement of the young. It will be his duty, not only to take charge of the building, but also to keep an office in the same, where persons may apply from all parts of the country for the services of young men and women of known character and qualifications to fill the various situations that may be open. It will be his duty to give, in the most kind and affectionate manner, such advice and counsel to all that may apply, as will most effectually promote their best interests through life.
Should any person ever be appointed a professor or superintendent who shall be found incompetent or unworthy of the trust, it is my earnest desire that such professor or superintendent shall be promptly removed.
It is my desire that students, on leaving the institution, shall receive a certificate setting forth their actual proficiency in any of the branches of science taught in the institution.
In order to encourage the young to improve and better their condition, I have provided for a continued course of lectures, discussions and recitations in the most useful and practical sciences, to be open and free to all that can bring a certificate of good moral character from parents, guardians or employers, and who will agree on their part to conform faithfully to all rules and regulations necessary to maintain the honor aud usefulness of the institution.
Believing that instruction in the science and philosophy of a true republican government, formed, as it should be, of the people and for the people, in all its operations, is suited to the common wants of our nature, and absolutely necessary to preserve and secure the rights and liberties of all; that such a government, rightly understood and wisely administered, will most effectually stimulate industry and afford the best means possible to improve and elevate our race, by giving security and value to all forms of human labor; that it is on the right understanding and application of this science, based as it is on the golden rule, that eternal principle of truth and justice that unites the individual, the community, the state and the nation in one common purpose and interest, binding all to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them: thus deeply impressed with the great importance of instruction in this branch of science, I have provided that it shall be continually taught, as of pre-eminent importance to all the great interests
My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world: and, if it were in my power, I would bring all mankind to see and feel that there is an Almighty power and beauty in goodness. I would gladly show to all, that goodness rises in every possible degree from the smallest act of kindness up to the Infinite of all good. My earnest desire is to make this building and institution contribute in every way possible to unite all in one common effort to improve each and every human being, seeing that we are bound up in one common destiny and by the laws of our being are made dependent for our happiness on the continued acts of kindness we receive from each other.
I desire that the students of this institution may have the privilege to occupy one of the large halls once in every month, for the purpose of a lecture to be delivered by one of their number to all students and such friends as they may think proper to invite.
The monthly lecturer shall be chosen from the body of the students by a majority vote, or a committee of the students selected for that purpose. The votes shall be counted and the name of the person chosen to deliver the lecture shall be announced, and a record made in a book to be provided for that purpose, to be the property of the institution. I desire that a record be kept of the names of the president, secretary and speaker — the subject treated, and the general course of remark. A president and secretary shall be chosen from the body of students by a majority vote, who shall preside at all meetings for lectures or other purposes, and whose term of service shall expire every three months, when another president and secretary shall be elected to take their places.
I require this frequent change, as I believe it to be a very important part of the education of an American citizen to know how to preside with propriety over a deliberative assembly.
It is my desire, also, that the students shall have the use of one of the large rooms (to be assigned by the trustees) for the purpose of useful debate. I desire and deem it best to direct that all these lectures and debates shall be exclusive of theological and party questions, and shall have for their constant object the causes that operate around and within us, and the means necessary and most appropriate to remove the physical and moral evils that afflict our city, our country and humanity.
I desire that these lectures and debates shall always be delivered under a deep and abiding sense of the obligation that rests on all — first, to improve themselves, and then to impart to others a correct knowledge of that believed to be most important, and within man’s power to communicate.
To aid the speakers, and those that hear, to profit by these lectures and debates, I hereby direct to have placed in the lecture-room, in a suitable position, full-length likenesses of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, with an expression of my sincere and anxious desire that all that behold them may remember that notwithstanding they are dead, they yet speak the language of truth and soberness.
Their lives and words of warning cannot be spurned and neglected without a terrible retribution on us and on our children — such a retribution as will cause their spirits to weep in sorrow over the crumbling ruins of all their brightest hopes for the improvement and renovation of the world.
Under a deep sense of the responsibility that rests on us, as a people, entrusted, as we are, with the greatest blessings that ever fell to the lot of man — the glorious yet fearful power of framing and carrying on the government of our choice — it becomes us to remember that this government will be good or evil in proportion as the people of our country become virtuous or vicious. We shall do well to cherish the precept that the righteous (or right doers) are recompensed in the earth, and much more the wicked and the sinner. It will be found that there is no possible escape from the correction of our Father who is in Heaven, who “afflicts us not willingly but of necessity, for our profit; by His immutable law that rewards every man according to his works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.”
Desiring, as I do, that the students of this institution may become pre-eminent examples in the practice of all the virtues, I have determined to give them an opportunity to distinguish themselves for their good judgment by annually recommending to the Trustees for adoption, such rules and regulations as they, on mature reflection, shall believe to be necessary and proper, to preserve good morals and good order throughout their connection with this institution.
It is my desire, and I hereby ordain, that a strict conformity to rules deliberately formed by a vote of the majority of the students, and approved by the Trustees, shall forever be an indispensable requisite for continuing to enjoy the benefits of this institution. I now most earnestly entreat each and every one of the students of this institution, through all coming time, to whom I have entrusted this great responsibility of framing laws for the regulation of their conduct in their connection with the institution, and by which any of the members may lose its privileges, to remember how frail we are, and how liable to err when we come to sit in judgment on the faults of others, and how much the circumstances of our birth, our education, and the society and country where we have been born and brought up, have had to do in forming us and making us what we are. The power of these circumstances, when rightly understood, will be found to have formed the great lines of difference that mark the characters of the people of different countries and neighborhoods. And they constitute a good reason for the exercise of all our charity. It is these circumstances that our Creator has given us the power, in some measure, to control. This is the great garden that we are called upon to keep, and to subdue, and have dominion over, in order to find that everything in it is very good, that the right use and improvement of everything is a virtue, and the wrong or excessive use and perversion of everything, a sin. We should always remember that pride and selfishness have ever been the great enemies of mankind. Men, in all ages, have manifested a disposition to cover up their own faults, and to spread out and magnify the faults of others.
I trust that the students of this institution will do something to bear back the mighty torrent of evils now pressing on the world. I trust that here they will learn to overcome the evils of life with kindness and affection. I trust that here they will find that all true greatness consists in using all the powers they possess to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them; and in this way to become really great by becoming the servant of all.
These great blessings that have fallen to our lot as a people, are entrusted to our care for ourselves and for our posterity, and for the encouragement of suffering humanity throughout the world.
Feeling this great responsibility, I desire, by all that I can say and by all that I can do, to awaken in the minds of the rising generation an undying thirst for knowledge and virtue, in order that they may be able, by wise and honorable measures, to preserve the liberties we enjoy.
Fearing a possibility that my own religious opinions may be called in question, and by some be misunderstood or misrepresented, I feel it to be my duty, in all plainness and simplicity, to state the religious opinions that have taken an irresistible possession of my mind. At the same time, I require, by this instrument and expression of my will, that neither my own religious opinions, nor the religious opinions of any sect or party whatever, shall ever be made a test or requirement, in any manner or form, of or for admission to, or continuance to enjoy the benefits of this institution.
With this qualification, I would then impress, as with the last breath of my life, a fact which I believe to be the most exalting that the mind of man is permitted to contemplate, know, or understand — I mean the ennobling truth that there is one God and Father of all, who is over all and above all — who is forever blessed in the plenitude and fulness of his own infinite perfections; that this God is in very deed our Father; that he has created us in his own image and in his own likeness; that we may become one in spirit, and co-workers with Him in all that is good, great and glorious, for time and for eternity.
What can be more exalting than for the child to behold an infinite parent causing all the elements and essences of the universe to become his ministers — to organize, and individualize, and immortalize undying spirits, capable of knowing Him through an endless progress in knowledge and wisdom and power over the material universe forever; to fee! that our Father in heaven has given to us, as individuals, an immortality and an endless growth, under laws so wise and good as never to require to be altered, amended, or revoked?
The life he has given us in his wisdom is an intelligent life — a life of accountability through our consciences, where every act becomes a part of ourselves, to live in our recollection forever.
I would impress the fact, that our Creator has used the best means possible in our formation or creation, and has given us the world, and all that in it is, with life and breath, and all things richly to enjoy. He has given all these blessings wrapt up in our capacity for an endless improvement and progress in the knowledge of our Creator, and in the power he has bestowed to receive and communicate happiness to ail his intelligent creation. So that when we come really to know and feel that our God is love — to realize that He is indeed the Infinite of all that is good; when we come to see that he is drawing all the elements and activities of the universe into himself, and constantly elaborating them into higher forms of grandeur and beauty, and thus calling every intelligent creature to wonder, to love and adore forever.
In this God I believe. I believe that he is a Spirit in whom we live, move and have our being; so that, if we ascend into the heavens, he is there, and if we descend into the depths of the earth, behold! he is there. I believe that he is filling immensity with his presence, comprehending all things within himself, and working all things after the good pleasure of his own will; that he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and that he changeth not. I believe that God is love, and that love worketh no ill. I believe that love must continue to use all its power through all eternity to give ever increasing happiness to all the creatures that he has made. Such a God I trust I shall come to love with all the heart, soul, might, mind, and strength. I believe that God is so in all and through all; that what may be known of him is clearly seen, being understood by that which he has made, even his eternal power and Godhead: and that he is without variableness or shadow of turning. I believe that he will always work by wise and unalterable laws.
These laws, as far and as fast as they are comprehended by the faculties that he has given us, will be seen to be perfectly consistent and harmonious, and, like the stars in their orbits, “singing forever as they shine - the hand that made us is divine.”
With these views, I see as through a glass darkly, all the powers of the universe moving in obedience to immutable laws, guiding them onwards and upwards through all the various developments in the scale of being to a consciousness of God, and an accountability whereby we may show our love to God by the kindness and love that we manifest to the creatures that he has made. I believe that man, to be an accountable being, must, of necessity, be intelligent and free. He must feel and know that freedom and ability are given him to do what is required, before he can ever acknowledge it just or right that he should suffer for violating laws and requirements which he had neither the power nor the intelligence to understand or obey. Believing, as I do, that all the material creation centers in, and finds its culminating point in the organization, individualization, and immortalization of free intelligent beings — beings formed to rise through instinct into knowledge, and by knowledge into an accountability to an individual, and an undying conscience, and thence up to God — I believe mankind, throughout the world, require a religion founded on the highest idea that the human mind can form of all that is powerful, wise, pure and good.
Such a religion we have in those principles that guided the life of Christ, by which he grew in knowledge and in stature and in favor with God and man, from his youth up, and did always those things that are well pleasing to his Father and our Father; and by doing to others as he would that others should do to him, was enabled to overcome all evil; and although tempted in all points, as we are, yet he lived without sin. It will always be found to be our highest wisdom to follow his lovely example by avoiding all that is wrong, and by doing what good we can in the world.
Mankind will always require the great controlling principle of Christianity to be permanently fixed in the intellectual heart as the guide of life. We need a firm and unshaken belief in the inherent immortality of the soul; we need a solid conviction that God is love — love in action — love universal.
Such a belief in such a God will engage and secure our affections, and forever be to us the great reality of life. Our God will not then be to us a vaporish idea; on the contrary, he will be to us a God filling immensity with his presence and with the glory of his power. Were it possible for us to settle and establish this truth with unwavering certainty in the minds of men, temptation would be powerless. We should then see and feel that punishment inflicted for our good is as much the evidence of parental kindness as the blessings consequent on obedience to a righteous law. Every day shows me with more clearness that the great garden of the world is spread out before us filled with all the elements and inspirations of God, “who is all and in all,” constantly showing us that the same soil that can produce briars and thorns, and vex us in the land wherein we dwell, can be subdued by wisdom, and made to yield and supply our wants with nature’s choicest fruits. How wonderful the wisdom that “connects in this, our greatest virtue, with our greatest bliss,” “and makes our own bright prospect to be blest, the strongest motive to assist the rest.” Every day shows me that if we are ever saved it must be by overcoming the world of wrong within us with such powers and faculties as God has given — to be the true light to enlighten every man that cometh into the world. There is no other way whereby we can be saved but by ceasing to do evil and learning to do well. To do this we need all the helps that we can find — we need to bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of love. The life and teachings of Christ, showing God a father and the world of mankind our brethren, must forever stand pre-eminent over all forms of instruction, either ancient or modern. The loving spirit and principle that Christ manifested in his life and in his death, is the spirit that must finally reform the world, in the day when religion shall consist in the right actions and motives of our life, instead of a mere belief in the antiquated opinions of erring men. It was his gentle spirit — the spirit of an all-embracing charity — that went about the world, overcoming the evils of life with continued demonstrations of kindness and affection, and showed all that it is our privilege as well as duty to follow his example and obey his precepts. It was this spirit that was in the world, and the world knew it not. It is still in the world, and it is our unhappiness that we know and feel so little of its influence on our hearts and lives. By following his precepts and example we cannot fail of a happy and useful life, a peaceful death, and a blessed immortality. I trust the time will come when religion will be divorced from superstition, and the light of science will develop the laws and methods of Deity, showing a great and glorious purpose shining through all the wonders of Almighty power, by which knowledge shall cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep, when men shall know and understand the things on which their happiness depends. We shall then comprehend something of the heights and depths and lengths and breadths of that knowledge and love of God which passes all understanding.
I have now placed in your hands the entire charge and property of this institution, and in order to further aid and facilitate the objects and purposes designed to be secured, I hereby authorize the Board of Control to draw on me at their pleasure for the sum of ten thousand dollars, as fast as the same can be wisely used to advance the interests of this institution.
Please accept my heartfelt assurance of sincere desire that under your care thousands of the youth of our country may throng its halls to learn those lessons of wisdom so much needed to guide the inexperience of youth amidst the dangers to which they are at all times exposed.
The average college graduate is in debt for $17,6000 - $23,000.* If I owed that much money when I graduated in 2007, I know I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing now. Instead, I would be working wherever I could to make enough money to pay off my debt. I simply wouldn’t have enough time to volunteer 20+ hours a week for projects that focus on mutual aid, social justice, cooperation, and environmental sustainability.
In 2009, Cooper alumni Rich Watts, Louise Ma, and I started a self-organized, alternative school in NYC because we wanted more people to get a taste of the rigor and generosity that we experienced in a merit-based educational system like Cooper Union. We were proud to tell the press that we were inspired by Cooper Union, and it will shake my sense of what’s possible if this inspiration becomes a dream from the past.**
How many creative leaps will alumni take when saddled with 5-figure debt? How much pride will we feel for a place that “used to be free”?
Cooper Union has been tuition-free for 150 years. I’ll be proud to see my children and grandchildren get in and go for free as well.
*Please read Anya Kamenetz’s book, Generation Debt. In it, she writes:
“Over the last generation, there’s been a sharp drop-off in the quality of opportunities offered to young people, caused by a huge divestment in K-16 education, and the devolution of the job market to a low-wage, service-sector deal on the non-BA side, and part-time, unpaid-intern, temporary, contract, and freelance work on the college-grad side. A college degree is now a crucial pass for entry into the middle class, and yet young people are no more likely to have one than our parents-only 28 percent get one. And for those who do graduate, two-thirds are borrowing student loans, graduating with between $17,600 and $23,000 in debt. Because they can’t make ends meet, people under 35 are running up an average of $4000 in credit card debt. We’ve never sent out any generation into the world with that kind of mini-mortgage on their backs. And the irony is, this withdrawal of support for young people is occurring when the US desperately needs a super-sharp, highly skilled workforce to compete with what’s happening in China and India, and to support the retirement of the Baby Boomers.”
Cooper Union Looks at Charging Tuition
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
Published: October 31, 2011
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Facing serious financial trouble in a weak economy, Cooper Union, the New York City college founded in 1859 to provide free education for the working class, may begin charging undergraduate tuition for the first time in more than a century, its president said Monday.
Times Topic: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
“Altering our scholarship policy will be only as a last resort, but in order to create a sustainable model, it has to be one of the options on the table,” Jamshed Bharucha, who took over as president in July, said in an interview.
Such a change would be a cultural shift for an institution whose tuition-free education and esteemed programs in engineering, architecture and art have made it one of the nation’s most selective schools, admitting 5 percent to 10 percent of applicants annually, depending on the department.
Peter Cooper, a self-taught industrialist, inventor and social reformer, founded the college with the mission of making higher education available to all; it was among the first to admit blacks, women, students of any religion and those who could not pay, making it need-blind long before the term existed.
Dr. Bharucha emphasized that lower-income students and many middle-income ones would continue to attend free, and that none of the 900 current undergraduates would be charged. He said that if the school decided to charge tuition, it was not clear whether it would set its price comparable to those at other private colleges, $40,000 or more, or adopt a different payment structure.
Despite consternation at the East Village school and on Facebook among students and alumni who had heard murmurs of a possible change, Dr. Bharucha said no decisions had been made. He plans to ask the board of trustees next week to approve creation of a task force to look into ways to solve the school’s persistent, and worsening, budget problems, and report back next spring.
“We have to find new, robust revenue streams, and we have to do that quickly,” he said.
For many Cooper Union alumni, the idea of charging tuition feels like an assault on the college’s identity and social mission.
“It’s a contradiction to everything we’ve learned about Cooper,” said Milton Glaser, 82, the graphic designer and co-founder of New York magazine. “It’s the last opportunity for free education on that level in the entire country.”
Gerard W. Ryan, an alumnus who works at Motorola and has been an adjunct professor of computer science at Cooper Union, said, “I think the idea is dreadful, and I really hope it doesn’t come to pass.”
“This spirit of Peter Cooper, that there should be an excellent education for everybody, that’s pervaded everything,” he added. “It’s in the DNA of the school.”
But he praised Dr. Bharucha for confronting financial troubles he did not create.
In its first decades, Cooper Union collected tuition from students who had the means to pay. But since 1902, following major gifts from Andrew Carnegie and Cooper’s descendants, it has been free for all undergraduates. (Students enrolled in nondegree night programs do pay tuition and undergraduates pay for room and board.)
A result has been a student body that, for an elite college, is unusually diverse, ethnically and economically. Fewer than half of Cooper Union’s students are white, and almost two-thirds attended public high schools.
Dr. Bharucha said that in recent decades, the school had resorted to unsustainable practices to support its operations — like selling assets and dipping into the principal of its endowment, which stood at $577 million in mid-2010 — rather than just spending the endowment’s earnings. In recent years, it also spent heavily on a new academic building and renovations of its historic building, both on Cooper Square.
The school also generates significant income from real estate it owns, including the land under the Chrysler Building, but the value of those properties has also been dropping.
Word of a possible change leaked out in recent days, leading to student protests over the weekend. On Monday night, Dr. Bharucha discussed the matter with a large group of students for the first time, addressing a gathering in the school’s Great Hall, site of dozens of famous speeches, including the first New York addresses given by Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, and Mark Twain, in 1867.
Dr. Bharucha said Cooper Union needed to introduce new sources of revenue, reaching $28 million a year by 2018, or about one-quarter of the expected operating costs. He said being more aggressive about winning research grants and raising money from alumni would cover part of that. In the meantime, he said, there will be belt-tightening, like a freeze on faculty hiring he has imposed.
He said the school needed money not just to keep up with current costs, but also to invest in academic facilities and provide more financial aid for poorer students’ room and board.
“I will not be forcing solutions on the organization,” he said, adding that he wanted employees, students and alumni involved in finding answers. “But we have to do the hard thinking now.”
“The developer took a 99-year ground lease on 51 Astor Place for $97 million. This deal is part of a campus overhaul that Cooper Union’s trustees hope will sustain its educational mission, said George Campbell Jr., the president of the college, which specializes in art, architecture and engineering.
“We have this extraordinary mission of providing every student admitted with a full-tuition scholarship,” he said. “That’s been a challenge throughout the school’s 150 years.”
This year, the school has its first balanced budget in 25 years, he said.
Cooper Union’s budget deficit reached $15 million annually in the late 1990s.
“We basically were eating the endowment through those years, and that clearly was not a sustainable situation,” Dr. Campbell said. ”
The Great Hall? What is this space? What makes it so, well, so great? Is it a theater? A lecture hall? To find that out we need to travel back in time to when this building was first erected, let’s say, 1876, the year Peter Cooper ran for president. Well, first of all, this audience wouldn’t be here…. And neither would this stage… In fact, the whole room would’ve been shifted 90 degrees, north or south, depending on the occasion… Over wood paneled floors, speakers would stand near each of these columns on a soapbox or a stool, lawn chairs would be spread out as city dwellers, senators and families would congregate shoulder to shoulder over every square foot of space. It was an even playing field, where every woman and every man was, in the most literal sense of the term, equal… Peter Cooper envisioned a place where great minds could speak out on issues that concerned their time, a place that allowed for the Red Cross to assemble, for the NAACP to be founded, for Lincoln, Grant, Taft, Roosevelt and Obama to speak, for Susan B. Anthony to hold her office in its corridors, for Joseph Campbell to create myth out of human history, and Frederick Douglas to speak on behalf of an entire race- this place has many, many ghosts. All of them were fighting for something they believed in. The question for us then is, what are we fighting for?
When we first entered this school, we did so out of two factors. One, we wanted a school that was good… Fair enough- who doesn’t?… Two, we wanted a school that was free. Admittedly also, not a bad idea…. With Cooper, we got both, and then some. At Cooper we weren’t given the best education money could buy. We were given the best education money couldn’t buy. We came to an institution that prided itself on providing us with the best facilities and faculty we could’ve hoped for, and all it asked in return was our passion, commitment and talent. But by coming here, we also said something to the world. We made a declaration to the world that we believed a good education should be given without debt. That learning should be, in the famous words of Cooper himself, “as free as air and water.” By saying this, Cooper implied -and I believe purposefully- that education is as essential as the air we breathe and the water that brings us life. You see, to Cooper, learning wasn’t just a matter of class, of success; it was a matter of survival. This school was founded on the cusp of the industrial age, where new technology meant new needs for employment. New fields were being developed, and the country needed new talents to help carry this nation into the next century. To put it bluntly, the invention of the factory rocked education to its core. Cooper saw this school as a model for a new class of workforce, one with the vision of an artist, the wisdom of an engineer, and the ambition of an architect. Education was a paramount issue in his life and in his country’s life, and he fought to make sure the working class were given a proper education, one he deemed “equal to the best.” That is what Peter Cooper was fighting for.
Now, Cooper wasn’t just meant to be a free school, it was meant to be a school that helped the community. I want to share with you a quote that Peter Cooper said to the very first board of trustees on April 29, 1859:
My earnest desire is to make this building and institution contribute in every way possible to unite all in one common effort to improve each and every human being, seeing that we are bound up in one common destiny and by the laws of our being are made dependent for our happiness on the continued acts of kindness we receive from each other.
What a beautiful thing to ask of us. Simply, to “do good.” Cooper founded this institution with a moral agenda to rid the world of ignorant evils by educating intelligent, well-spoken, productive citizens. His intent was for us as students to use what we learned here to help our community in every way we can—-to learn how to cooperate in the community of the new industrial age. I believe that now we have reached a new age, that of the information age, where the very ideas of community and goodwill will carry greater meaning as they pertain not only to this city, or to this country, but to this world.
Throughout its history, this room was used to fight for the pressing issues of the moment, and it is my belief that in this new century, the main issue is not race or gender or political allegiance, though those always seem to present problems for us. No, today I believe that the major change we need involves the very reason we are in this building: a free high-quality education. And I’m not talking about Denmark. I’m talking about America. There is no reason in my mind that The Cooper Union should be one of a handful of tuition free top-tier schools in the country. This school was an idea way ahead of its time, but now, time has caught up.
The Great Hall has also been a place of big bold promises, ones that shaped our country throughout its young history. In that vein, I want to make a promise to you; one that I hope you will join me in making real. I promise that I will try with everything in me to make education free in this country for every man, woman, child, black, Mexican, Jew, homosexual, bisexual, hermaphrodite, illegal, impoverished, quadriplegic, autistic- for every human being in this country. And that is a lot of people. But I cannot do this alone. With the collected genius, aptitude, creativity and grit in this room together we can make such an impossible dream become a physical reality, and in so doing change the course of history.
How? How are we going to do this? Through law? Through legislation? Eventually, yes. But I do not have a petition for you to sign, or a letter for you to write to your local leaders. I cannot ask you to vote for someone or help pass a bill, that’s not our specialty. What I can ask of you are three little things. One, be the best.. Okay, little wasn’t the right word… Be the best architect, the best engineer, and the best artist you can. Do good and be good at everything that you do. Push yourself and your colleges to reach further than you thought possible. And two, have a blast doing it. Because if you’re not going to enjoy where you are then there’s no point being there. Three, and this is key, share. Teach a class. Volunteer. Mentor someone. Find your own ways to bring what you know to someone else. Share your wisdom with everyone you can. Team up with a coworker or a friend and try to teach each other something new every day. Tutor the kids in your community. Get online, reach out to someone across the ocean and let them know what you are doing, you’d be surprised how many people have the same idea, and simply needed someone to say the right word. By teaching, by sharing, you will never stop learning; you will never stop being a student. Create an environment around you where learning is part of your language. With every breath, inhale knowledge and exhale wisdom into the world. Because that is a free education. And it starts with us, it starts with our lives, by making a change to the way we see learning in this new age, we can take control over the information we know and the information we want to know. Graduating today, in this information age, means that tomorrow, we will have to decide for ourselves where we will learn. There are no more rules. Whether it be at graduate school, Wikipedia, a book, or from a YouTube lecture, we will always be learning. Because that is what we do. That is what we crave. By tearing down these walls, obliterating the boundaries of institution we can truly begin to globalize Cooper’s message.
Because these walls are not the Cooper Union, we are. We are the Cooper Union. We are the union of great minds that chose to help change the future. And it is our responsibility to think of the future. Because it is ours, and no one else’s. This school is still an idea waiting to be shared with the global community. Now is that time. When we came here, we were given something extremely rare. A chance to learn freely. Let us try our best to bring that same opportunity to everyone else, because “we are bound up in one common destiny and by the laws of our being are made dependent for our happiness on the continued acts of kindness we receive from each other.” It is in goodwill and good spirit that we must help our country, and in turn, our world. That is the spirit of Cooper and that is the legacy we should embrace as we go on our individual paths.
That is what we should be fighting for.
Noemi Charlotte Thieves
(Atif Hashmi, School of Art Alum, 2011)
I was made aware that many in the Cooper community do not know about the following online petition (MoveOn). I am posting the details of an email being circulated at MIT.
Dear colleagues and students.
The Cooper Union’s founding principle that education should be “as free as air and water” is in danger. As the board of trustees prepares to vote on whether or not the school will remain tuition free, please tell President Bharucha that you believe in Peter Cooper’s ideals and that Cooper Union needs to stay free!
So I signed a petition to Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, Cooper Union President, which says:
“Peter Cooper’s mission is necessary more now than ever: Vote to keep Cooper Union as free as air and water!”
Today the students of the Cooper Union will go to their campus with a completely different relationship towards their school, their community, and their roles within both. For students entering this school, it has represented a safe haven; a studio, a sanctuary, a city of ideas within the city itself. None of us in the past years have been truly warned of the serious, damn near critical fragility of our home. There is no need to explain the virtues of a free education, or the ethical implications of changing from that model towards one of a tuition-based college. The results would be catastrophic. Many of us right now feel betrayed, shammed, lied to, screwed over by this recent turn of events.
But, there is one lie we have been telling ourselves.
That this school has been “free” at all.
The Cooper Union has never been free. Even though for the past century students have not had to pay tuition, someone did. This school has survived as a charity organization, a real estate magnate, landowner, paid its personnel, administrators, faculty, maintained (and even expanded) its facilities through shrewd business deals and (mostly) effective financial management. At one time this was handled by Peter Cooper and his peers. Even in his day, with his brilliant ideologies and seemingly infinite wisdom, he knew someone had to foot the bill. He adapted to the economic situation of his time and adopted models that he felt worked towards a greater ideal, to make education free to everyone, full-stop.
Peter Cooper understood the need for free education required, ironically, a lot of money.
This is because the Cooper Union was an experiment for Peter Cooper. He didn’t have a clean fool-proof model for what a free school would be, so he tried an alternative. Cooper union was that alternative. A private school, funded on a the money of industry and development. He hoped that we, the students, alumni, the administrators, trustee members, and future presidents would be able to improve on this model, to take Cooper Union on as our own responsibility. We have seen this school endure wars, depressions, meltdowns, riots, the 70’s (big pants), God forbid the 80’s (big hair), and we even managed to stay open and “free” during our recent economic crisis.
That is until now.
I should explain my particular situation in regards to the Cooper Union. I went to college knowing full well that that I would have no financial assistance (even then I was footing the bills at home). I had gotten into NYU TISCH for Film and T.V. and had to come up with my own financial plan to attend. I managed two years at NYU. Towards the middle of my second year, I knew I couldn’t keep up with the costs. I was working 3 jobs, 4 at times, and was struggling to maintain focus on my studies. I was being kicked out of the school because I owed them $25,000 and couldn’t find the money. In a last ditch effort to stave off going home and working to pay back an incomplete education, I applied to the Cooper Union. Miraculously, I got in. Two years at NYU cost me $80,000 in loans, with interest I’ll be paying back upwards of $150,000. My loan repayments start this month.
Cooper means something utterly fundamental to my life, and since attending the school I found myself enraptured by how easy it was to forget about the money, the guilt, and anguish, hustling from job to job. I was able to make my work. There is nothing more sacred to an artist than time. I finally had time at Cooper. Time to think, to write, to create. And I have never forgotten how essential the school has been towards this end. I encourage all of us, as students, alumni, and the greater Cooper community, to think about how important this school has been to you.
This divide we have found ourselves sitting on, between the student voice and the Board of trustees, between the soul and the spine of the institution, is one we have created, and its one we can destroy.
Rather than approach the Board as a vehement gathering of disconnected, disingenuous individuals who have been scheming behind our backs, we need to address them as a collective of volunteers, who do share our ideals about the institution. We need to remind them about the ambitions of Peter Cooper, and their allegiance not only towards the institution but also towards it’s student body.
We need Convince them of two major points; that we will not let Cooper fall into the decay of the capitalist majority of American education, and that we are willing and able to help remodel the school to function in this new century.
In order to make Cooper union truly free, we as the students and alumni need to take earnest control of the situation, to change our anger and frustration into passion and enthusiasm; to use the creativity and ingenuity we brought towards our time at Cooper towards this sobering but also awakening goal.
We need to save our own school.
But this will take time, and energy, energies we have never thought we needed to tap into. We will need to work diligently with the school to save it, not against it, and challenge ourselves with the responsibility of reaching out beyond the seams of the Cooper fabric, and into the National and even Global sphere, for influence, advisement and support. We need to listen and inform ourselves on the reality of Cooper Union’s history, not just the catchy phrases and philosophies of Peter Cooper, but his actions.
By putting ourselves as a proactive energy towards this institution and its sacred message, we can ensure that future generations will know how priceless free education actually is.
By collaborating on ways to solve this financial burden, we may even do more than preserve Peter Cooper’s legacy.
We may even improve it.
I look forward to seeing how this school adapts to the new century, and how we redefine the terms of both a free education and what it means to us.
“Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.”
- Sir Ken Robinson
Noemi Charlotte Thieves
(Atif Hashmi, School of Art Alum 2011)
At 2:00 PM on Wednesday, November 2 students from the Art, Architecture, and Engineering schools at Cooper Union will leave their classes within the Foundation Building and the New Academic Building and meet outside of the Foundation Building and in Peter Cooper Park. Students are encouraged to bring their work, projects, studios, books, ideas, and classes with them to continue working and studying outside.
Resources such as tables, chairs, chalkboards, and electrical power will be provided. However, students are encouraged to bring any and all of their work to share and discuss. We invite professors to join us by holding their classes outside, and also invite any alumni and faculty to participate in the event.
At 6:00 pm participants will enter the Great Hall in the Foundation Building assemble and meet with President Bharucha.
This is an event to raise awareness about the financial state of the Cooper Union, oppose the proposal of a tuition-based model at Cooper, and join together as a community to Work-Out. Please join us in sharing your ideas and discourse on how we may work together as a community to ensure the continuation of the merit-based, full-tuition scholarship at Cooper Union.
I was very excited to hear what the president had to say last night. That is, I was very excited before I got there. But then as the evening wore on I lost more and more confidence that the new president really believes the same things that the majority of students and faculty believe.
There seemed to be a big divide between his idea of what the night was about and most of the audience’s idea of what the night was about. From my perspective he wanted to start finding solutions to the financial dilemma now in an effort to keep the school open no matter what, saying again and again “I will not be the President to close Cooper Union.” This sounds good and noble by itself, but many of the people who were there, including myself, would like to agree ond what we are trying to preserve before discussing the best method to preserve it. The majority of students and faculty do not believe that tuition should be considered an option and he does, and this seems like a huge problem.
One young woman brought this up very clearly, saying to him that we need to know that that is not an option, and in my opinion, he basically ignored the question. I was furious. I wanted to be inspired by him to seek out new ways to preserve what is good and unique about this school, and instead I heard a bunch of numbers and the word “unsustainable” over and over again.
I agree that a sustainable solution is certainly something to strive for, but we must take the future of the students into account when we discuss what sustainable means. How sustainable is a educational system that puts young adults in tremendous debt the moment they enter the work force. How many people in our generation will be able to recommend higher education to their children, when so many feel that they get nothing out of it but a degree. Just because we could have a balanced budget does not mean we are sustainable.
So the president formed a “task force” to propose alternate solutions as a way to empower us. However, at the same time he shot down every conceivable other solution besides tuition. People said, what about alumni donations? he said you cannot rely on peoples generosity; people said what about big donors? he said, big donors give directly to the endowment so we only get 5% of what they give each year; people said, what about the budget, can’t we cut back? he said he wants to expand and that we could make more money if we grew to a certain size; people said why isn’t the board writing checks to bail us out or why didn’t they ten years ago? he said… nothing.
What is they task force supposed to suggest if they can’t rely on generosity from people, if they can’t rely on the gifts of a few very wealthy people, if they cannot find ways to cutback the budget, and if they cannot ask for any change from the board? I feel like the task force has been cut off at the knees before it even begins, and because of this, I feel like it was a political move that will distract us from the larger more fundamental disagreements we are having.
This last resort he wants to keep on the table will rip the soul out of the Cooper Union. It will become a shell of a former self. It will have graphs and numbers, and maybe even a balanced budget, but it will be dead while it continues to live.
The President and the Board of Trustees are planning to meet to discuss the possibility of charging tuition at The Cooper Union. The fact that this option is on the table is proof in itself that the Board of Trustees have failed to manage the school responsibly and in keeping with Peter Cooper’s foundational ideas.
Cooper Union has persevered in its original mission of tuition free education for over one hundred years. This institution has withstood two World Wars, The Great Depression, and countless national and international financial recessions and panics. What then are the circumstances today that are so extraordinary as to force The Cooper Union to abandon its original mission?
We are now told that The Cooper Union has been in a state of crisis for the past ten years. This was not the rosy picture painted in the June 30, 2009 article featured in the Wall Street Journal titled: “One College Sidesteps the Crisis: As many endowments suffer, no-tuition Cooper Union builds, and basks.” The article speaks of how Cooper Union is relying on lower risk investments and rent income from large real estate holdings to protect the school’s endowment from instability in the stock market. The article highlights the importance of safe investment in light of “…the school’s no-tuition policy, which leaves its budget largely dependent on investment income.” Cooper Union’s then-president George Campbell is quoted as saying: “We knew that if we took a big risk and lost, we couldn’t recover.” Was the Board of Trustees ignorant then of the school’s true financial condition or were they being untruthful in reporting it?
Why would a school in the middle of a financial crisis willingly initiate the most capital-intensive building project in its recent history? If our endowment was in jeopardy why did we undergo a $111.6 million dollar building project? And all of this while the 51 Astor place building stands derelict? There are two possible explanations. The first: The Board of Trustees has been completely incompetent and untruthful and has acted recklessly with Cooper Union’s endowment during a very financially risky time. The second: The Board of Trustees has had a plan of expansion for many years. Our current “crisis” has been completely manufactured by spending towards this expansion. The school’s current state is being portrayed as an unforeseen emergency to force the issue of tuition- an issue that the Board must have been considering for some time.
Either the board is incompetent and unable or fundamentally opposed to upholding the original mission of The Cooper Union. This original mission is the founding and sustaining of a merit based, full scholarship school for all students.
All legal and procedural measures must now be taken to stop the Board of Trustees from voting the Cooper Union out of existence. The Board must give a full accounting to the Alumni, Students and Faculty of their future plan for The Cooper Union. If any members of the board, or the school President feel that the expansion of The Cooper Union should take precedence over its responsibility to its original mission all efforts must be made to replace them with administrators who will uphold the core values of The Cooper Union. We do not need schemes for new buildings or expansionist vanity projects. We need creative and honest administrators who are committed to a realistic plan for sustaining Cooper Union’s future existence.
Benjamin Degen A’98
Adjunct Instructor, Cooper Union School of Art
The human race requires an evolving culture. The evolution of our collective mind is the only thing that can protect us from extinction. Each age presents new problems and new opportunities. It is our evolving culture- our new ideas in the arts and sciences- that allow us to embrace the opportunities and address the difficulties of our time. An active evolving culture is fueled by artists, architects and engineers who are willing to experiment and work outside of the prevailing orthodoxy to develop new science, new art, and new aesthetic and philosophical concepts.
When Peter Cooper founded The Cooper Union the world was going through an industrial revolution. This was the context that made the need for education and free-thinking in the sciences and arts so important. We now exist in a post-industrial/digital revolution age. The need for free-thinking in the sciences and arts is stronger now than ever before.
Why does a tuition free institution engender more free-thinking in its students and in society at large? It is important for Architects, Artists and Engineers to be able to experiment; to take time to test new ideas and work through concepts that may not be immediately financially profitable. Cooper Union attracts the best and brightest students from a diverse pool of applicants. At school they are encouraged to work together to learn. After they graduate they are able to work together- unburdened by the debt that they would have incurred at other prestigious institutions. This freedom from debt is freedom to pursue their own ideas and work experimentally to form new ideas; to work within the avant garde rather than the establishment; to make the discoveries that benefit our society as a whole.
In a perfect world all institutions of higher learning would be tuition free. In reality Cooper Union is very unique. This makes it all the more important that The Cooper Union stay tuition free for all students.
We have been presented with graphs that illustrate the financial situation of the school in conjunction with historical facts. I thought that we needed to see a different kind of graph using the same historical facts.
This image is up for being reinterpreted, reiterated, changed or improved as necessary for the greater good.
My name is Tammy Kim, and I’ve been teaching as an adjunct in the Humanities and Social Sciences for the past three years.
While I appreciate this difficult moment in CU’s finances, I write to implore you not to undercut a most critical aspect of the school’s identity. For my part, as a social justice lawyer, writer, and teacher, I have drawn on Cooper’s legacy to engage students in thinking around domestic and international human rights issues. I believe that keeping CU tuition-free and accessible to all students is of paramount importance in fostering an environment and community of altruism and liberated thinking.
Moreover, as articulated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, student debt can be a debilitating burden to many, especially those whose aspirations and talents are not rewarded by market economics. Coming from a working-class background and then entering the non-profit and literary fields, I am battling considerable student debt from the costly private schools I attended. I am grateful that my students at Cooper have not yet faced these challenges, and I hope that this will continue to be true.
The question of tuition seems to be driven by a somewhat obscured platform for the expansion of the school in the 21st century. I believe this agenda is the motivation for the tuition argument that is presented as unavoidable, IF THE SCHOOL IS TO EXPAND. This qualification is not being clearly presented, because the implementation of tuition will make expansion a necessity, and forgo a clear and thorough consideration of what expansion would mean to the identity of the Cooper Union as a small select New York City school, with a carefully admitted student body that receives an immersive and completely unique experience.
If the school proceeds with the proposal to implement a tuition policy, whatever that may be, it would seem that the school would forgo its non-profit status and the advantages that accompany that, including tax abatements especially in the realm of real estate which the school benefits heavily from given its landholding status. This move then necessitates the expansion of the student body to accommodate more tuition paying students to cover the exposure from the alteration of the school’s tax status.
Losing the non-profit status for an undetermined amount of student revenue, doesn’t seem to be a fiscally responsible maneuver, but more of an engineered strategy to accomplish a not yet clearly defined agenda.
Ultimately it seems that expansion is the desired outcome.
A viable proposal is for the school to remain at its current count and propagate a heavy city, nationwide, and international fundraising campaign as an unique premier higher education institution, a vestige within American education to provide a free education to all without consideration of economic or social status, based solely on merit. This is a duty that the board of trustees should assume, the role that Peter Cooper ascribed to his original “five gentleman” who would help to guide and ensure the success of the institution. This strategy would maintain the school as-is, and if it should prove inadequate in scope to finance the school, perhaps reductions instead of tuition and expansion could be considered to maintain Cooper’s prestigious legacy.
I am writing this letter out of concern for the future state of Cooper Union as it confronts financial instability. I understand that hard choices may be on the table and under consideration, but am contributing a line of reasoning, an argument, that may be useful in defining why precisely keeping the school tuition free is more important beyond the obvious potential impact on student and parent pocketbooks. I strongly believe charging tuition has strong implications for the institution and becomes an ethical decision.
If Cooper Union begins to charge tuition for all students it will remove a scarce avenue of economic and class mobility from the New York landscape; here in this city where class and money is everything, controlling access and career destiny. Especially in the arts. It is supposedly American to believe that anybody can become anything, and while in reality the greater systems in our society and country presently work against that, Cooper was always a beacon of this American idealism (by American, I mean the US, not the Americas). In this city of immigrants from all around the world, why would we allow the possibility of mobility by merit that Cooper Union embodies to die?
Nowadays I meet and work with artists from overseas; they are inevitably from the upper classes. For a long time, I took for granted that anyone could be an artist, thanks to my Cooper education - and due to the relative invisibility of class factoring in for success at the school. In the developing world (in places such as India, where I recently spent time), an engineering degree is what many of the best and the brightest work towards. Subsidized engineering degrees remain a beacon of hope for many immigrant students from developing nations newly arrived in New York City. I don’t know how many return to their native countries to bring skills back home, but you can bet that many later financially help other places in the world.
Current students have brought up the specter of consumer-driven education - if all students (parents) are paying, the college becomes compromised, it starts selling something. I have friends teaching at nearby art institutions in the city where this is already true. The level of engagement isn’t the same, the students just don’t care so much to work on their educations as they know (or think they know) that they can purchase their way through life afterwards.
It would be a sad day if we lost this ethical space, where one gains access through merit, intellectual curiosity and hard work are a given, this four or five year haven and place to grow.
This financial crisis has been looming on the horizon for at least six years, even before the new building, perhaps those at the school who knew believed the end of the Mayan calendar was coming in 2012, the numbers on paper were and are shocking. BUT there are many avenues to correct this financial structure, hole, mistake. Money always follows ideals. Money is often used as an excuse to justify choices. But deciding what is important is first and foremost. Money will follow.
If Cooper Union begins to partially charge tuition for some students this will mark a sea change; I cannot stress this enough. Many students who may qualify for full scholarships may turn away without applying, believing that they have no merit. Remember that many Cooper students cannot rely on their parents and do not have strong support systems in their lives before attending Cooper Union. They rely on their wits, and young teenage minds are not very practical, logical, and experienced. They are simply too young to make good judgments at a time in their lives when these choices can change everything in their future. To split the student body into two; tuition paying and not, also creates a two-tier system, destroying the sense of equality, equity, currently existing within the halls at Cooper. And those paying students may get lazy, dragging down the student body as a whole.
Another serious concern about Cooper Union instituting partial tuition is about those who may fall through the cracks. A gap of income indeterminacy may arise - like the way subsidized housing and national subsidized health care for the very poor does not assist some struggling people because the numbers used as guidelines do not match the reality on the ground. Determining benchmarks for scholarship and non-scholarship students is a tricky business and could easily cut off a lot of people in the middle, and act for or against students depending on factors of strong or weak family support.
I feel confident in President Jamshed Bharucha’s leadership and ethical principles. I like his ideas about possible funding from other sources, such as research funding, other granting programs. These funding dollars must follow the ethical principles of the Cooper Union, and I hope that any research monies will be scrutinized carefully. Engineering schools in particular are vulnerable to research dollars from the Department of Defense, and Cooper Union should not be allowed to become another arm of the US war machine.
In conclusion, I strongly urge the President and the Board of Trustees to take the tuition option off the table. In moving forward, I look forward to everyone’s creative efforts in this matter. And we will help. Believe me.
Versions of this letter have been submitted by email today to the President of The Cooper Union and to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at The Cooper Union. - LN
What the historical record shows. In the first year of its operation, the Trustees allowed payment of fees for less than 1% of 1366 class seats. And they made sure that those that did pay did not need the classes to earn a living. Charging tuition to students who need education for their livelihood is fundamentally against the founding principles of Cooper Union.
It is clear that today our Cooper Union faces a grave crisis—certainly the most serious in my lifetime and perhaps in the institutions’. The speed and intensity of the response of this community is magnificent and speaks to the structural nature of this crisis.
At its core, the question facing us is: what holds up the Cooper Union? This is no easy question but I believe we can gain insight into it by looking to the foundation of the institution—free speech. The foundation building is literally held up by free speech. The seeds of this foundation were planted by Peter Cooper and Abraham Lincoln, and from these seeds grew a magnificent principle, and the founding principle of this school—free education.
It is not that The Cooper Union holds up free education but that free education holds up The Cooper Union. We are now confronted with a crisis that threatens to collapse this structural principle.
As we struggle to address this crisis, to comprehend it, to navigate it and act within it, I propose that everything we need has been said in this Great Hall over the last 150 years—from Lincoln’s ‘Right Makes Might’ to Frederick Douglas and Red Cloud to the founding of the Red Cross and NAACP. This space contains monumental moments, each grown from the urgent demands of a given period that threatened the fundamental principles of human rights. In each case, the crises caused by these threats lead to a clarification of the very principles at risk. Each of these moments galvanized the meaning of the principles themselves and led to movements that revolutionized the historic trajectory.
I believe the crisis we face today contains just such a potential. We must resist the confusion that the crisis we face is so grave that it demands abandoning our principles in order to survive. We must reject the notion that the urgent eclipses the essential.
The very meaning of guiding principles is found in the their capacity to navigate uncertainty; history is littered with disasters born in the missteps of suspending principles in the face of crisis. The hard work of navigating this moment will not be found in weak arguments about Peter Cooper having mixed intentions, or about early fee structures and free education “for the working classes” only. Even if this is true, even if it took 42 years until the Cooper Union offered free tuition to all, this is no justification to go backwards. The vision and guiding principle was clear from the beginning and as we all know—as this room knows—it took 87 years between “All Men are Created Equal” and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Our Founders’ missteps are no justification for us to repeat them.
Peter Cooper was a visionary and a practical one. The principle of inclusion, of no barriers to education, not only righted a wrong, but it created one of the most intellectually and creatively vital places in the world. This is no accident of history. Peter Cooper understood that the barriers to education not only were unjust to those that they excluded, but that those barriers impoverished the internal life of an institution. Barring any segment of the population creates a diminished human geography within the educational community.
In creating The Cooper Union, Peter Cooper invested in the profound idea that removing the barriers to education creates a dynamic crucible of free thought; a space where the widest spectrum of who we are can ask the questions of our time and create the works that bring us forward. This principle of removing barriers, of free education, constitutes the most precise and pragmatic means of addressing the extraordinarily complex questions of any given time.The evidence of a return on this investment is abundant. No one can deny that it has been returned a thousand, thousand-fold through the significant contributions of this community across all human endeavors.
As with many forms of structural invention, the consequences of Peter Cooper’s invention in the structures of education are unique spaces—inclusive spaces, spaces of participation and of reciprocity—for people and their works to listen to each other. We can afford no red line within these spaces dividing the ‘Freely Educated’ and the ‘Educated for a Price’. Creating any financial barriers for even a few students weakens the structural principles of free speech, free thought and free education, that hold up this institution.
Like each of the movements galvanized in this room, the internal crisis we face is a symptom of the broader crisis of our time. The gross inequities in resource distribution that characterize our moment are threatening to absorb this shining community into the markets. The broader dysfunction of decisions made by the few—with disastrous consequences for the many—are directly implicated in our internal crisis.
The hard work of navigating this moment, of clarifying the meaning of our principles, will not be found in the neutrality of looking forward only. The questions of accountability, of broken bonds of trust, of hubristic excesses writ large, figure strongly within our current crisis. We must not shy away from these facts. Any solution requires an honest, hard look at the decisions made that lead to the crisis. When the foundations are free speech, there is no room for sweeping things under the rug.
Navigating this moment requires looking at and absorbing the lessons of the past, but it also requires present-tense creativity. When confronted with intractable problems, it is rarely the rush to solutions that solves them, but more the search for the questions; the work of digging deep into the structure of the problem and articulating its root questions.
We have the opportunity to clarify and galvanize the fact that free education is a fundamental right to all people, to clarify our social contract and push forward a movement that recognizes the transformative powers of education as a human right.
If Peter Cooper did anything, surely it was to plant the seeds of this movement. Now we have the opportunity to bring them to fruition. There are times when communities achieve a certain momentum; the spirit of place captures the transformative spirit of a given period. When these alignments occur, profound shifts are possible. I believe that we in just such a moment.
The challenges and possibilities of this moment are extraordinary; they call for creative urgency and thoughtful, considered stewardship. The stakes for what happens are enormous—how we comprehend and act in this moment reaches far beyond the institution itself.
The Cooper Union currently faces an internal crisis that warrants The Cooper Union’s Great Hall as the location for its founding movement.
As we all know, “Right Makes Might”.
November 2, 2011
The Great Hall of The Cooper Union
The issue of implementing tuition at the Cooper Union is far beyond a financial one. The gift of scholarship answers the human right of education in the form of a bastion of the highest quality of learning.
We stand behind an education that is “free as air and water” not because we feel delighted to be exempt from a financial burden, but because of how that exemption enables our community. We are free to rigorously question, free to naïvely experiment, free to mindfully reciprocate, free to intimately confer, free to fervently participate, free to deeply self-examine. We are free of a student body resentfully divided by the paying and the non-paying; we are are free to each have a voice unsilenced; we are free to journey across all disciplines; we are free to use our will and merit as our means; we are free to band together and grow alongside students and teachers of the utmost ingenuity and dedication. We are free from exclusion, free from inequality, free from many of the poisoned affectations of our time. In short, we are free from the barriers most destructive to an education, free as air and water.
This is the climate very many of us turned down prestigious and compelling opportunities to participate in, whether to teach or to learn. This is the place we chose to come to.
The obvious rebuttal is to ask whether one would rather have tuition implemented, or see the school come to an end. The assumption that these two paths are in fact different is absurd. The further notion that these are our most achievable options is rash and unfathomable. We must take the time to find alternative solutions that are built upon the character of the school, or we must admit to ourselves that we have renounced the Cooper Union.
We have all lived a part of the 20th century and thus all know the proper term for an institution that is ligatured by its finances rather than its spirit. The growth of Cooper Union manifests itself in zeal, invention, and fellowship, not size, territory, and budget.
Our cause does not rest on the wayward conveniences of romanticism, prerogative, and idealization. Spirit IS pragmatic, not merely philosophical.
We oppose tuition not as something symbolic; we oppose tuition in terms of the end of an exemplary reality.
Let’s put the situation bluntly, without any diplomatic softening of the hard edges: It will be the end of The Cooper Union as a unique school bringing together an ideal of social equality and creative freedom, if its full-scholarship tradition is overturned by the current Board of Trustees.
As another expensive, tuition-driven private school, it will no doubt offer a good education for those who are able to pay (or are willing to indebt themselves for years to come), though, in fact, it may not compete well against elite schools that offer the depth of great universities—-outstanding libraries, interdisciplinary programs, student recreational facilities, the sense of belonging to a wide intellectual and social community with a long tradition. By giving up its tradition, its uniqueness, The Cooper Union will become a second cousin to such schools, struggling to get paying students from a position of competitive disadvantage.
If The Cooper Union will henceforth be treated as a high-brow business venture, its students will become consumers—-with all the expectations and attitudes of consumers we already know—-and the faculty will become the purveyors of the knowledge-products the consumers demand, whether it’s the latest know-how in computer graphics needed to land an office job, or training in business ethics to help them climb the corporate ladder. Gone will be the ideal of a faculty whose knowledge, experience, dedication to personal principles sets the tone and direction of their teaching. Gone will be the striving for works that will make a better world for all people. Gone will be the spirit of The Cooper Union, which will live on in name only.
Professor Lebbeus Woods
The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
This piece of text serves as an important document which offers great insight as to who Peter Cooper was as described by those who knew him in the flesh.
Thousands of people lined the street for a chance to view his body on the day he was laid to rest - everyone from the elite to the working class to the students and alumni of this institution. It is absolutely beautiful and very visually descriptive.
It underscores just how hard we have to work to preserve this school’s most core values. Let us work tirelessly because this man is still alive. His body is gone, but his spirit is fighting inside of us. If we let his idea die, then we would need to have a second funeral to close the chapter of his legacy. Let us hope we never see that day, for his idea is now our idea.
At the first Presidential Search Forum that The Cooper Union Board of Trustees held on campus, the topic of the qualities that the Cooper Community sought in a new president was reframed by trustee Cynthia Weiler to focus on what the Cooper Community saw as its primary institutional priorities and qualities. The first answer from the attendees—-without hesitation—-was merit-based full-tuition scholarships, as articulated in Cooper’s mission statement. A commitment to diversity was also promptly made. Ms. Weiler highlighted the stature of the faculty and she reaffirmed her own financial commitment to The Cooper Union.
This is a critical point in Cooper Union history, where we need to examine the true, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial nature of Peter Cooper and his legacy.
The Art, Architecture and Engineering Schools have been functioning relatively separately till now. They seem to be going in each of their own pathways. Sometimes, there are even fierce disagreements between students and alumni of the different schools.
However, it is no coincidence that it was created for “the Advancement of Science and Art.”
We need to begin to think in a more synthetic way. As a community, we need to be able to integrate ways of working and thinking that are all innovative but unique to each school. As graduates of this institution, why aren’t we actively involved in a major way- with the creation of the financial climate of this country?
The era of the “job” is coming to an end. The world is going in a direction that demands urgent attention- and Cooper Union needs to catch up. The divide between the classes, the haves and have nots, the financial crises around the world, and the allowing of people to believe that there is not much we can do about it from the higher ups… this is all mythology.
The members of the community who are presenting the dire, depressing facts of the Cooper financial crisis, and offering tuition even as a last resort consideration - are deceiving us. Tuition will be the end of Cooper. There are those who say that this is inevitability. Even worse than this, however, is that some of the community might begin to believe this is true one day- if we don’t change our thinking now. It is not so much a crisis of finances as it is the crisis of a closed mind.
We don’t need to hear the negativity. These are ridiculous, “obscurantisms” of Peter Cooper’s words- which is being manipulated but not being clearly understood. Peter Cooper was a visionary. What does it take to be a visionary? Faith. An Open Mind. Courage and the ability to turn negatives into positives. Persistence. And of course- an interdisciplinary mode of thinking.
This means synthesis of ideas involving the humanities, art and technology coming together at the right time with the right people. This is the source of wealth. Peter Cooper knew this. It will not be difficult to generate it, if we can put our hearts into it.
You can blame this crisis on a person, or a group of persons, or a financial downturn- but the true demon behind it all is the division of labor, the compartmentalization of thought. The separation that can even be seen as our three separated schools. They should be autonomous, but intertwining in a way it has never been done before.
Peter Cooper probably envisioned many, many entrepreneurial minded thinkers graduating from this school. He probably envisioned that they would have the ability to create the means and resources needed to give back to the school in a fundamentally big and sustainable way. I am not talking about a percentage of a “salary”, or an annual donation. I am talking about big ideas. When is the last time we got together and came up with one? Where are all the philanthropists of our time, and why aren’t they here at Cooper?
With respect for the deeply critical and thoughtful community that we are, I must pose a few questions to think about- why are so many of us content with comfort? We need to look into ourselves as a community. We need to criticize and reflect upon ourselves. Point the blame on us for once. Not to be negative, but to finally be able to perhaps see ourselves as accountable too- so that we can make the necessary changes.
I received an education I would never trade for anything in this world. At Cooper I learned about the social contract. Cooper prepared me to see the world critically and for that reason, my eyes were open to so many things I didn’t know existed. I took it upon myself to study the science and philosophy behind success- principles even Peter Cooper clearly lived by and utilized to become the “self made millionaire” who was able to do so much with his life. I examined it closely and found something. It was his search for truth, and his dedication to a life of giving- not taking- that made him who he was. Once we give up the “comforts” of life- and I mean the emotional comforts of stability and routine- only then can we truly find meaning and value- true capital- in our lives. He successfully did that.
That is why a Cooper startup- is so important. This should be only one of many! We cannot depend on others to take care of us anymore, just as we cannot stay in our mother’s womb forever. We need to take a deep look inside ourselves and our community, and tap into its vast resources of talent and passion- in order to help the school.
We have all signed a social contract that binds us to the mission of this institution when we entered it for the first time and received that free education. It was meant to be more than what it is doing right now. The social contract not only obligates us to the school, and to each other, but to the whole world! The belief that we can change the world- is not haughty- or outrageous! In fact I believe that it should be the common belief of every human being!
We, as Cooper graduates- could be of service to mankind- because we understand what it means- because we have received it first.
Each and every one of us IS the wealth of Cooper Union- We will hold up free speech and embody free education for all who seek it! But only if we truly have faith in this.
It is precisely because you received it that you can even begin to comprehend it.
Each of us is the wealth of Cooper Union. Now we just need to figure out how to convert the energy into capital. It can’t just be external donors that hold up this school. It must be us. So I challenge you all to do this. Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. Way back when, Peter Cooper envisioned a world where information was “free-flowing” in the air- which is why he invested in the telephone cable companies. What a visionary! He saw the internet, even way before it was! (Among so many other things!) He was a dreamer. He dared to dream, yes. What can YOU dream about, what can YOU see right now, today? Can you make it happen, if you have the right minds working together? Yes!
It’s always a big risk, many people will be negative, and there might be terrifying obstacles in your way. It is not easy to face all this and still win. But with a little persistence and faith, I believe we can hold up Cooper and keep it tuition free ourselves. I truly do. You can call me a blind optimist as much as you want, but just don’t call me an offender. I love this instituion and what it stands for- WITH ALL MY HEART ALL MY SPIRIT AND ALL MY SOUL. Cooper Union was a dream too, once upon a time. Why can’t we think big? Is it a sin? No. It’s just fear talking. We must overcome fear together.
I am really concerned that the trustees of The Cooper Union do not really understand the special mission that has made it THE MOST UNIQUE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION in the country. That GROWTH is not the aim of Cooper, that maintenance of that ideal is the aim of Cooper Union. If foolish and vainglorious building programs have thrust vast debts onto the school, if poor management and poor investment is the problem, then we need trustees who can deal with that, and not go for more of the same. Remember that Peter Cooper himself tried to run for President, and his platform was to deal with the runaway greed of the financial institutions in America in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nothing has changed. But the great surge of civics and reform is definitely missing in America today, and it is NOT OK to align The Cooper Union with the ethics of money that prevail. Young people growing up in New York today do not have what I had—a totally free City University, free admission to the Metropolitan Museum, The Natural History, The Brooklyn, The Botanic Gardens—these all cost something today. Why, is the country poorer? Let us not throw The Cooper Union into the pile with every institution that has regressed from the civic good.
The following suggestion is just the boldest and most articulate of several versions I have seen in the past several days. It is serious and exciting, and I respond to it below.
“We should design a twelve foot by six foot banner sign and go down to JOIN the wall street protests and have the entire school stand under the image we design that should be fabulous—-we will get national coverage!
It should say something like:
THE GREED THAT KILLED THE PHILANTHROPY OF NEW YORK IS TRYING TO RUIN COOPER UNION.
MERITOCRACY AND DEMOCRACY ARE INTERDEPENDENT.
KEEP COOPER UNION A SCHOLARSHIP NON-PROFIT ART AND ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL!
SUSTAIN THE PRINCIPLES OF NO TUITION AT COOPER UNION!
One of our students has already reported that last night the engineering students and some faculty have voiced their support for tuition. I warned the students we must fight for architecture only and see if the artists come with us—-stay away from the 35 tenured suburban buffalo grazing in vocationalism!”
1) In some ways it’s a fine idea, but to act on it right now is PREMATURE.
Nothing has happened yet and to mount this kind of social protest is a form of acceptance that it will—-that tuition is a foregone conclusion, which it isn’t.
I think we should concentrate on making our position known within the school—-use the banner and mass gathering there!—-putting pressure on the Board and others supporting the introduction of tuition, so that the Board never makes a decision to do it.
In other words, I wouldn’t give up that fight, which going en masse to Wall Street now would effectively do.
2) Joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters will confuse the issues. Who do we want to address? Bankers, CEOs of corporations, financiers? No. We want to influence our own Board of Trustees. Massive demonstrations in front of the Foundation Building have a chance of doing that. Getting lost in the Wall Street crowds will only put us at a ‘safe’ distance from them and the school.
3) The banner ‘slogans’ cannot be too wordy and conceptually diffuse. They need to be short, punchy, and precisely focused—-what is the key issue? Who are we trying to address and influence?
4) Blaming Wall Street greed for our problem at Cooper is too generic and abstract. Again, to lump our problem together with Wall Street greed effectively takes the pressure off of our Board. Our Board must be seen as personally responsible for the fate of Cooper Union.
5) One final point for now: the idea of exploiting the rivalries between Architecture, Engineering, and Art is a very bad one. Pitting them against each other will seriously weaken the political clout of each and all, making it easier for pro-tuition members of the Board to achieve their goals. No, THIS IS THE TIME FOR UNITY.
Professor Lebbeus Woods
The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
I would have to agree with Prof. Woods on the five points that were made. Although we are faced with a very serious and detrimental decision having a prejudice against one another will do nothing but separate our cause even more. We are essentially three schools in one but with a common goal in the end. The decision to alter Cooper to become a tuition based school is threatening but it has not been made yet. I sympathize with the anger and frustration that the student body, alumni, faculty and staff feel but we must not take any unnecessary acts based on passion of emotion which we have not done yet so far. I believe that we are taking the right steps in order to have a calm and peaceful relationship with our peers and our administration in order to find solutions which will not lead our school to become a tuition based school.
We must see Cooper as a household of some sort which is facing a financial crisis as many are facing now in our nation including mine. We must make decisions and solutions that will prevent any further damage to Cooper’s pockets. Less spending on extravagant celebrations and events and more concentration on the assets that we have which mainly are the students now. Find more reliable and profitable tenants in our retail space in 41 Cooper Square which will allow us to maintain high rent without effecting the tenants business. Provide a wide range of services to the community while maintaining a reasonable price. Focus less on becoming like other strictly for profit schools and focus more on mainting the uniqueness of our institution which is a non-profit tuition free school.
We must think rationally because business and politics are not fueled on emotion nor are they successful when they are dictated by rash decisions. I believe the student body has been very prudent and smart thus far. And they have been brave to speak with clarity and confidence which is rare to find in our time. A tuition based school will in fact solve a fraction of our financial instability in the short term. But from a “small business” point of view it will ultimately eliminate our uniqueness which in the long term perspective will be detrimental. We will loose the appeal and standard of our institution which has been the driving force of so many hopeful prospective students out there to apply seeking the highest level of learning this nation has left to offer. Small businesses are successful in several points. Variety, uniqueness and location. All of which Cooper has to its advantage.
Although Cooper is not in anyway a small business in the literal sense as we deal with millions being spent, earned or sought after, the solutions and problems can be dealt with in the same vain. Less spending on the things we do not need for the time being and a shift of focus on that which is more profitable in the long term while still unadulterating our original mission which is to provide the community and ultimately the nation with the highest standard of education without sacrificing an arm and a leg and another arm to learn.
The Cooper Union was founded, and functions as an embodiment of the principals of logic, scientific method and empirical thinking. Apparently these principles so revered by the student body and faculty, have not extended to the administration of the school itself. Now we must stand together- students, faculty, administration and alumni- the entire Cooper Union community must be invited to collectively address the current state of the institution. Fortunately as Architects, Artists and Engineers we are all well trained in using empirical methodologies to solve problems. Let’s start now.
I will first state an architecture for a generalized methodology. This methodology should be familiar to all. Architects, Artists and Engineers use it daily. It should be noted that organizations employing good and responsible governance do as well.
1. State the perceived condition (problem) as clearly as possible.
2. Propose a process for investigating this condition.
3. Implement the process of investigation.
4. State the findings of the investigation.
5. Interpret the findings (data) of the investigation.
6. Propose specific solutions to the specific and discrete aspects of the condition.
This is a process that the students, faculty and alumni engage in every day in their studios, laboratories and professional practices. It is reasonable for us to demand this process from our administration. It is our responsibility, just as it is our responsibility to hold our peers to account in critique and peer review, to hold the administrators to the highest level of practice and most rigorous application of process.
How would this general process as listed above apply specifically to a president and board of directors of an institution who are charged with the dual task of a) uncovering and understanding the full extent of past mismanagement and b) implementing a new policy to correct the past mismanagement and ensure that it is not repeated while taking new steps to revive the health of the institution?
There are protocols for undertaking this process. It is not uncommon for an institution that handles large amounts of money or property, that certain individuals may act in their own self interest rather than the interests of the institution. This is a problem that needs to be addressed systematically by accepted practices of governance. So how specifically should we implement the protocols of good governance here? Here is a proposal for a well tested and accepted method:
1. State the perceived condition as clearly as possible.
2. Propose a specific process for investigating the condition.
3. Do an INDEPENDENT THIRD PARTY AUDIT
4. State the findings of the auditors.
5. Have independent experts interpret the findings of the audit and state clearly a) Where best practices have not been followed b) Where inefficiencies or redundancies exist and c) Where there may be evidence of malfeasance or theft.
6. Have the administration put forward their proposals for how to address these findings and propose new policies.
7. Open the process up to a period of PUBLIC COMMENT where the concerns of the entire Cooper Union Community can be heard.
8. Cooperatively choose the best course of action.
President Bharucha has said that he is committed to an open process. We should invite him to make good on his word. The Cooper Union is a union of thinkers across a diverse range of disciplines. We, as thinkers, have a hunger for facts and clarity, and a hatred of lies. President Bharucha, give us the open process that is our due. We are critical thinkers; our community is made up of some of the most distinguished critical thinkers in the world. We all deeply cherish the institution of The Cooper Union and we are all committed to ensuring its wellbeing and its place of preeminence in the Arts and Sciences. In us, you have a wealth of experience to draw upon. We would rather be your partners than your adversaries in this process.
Our intuitive reaction to the news about the direct impact of the financial crisis on us was to invent a new way to facilitate a productive relationship between students, faculty, staff and our work. We were moved to symbolically remove the walls of the institution and to join with the wider community and display the Cooper environment that is an intrinsic part of the fabric of New York and the fact that our work responds to that. We were moved to unify as a community which included all members: students, faculty, staff, alumni, administration and supporters to solve the problem imposed on us which threatens the core of the institution.
Invention here is the key word. Cooper Union can be seen as a crucible for experimentation. The event on Wednesday taught me a positive lesson and showed me a glimmer of hope that I intend to capitalize on and I hope to best relay that lesson to you.
Since our intuitive reaction was to invent, I asked myself what that really means. Now I would like to take away the blinders that have been directing our sight so that we can see ourselves in the bigger picture of the time. There is, at this very moment, a real but invisible oppressive force inflicting havoc on the world. I would like to call the origin of this force: the financial machine. A machine that we, the humans, created to help us (and it has in the past), but has now turned against us. We have explicitly seen right here at Cooper Union, its vindictiveness where it is seeking to destroy a visionary accomplishment of the human race. This accomplishment in physical form is The Cooper Union. It is the achievement of the fundamental human right to education. Cooper Union has begun to react! We must uphold the responsibility entrusted in us to defend this right, to defend Humanity. We must be leaders in the fight against the financial machine, the leaders of a necessary cultural revolution. Why can we be the leaders? Precisely because we are so well equipped to be leaders. We must be the example, the shining beacon that the human race needs in these oppressive times.
The financial machine seeks to divide and conquer. This is not a fight between the 99% and the 1%. This is not a fight between the rich and the poor; the administration and the students. This is a fight for freedom! We need to outsmart the machine. We need to unite as one body, one front, the unified Human race and exhibit the real force that Humans are capable of. We, The Cooper Union, are prepared to lead this front. Our weapons of choice are the strongest and most proven weapons that Humanity possesses: the Advancement of Art and Science in the spirit of innovation.
We have learnt that we cannot put confidence in speculation and insecurity and we can only rely on the inventiveness of the only humanistic forms of expression: science and art. The art, architecture and engineering being produced at present is going to be the most important of the era. The students and faculty of Cooper Union are deeply immersed in the global problem and our work is influenced by and is made in response to our circumstance - the present tense situation.
Just as the military is paid to study for use in service to their country, we are paid to learn for use in service to Humanity and we are charged with the responsibility of defending it. Artists, Architects and Engineers of Cooper Union: allow your environment to inspire your thinking! Create work that is about the advancement of your field in this time! Your work is the start of a movement towards freedom.
This is a fragment of something I wrote earlier in a private email, so apologies for some of the abruptness.
The real decision that everyone has to make very soon is what the board actually means to them. If we say that this school ours (students, faculty, alum), then it is our obligation to do anything in our power to save what it means to us. To lay all the blame on others is to effectively admit that while the culture at the Cooper Union represents us, we do not actually represent the institution as a whole. I don’t think it can or should be so black and white.
That said, a full tuition scholarship for every student admitted was a foolhardy decision to begin with– just like many of the greatest and most creative innovations in history. That commitment would obviously become a challenge for everyone who has ever set foot in the lobby of the Foundation building. A century later, it is hardly surprising that the stress of maintaining this commitment has been exacerbated by the desire to improve and expand (from the renovation of the Foundation building to the NAB) as well as the blistering fluctuations in the economy.
For curiosity’s sake, of course we will want to know how exactly we got to this point, but from a pragmatic standpoint the matter becomes trivial. Anyone with a crystal ball and a pen could have made the list, balanced the internal decisions with future external circumstances, and come up with a sound yet truly banal plan of operation. Yet, the Cooper Union is not a glorified lemonade stand. It is embodied by its students, faculty, and everyone else who has given a cent from their pocket or a second of their time. Perhaps the last 20 years demanded prescience beyond what we were capable of, and our ambitions got the better of us. The point we are at now indicates a failure to reconcile this and a failure to communicate.
In principle, we are privileged to be members of such an intimate institution. Yet even on the smallest levels, from our group projects in studio to student council to the administration, people are people and people fail. Even the best intentioned ideas and decisions can go horribly awry when there is either miscommunication or no communication. Until now we had very little to listen and now we have a lot to say. I hope that everyone– students, faculty, alumni, donors far and wide, the president, and the trustees– will seize the opportunity to take responsibility and collaborate with each other to find the best possible solution.
President Bharucha has reached out to us. We too must reach out to him and the trustees. The trustees operate to facilitate an environment which needs to give back more, and the students and the faculty operate to define that environment. If this becomes a new chapter in the history of the Cooper Union, let’s make it a productive one. Let’s make sure our legacy of a tuition free education doesn’t undermine but rather promotes a new legacy, taking risks and facing the challenges, of principled innovation for years, decades, and centuries to come.
For the past decade, Mr. Campbell constantly assured The Cooper Union community that we were on the road to financial health, declaring a balanced budget in 2009.
A series of articles in the New York Times described the wondrous financial acumen of Mr. Campbell and his staff. When permitted to use Room LL101 we were able to remind ourselves of these achievements as we read the beautifully framed reports that once adorned these walls.
We witnessed the awards bestowed upon Ms. Denes for her fund-raising and nodded our heads as we were repeatedly told that without building 41 Cooper Square – Cooper Union could not survive.
Anyone who had the temerity to question this decision was ridiculed and reminded of their ignorance of economics, or accused of being afraid of change. In fact, for the past decade our concerns and queries to the administration have generally been ignored or contemptuously dismissed.
It now appears that building 41 Cooper Square has broken Cooper Union – quite the opposite of the pronouncements of Mr. Campbell and Ms. Denes.
I ask that you, and any other board members you choose, meet the students, staff, alumni and faculty – much as you did when keeping us abreast of the situation with regard to selection of the new President – and help us understand how the school got into this financial state, and to inform us at what point did the trustees recognize that the full-tuition policy was in jeopardy. Surely the community deserves straightforward answers to straightforward questions.
Those of us privileged to teach here, students and alumni, and staff all have a deep commitment to the school and its wellbeing. I am sure that I speak for us all when I say that we really would like to work with the trustees for the common good of the school and the students, and for the future of The Cooper Union.
For the past decade we have been excluded from the discussion – this has been of benefit to no one.
We would like to be an active part of the conversation, we would like to help you explore avenues that do not involve charging tuition, that build upon the strengths of The Cooper Union and the Cooper Union community at large. If charging tuition is deemed to be the only way forward – then please talk to our students and alumni and learn from them how best to approach this momentous change.
There is an immense amount of passion out there for what The Cooper Union stands for – especially in the midst of this country’s sordid mess of corporate greed, financial dishonesty, parliamentary discord and conflict about the true value of college education.
I apologize for yet more correspondence - but it takes little time for you to hit the delete button.
I have bcc’d to avoid that huge list of email addresses - this is going to engineering faculty, faculty that I know in other schools, some administration, the chairman of the trustees and selected students.
I feel compelled to write one last time because I am surprised by the apparent lack of concern over the future of The Cooper Union – rubbish many will say - I beg to differ.
Non-tenured faculty are concerned about their future; students are wondering whether to transfer to a school from which they will be able to graduate; alumni are wondering what their funds will be used for; alumni are wondering whether there is any purpose donating to an institution that may cease to exist in the near future; staff and faculty face an uncertain
I too would like to know what is going to happen - my kids start college next year.
From what I understand we all have to place our faith in the board of trustees.
Recent events make this an uncomfortable dependence.
It all comes down to money - or the lack thereof.
There is much discussion about how to get more money - but little to no *open* discussion about current and past expenditure. I think this is a case for using history - understanding the past to solve the problems of the present.
I think it is true to say that everyone I have talked to over the past few days broadly agrees that a COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT discussion about finance must ensue for us to move forwards.
I am not the first to say this and surely won’t be the last -
- this topic appears to be having enormous difficulty gaining any sort of traction.
When I heard about today’s *teach-in*, I naively assumed it to be a forum within which the fundamental issues underlying our current predicament would be discussed.
Sadly - we appear to have reverted back to the model of the previous administration - carefully managed dissemination and control of information - an administrative whitewash!! A not uncommon view I hasten to add!
We are promised meetings with the trustees - what kind of meetings? Stage managed, carefully controlled and vetted questions??
I asked Tom Micchelli for a 15 minute slot for today’s event - and *very much appreciate* the offer of 10.30 - 10.45.
But - after a lot of thought - I decided that my remarks would probably not have been very well received. Do not doubt that I am afraid of voicing these opinions - http://preview.tinyurl.com/67d322u.
Had I come to the Teach In today - I would have prefaced my statements below with the remarks above.
I think we MUST answer the following questions before we can usefully proceed to a *community* discussion about the future.
1) How much *real* money was raised specifically for the construction of 41 Cooper Square?
2) How much did 41 Cooper Square *really* cost? That is how much would you or I have written a check for - in other words - no hidden gobbledygook about not counting this or that.
3) Our long held suspicions (see attached letter to Mr. Campbell – still awaiting a response!) about there being insufficient funds to construct 41 Cooper Square have now been proven to be true - so - Why was the decision taken to build 41 Cooper Square - and with what justification? Real answers please - not the BS we have been fed for six years!!
4) What are the financing arrangements for 41 Cooper Square? How much does this *actually* cost CU per annum? We have been hearing about a SEVENTY FIVE MILLION DOLLAR early payment penalty - if this is true – which deranged idiot signed off on this??
5) How is it possible that in early September 2011 the projected budget deficit was $8 million - and in mid-October 2011 it more than doubles to $16.5 million??
An EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR MISCALCULATION and no one has been held accountable?? Extreme incompetence or fraud spring to mind!
Oh - and please explain how our current situation equates to the information in the WSJ (2009) and NYT (2010) articles in which it was reported that Cooper had outwitted the markets and emerged in very robust financial health!!
6) We have been given figures for the current annual expenditure – but what we *really* need to know is how this *really* breaks down into academic and administrative costs; building maintenance; external contractors (lawyers, lobbyists, accountants etc)? We all appreciate that some information is confidential but at the same time I think we deserve a more transparent breakdown than we are getting at the moment - it is OUR future!
7) We are told that radical changes are required - we are told that $X million needs to be raised - again the question - for what?? For how many years?? We need an understanding of where the money is going - of what expenditure is actually required to promote the mission of the school - education. For example - my students tell me they are unable to get appointments in the writing center - the writing center has no money – our students receive limited assistance with their coursework, their grad school applications and so on - a direct reduction in the quality of our education program.
If we place the probability of charging tuition on the table - surely we should also address other *uncomfortable* issues such as:
A) Does the development office pay for itself - staff AND overheads?
B) Should we vacate 30 Cooper Square and move the administration into the schools - we’d all actually get to know each other then.
C) Should we get rid of the Deans? Nothing personal but you are extremely expensive!
D) Should we sell the dorm? That would provide a bit more breathing space.
E) Should faculty teach more courses?
8) Why are the trustees hiding behind President Bharucha? How can he possibly answer questions about events prior to his tenure at Cooper Union - and why has he been enabled as the fall guy for the topic of charging tuition. There is a lot of venom associated with this subject – much directed to the new guy *who has come in from out of town and understands nothing about Cooper*. I hope you will agree that this is manifestly unfair and unbecoming behavior.
In conclusion, I most respectfully ask that you to do everything within your capabilities to expedite an account of:
A) Why The Cooper Union is in its current position
B) The full facts surrounding 41 Cooper Square
C) Full disclosure of our current expenditure and how each line item contributes to the mission of the school.
Let us all work together to ensure that Cooper Union will celebrate its 300th anniversary in another 150 years
If you actually read this far - thank you for your time. Whether you agree or disagree - please help the conversation move forwards.
Back to grading ..
Toby—Toby Cumberbatch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Electrical Engineering Dept,
41 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003-7102
A brief essay on the meaning of
“Equal to the Best”
The future of the institution hinges on four simple words:
“Equal to the Best”.
These are Cooper’s oft-paraphrased words. In actuality, he said:
“As soon as, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, the funds which shall
from time to time be at their disposal will warrant such an expenditure, such
funds shall be appropriated to the establishment and maintenance of a
thorough polytechnic school; the requirements to admission to which shall be
left to the discretion of the said Board of Trustees, and shall be
specifically determined by them from time to time; and which school shall,
as far as possible, and as soon as possible,
be made equal to the best technological schools now established,
or hereafter to be established….”
Why did Cooper choose these words? He did not say “among the best”,
or “better than the best”, or even simply “the best.”
By “Equal to” Cooper clearly did not mean “Identical to.” His was such
a unique and novel idea, to give away a Free Education, and the boldness
of his statement was the prediction, or the anticipation, that a “Free”
education could achieve results that were on par with those of the
most elite, expensive institutions of the day.
The fundamental failing of the Cooper Union community today is to
misconstrue these words into the belief that the Founder would have ever
wanted his Union to become another one of these elite, expensive institutions.
There is nothing in his writings, or in the way he conducted his life,
that would suggest that he hoped one day Cooper Union would become
Harvard on the Bowery.
Cooper Union is in crisis today because over the past several decades,
we as a community have lost sight of our core values and our true mission.
Over such a long span of time, certainly there is no one evil villain
at whose feet we may lay the blame. We are all, collectively, past and
present, guilty of several mortal sins: greed, lust, vanity, and envy.
At one time in the past, Cooper’s motto could be stated as “We Are Cooper
Union. We are different from all other schools.” Whenever someone
fresh from reading their textbook on higher education administration
bemoaned some oddity in the way that Cooper Union conducted itself,
the retort was swift and incisive: “We are a free school. Our business
model does not place the students on the income side of the sheet.”
Cooper Union was lean, gritty, tough. Administration was minimal.
Faculty and staff worked hard under difficult conditions to uphold
the mission. Students may not have had the latest and greatest
facilities, but found themselves among a group of minds that was,
in fact, equal to the best.
But starting in the 1970s, and accelerating with alarming pace through
the 1990s and the first decade of this century, increasingly our motto became:
“We Are Cooper Union. We’re really sorry that we are different from
all other schools, and we have a plan to fix that.” We envied the fancy
buildings that our colleagues at other schools were building.
We lusted after more affluent students who, it was presumed, would have the
capacity to donate back to the school as alumni.
And we built the fancy buildings. And we shifted the demographics of
the student body more towards the middle-class. And our vanity knew
of no bounds. Newspaper articles proclaimed “Cooper Union is THE best!”
Our endowment, they reported, had reached new heights!
We finally had what we wanted, what the other schools had.
But it came with a price. Among the “other schools” attributes we
took on were distrust and disconnect among faculty, students,
administrators and alumni, and ever-increasing administrative and physical
plant overhead costs. And we are unmistakably on a collision course with the
end of the line. We all know what is waiting at the end of the line.
It is the completion of our transformation into one of the “other schools.”
Will “Equal to the Best” become “Just Like all the Rest?”
P.S. I have sent this essay now in support of the idea stated by my
colleagues Prof. Buckley and Prof. Cumberbatch that a truly transparent
and open process, in this time of crisis, must put EVERYTHING on the table.
This includes a frank and thoughtful reckoning of past mis-steps, the question
of whether we are in fact still fulfilling the mission envisioned by Cooper
and made practical by Hewitt, and a thorough examination of both the revenue
and the expense side of the sheet.
Barry prepared this summary of the ESC meeting where President Bharucha spoke and answered student and alumni questions. He also includes some commentary based on his involvement in the tuition question when it has come up in the past. A summary of financials are included.
This has been edited to replace the previous PDF, because Barry has made some changes to the first draft and updated a new version. The link is below.
President Bharucha has continued to stress that transparency will be required in order to overcome this financial situation. However, the actual process in gathering financial data for The Cooper Union has been a convoluted and confusing one.
The Cooper Union:
- Scattered information
- Confusing as hell
- Tax returns that require a CPA degree to understand
President Jamshed Bharucha
New York, NY 10003
Dear President Bharucha,
It is my duty as a student of the Cooper Union School of Architecture to state the fundamental philosophy and foundation of this institution and remind you that this philosophy is not just a fictional concept but is inherent to the reality of the institution itself. The Cooper Union was founded by Peter Cooper to provide an opportunity to students who did not otherwise have the means to obtain an education. It does not have a model to follow because there is no other institution comparable to it. The Cooper Union is a sacred place because it was built on this very idea.
“I determined to do what I could to secure to the youth of my native city and country the benefits of such an institution … and throw its doors open at night so that the boys and girls of this city, who had no better opportunity than I had to enjoy means of information, would be enabled to improve and better their condition, fitting them for all the various and useful purposes of life.”
To ignore this philosophy would be to remove the foundation of a structure and expect it to last. It will not last and will without a doubt collapse. Cooper Union was intended to be a school for those who did not have the privilege to receive the education they desired. It had one of the first libraries open to all comers. It did not discriminate against anyone who wanted to learn. To keep the name “Cooper Union” and ignore the foundation of the school would be immoral. It would be an empty shell of an institution. It is impossible to find a solution by borrowing the tactics of other institutions or universities because the Cooper Union is inherently different.
As the new President of the Cooper Union, I feel that it is your duty to find a way to preserve the Cooper Union without compromising the very foundation of it.
Video Recording of assembly in Cooper Union’s Great Hall, on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011. Post work out/walk out/act out in Cooper Square. The video has been divided into smaller parts due to size. The first three videos are of Peter Buckley Giving the assembly a brief history lesson of the school, its mission, and the derivation of “education should be as free as air and water.” The remaining videos are the very inspiring comments given by Cooper Union students, professors, and alumni about the current situation of the school. Video # 5 is of Professor David Gersten’s powerful speech, which he has previously posted the text version on this site.
“Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, soon-to-be president of The Cooper Union, sits down with the publisher of Education Update, Dr. Pola Rosen, to discuss his priorities as president and his vision for the historic school”
EXPANSION EXPANSION EXPANSION!!!
Note: On Monday October 31st the president stated he was not briefed about the schools financial situation until July. (Part 1, 7:10)
Education Update: Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, President, The Cooper Union - Part 1 of 3
Education Update: Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, President, The Cooper Union - Part 2 of 3
Education Update: Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, President, The Cooper Union - Part 3 of 3
“Institution stems from the inspiration to live. This inspiration remains meekly expressed in our institutions today. The three great inspirations are the inspiration to learn, the inspiration to meet, and the inspiration for well-being. They all serve, really, the will to be, to express. This is, you might say, the reason for living. All the institutions of man are ultimately answerable to this desire in man to find out what forces caused him to be, and what means made it possible for him to be.
Today, shadows are black. But really, there is no such thing as white light, black shadow. I was brought up when light was yellow and shadow was blue. White light is a way of saying that even the sun is on trial, and certainly, all of our institutions are on trial.
I believe this is so because institutions have lost the inspirations. The constant play of circumstances, from moment to moment unpredictable, distort the inspired beginnings of natural agreement. The institution will die when its inspirations are no longer felt, and it operates as a matter of course. Human agreement, however, once it presents itself as a Realization, is indestructible.”
This is from a lecture given by Louis Kahn, while he was teaching at The School of Architecture, Pratt, Brooklyn, 1973.
Here is a hopefully coherent rambling about tonight’s meeting with Mark Epstein (Monday, November 7th, 2011).
It is clear, despite having gone to The Cooper Union, that this Mr. Epstein does not represent our ideals, our ethics. He assumes the role of dictator in our political structure: he is an unimpeachable figure who wishes to make our decisions for us despite our protests. Though I cannot say I fully agree with President Bharucha’s public responses and words about the matter of tuition, I can say that I feel heard by this man. However, I felt as though Mr. Epstein was deaf and dismissive of passionate defences and eloquent responses.
It is my hope that the President will recognize these terrifying facts and do something about them. If we are smooth-talked, I suggest continuing to get the attention of the press, to hopefully attract the Wallstreet Journal and suggest they do a followup on Mr. Epstein’s boastful comments prior to Cooper’s financial transparency; anything to pull him away from the central circle of gravity. The notion of problem solving with this man makes me feel very uneasy; we are dealing with someone who believes he understands Cooper Union more than the audience members of tonight, who’s prospective financial decision-making overrides the clearly stated ethics at stake. He believes he makes sense.
I am less interested in accountability at this very moment, because I feel the heat, incongruent to Mr. Epstein’s statements that we are not yet in a crisis. For example, I don’t like the 41 Cooper building as much as anyone (we all know it did not need to look like the future in order to give us our future).
I am interested in how the task force will problem solve, and I am very optimistic about what will be generated in the months and years to come. My ultimate concern/hope is to find a way to not only enable this task force, but find a way for this group to become the primary form of advisement for the President and his administration. I think it is not farfetched to have this task-force (of which requirements for participation are comparable to those of the board of trustees’*) be empowered in the situation, and not have to appeal to a jury represented by Mr. Epstein.
*Correct me if i’m wrong, but isn’t one elected on the board by only another member. there is no donation standard in terms of money. If we must donate, we’ll give, we just might not have several million
“To be within the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is to be within a spiritual place, an authentic place. An institution that is lovingly held in trust. A place that believes one of society’s prime social responsibilities is towards learning and education in the deepest sense. It’s a place that contributes to thought, free thought, thought that is exploratory thought, founded by Peter Cooper, a man with a vision that still sustains and maintains the spirit of place and cares for enlightenment.
I don’t think there are many things more important than being a teacher and being a student. That, to me, is the deepest social contract, to understand the idea that individual creativity within a willing community is a profound social act. The privilege of being teachers and students within this remarkable place-to be teachers in a place of spirit, to be teachers of spirit, and to be with spirited students.
All one can do is to celebrate one’s discipline.”
John Hejduk Arch 1950
Professor of Architecture 1964-2000
Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture 1975-2000
I was asked to post the rest of the article from the Spring 1971 edition of At Cooper Union entitled “Excerpts from the Trustees’ Statements…”
I decided to include the two pages following their statement which recorded early furor over the issue of selling Green Camp. (Please see the attachment)
My brief response:
Clearly the issue of tuition is nearly half a century old and we are currently at a turning point in the schools history. Vast economic reform will and must take place.
Our role in this reform is to be those saving the school. It is clear that left unchecked the administration of the school will tear out it’s greatest foundation: our merit-based, full tuition scholarship policy. The Cooper Union exists not only to educate us on the subjects of engineering art and architecture, it also teaches us to give back through our work and our wealth. By revoking the inspirational tuition policy future students will not understand their role as independent and creative thinkers, makers and givers in the world.
We must not kid ourselves, if we, (students, alumni and faculty), don not find a proper resolution tuition will be instituted. Just as Green Camp was sold a few years after this article was written tuition could be charged a few years after our movement.
We cannot stop working towards a righteous and realistic solution to the schools future finances. I believe it is clear to all of us: the school’s administration over the course of the institutions history has not nor will be progressive enough to save our school.
I believe we must embrace our understanding of Peter Cooper’s philanthropy and his ideals while projecting our own. We need to show the great philanthropists of our epoch that the alumni, students and future students are not a group of greedy academics who take our tuition policy for granted. We must show those who can actually assist us that we as students and alumni have been motivated to do good in our work because of the ideals of The Cooper Union.
This address was given in the Great Hall to an audience largely of trustees and their guests.
It was written with some sense of annoyance about the PR uses of Cooper’s history but now part of its message has been used for different purposes.
A Comment on the Debate
Professor Stephen Rustow
11 November 2011
As the passionate debate on the financial crisis at Cooper continues to evolve, it seems important to insist on a certain precision of language. We must, all of us, try in good faith to express our opinions and ideas with the greatest possible clarity and with a use of language that prizes accuracy above all. This is not easy when the issues at hand are as emotionally charged, and as laden with history, as the debate that we have engaged. But this is all the more reason to be as accurate as we can be in what we say.
In this vein, a few observations:
1 ‘As free as air and water’: The debate is not about whether education should be free; education, at Cooper Union and everywhere else, has never been free. To state the obvious, everything from the electricity to turn on the lights to the salaries of the staff, administrators and faculty, and yes, the funds to build the buildings in which teaching takes place, costs money. So let us be clear that a Cooper education is neither free nor, therefore, guaranteed as a right, and that what we are debating is who should pay for it. Or, to be more precise, we are debating whether or not a portion of the cost of a Cooper education should be borne by its students.
Historically the costs of an education at Cooper have been paid for in a variety of ways. We were reminded by Professor Buckley that the seductive but very misleading phrase “as free as air and water” was first used by Abraham Hewett at the very moment when Andrew Carnegie had agreed to double Cooper Union’s endowment and thereby effectively pay the lion’s share of the costs of a Cooper education in 1901, and for many years thereafter. And in Cooper’s 110-year history since, there have been many generous benefactors who have followed Carnegie’s lead. The costs of a Cooper education have also long been paid for by speculation on the value of real estate investments and on the prescience, or the sheer luck, of owning the plot of land under the Chrysler Building (imagine the fortunes of the school if that parcel of land had happened to be a couple of blocks north or south). More recently, the costs of a Cooper education have apparently been paid for by a variety of financial maneuvers designed to maximize profits on various kinds of assets, some of which have proved to be egregiously wrongheaded and irresponsible, in 20/20 hindsight. The costs of a Cooper education have also been paid for in part by the people who teach here, almost any of whom could command a higher salary at another, private institution, but who have chosen to make this contribution to maintaining the model at Cooper, in the spirit of what Dean Hejduk called the profound social act and the privilege of teaching here. All of these factors have contributed historically to paying the costs of a Cooper education; some of these methods may no longer be valid, indeed we may be discovering that some of them were never quite as robust as we were led to believe. But what we are debating now is the balance of these methods and whether exempting one group from contributing directly to the costs of education at Cooper can continue to be a viable model for the school.
2 ‘Principles and Rights’: Many voices in the debate have invoked principle: first principles, historical principles, inviolable principles. And it seems critically important that we try to identify the principles on which our arguments are based and the principles that risk being compromised by any actions we might consider. But next to ‘free education’ and ‘free speech’ there is, I think, another principle that has received little discussion in what’s been said to date and which seems to be vital to the essence of any school, especially this one; put most succinctly it is: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. It is a principle most often attributed to Marx and turned into a slogan in his Critique of the Gotha Program of 1875 but its origins go back more than a century earlier to the French Enlightenment, to Saint-Simon and others who were also responsible for articulating the right to education, and to free speech. Indeed the origins of this principle are arguably found in the New Testament. In its most generic reading, neither communist, utopian socialist or Christian, it seems the very foundation of the teaching methods and creative work that Cooper tries to foster as the basis for educating students: all are encouraged to contribute of their talents as they can and as much as they can; all are invited to take from this collective effort what they require to the greatest extent they are able; each will thus have an education that suits his or her own interests, abilities and convictions.
Of course this principle might also be considered in terms of paying the costs of a Cooper education. While there are assuredly students at Cooper for whom paying tuition would simply mean the end of their education, there are just as assuredly students who could pay some tuition, perhaps a tuition equivalent to that of the other schools to which they applied before gaining acceptance to Cooper. If one believes that a principle of egalitarianism and fairness constitutes the ethos of our student body and that this is the basis on which education at Cooper should proceed, then the question is: does a foundational standard of fairness and egalitarianism across the student body preclude any acknowledgement of differences in financial status and ability to assume costs? This, it seems to me, is a question very much worth debating.
3 ‘Compared to what’: Unless we are prepared to allow the possibility that Cooper will cease to exist, this entire debate is perforce framed as a choice among alternative futures. While none of us is clairvoyant, we have a responsibility to stake our claims in comparative terms and to be as honest about their probable consequences as our limited knowledge of the future allows us to be. This requires us to look at financial doomsday predictions with concerned skepticism and energetic criticism, but it also requires us to evaluate dispassionately (to the extent that we can) what the impact of an unbending appeal to historical principle may be on the school we all seek to protect, and see prosper.
Some questions and concerns generated from a review of the 2006 – 2009 990′s:
We welcome any response or further information.
1) We are trying to figure out the annual investment returns on
CU’s portfolio. The Form 990s don’t really break down the
different components between (i)returns from the investment
portfolio, (ii)returns (plus tax benefits) from the real estate
portfolio and (iii) drawdowns from the investment portfolio to fund
The reason we are looking at this is because the MetLife loan $32M
in excess of what was needed. Apparently the trustees thought it
was a good idea to get this much extra and invest it in the hopes
of making more than 5.87% (the interest rate), which in itself was
likely a high benchmark in 2006 given how conservative CU needed to
be, but it would be really something given the interest rate
environment since 2008.
Are the financials online? Are they public? Also, the statements for 2010 and 2011 would be great.
2) Next, if our reading of their old debt (the Dormitory Authority
of the State of New York bonds) is correct, they were paying 5.53%
on $97M worth of bonds in Fiscal 2007. We have no idea why they
took out a higher interest rate loan to pay off a lower interest
rate loan, which added approximately $0.3M in interest expense each
Can we get a better idea of what they were thinking?
3) We are not getting the same revenue/expenditure figures as TC
has provided per the November 9, 2011 letter titled ‘Cooper Union
Finance Update’. For example, according to the From 990, revenue
and expenses were $47,245,255.00 and $65,502,719.00 respectively.
But the graph points to figures of approximately $47M for revenue
and $60M for expenses. We get similar understatements of expenses
for 2008, 2007 and 2006 (haven’t looked at pre-2006 numbers yet).
We would be curious to know how they are reconciling their expenses
to be less than the figures reported in their Form 990.
4) Why was Mr. George Campbell awarded $175,000 in bonuses each
year in 2007, 2008, 2009 (do not have 2010 and 2011 figures, and
haven’t look at pre-2006 numbers) while the deficit gap was
5) Something that might be of interest: from 2006 to 2009, CU has
paid Jonathan Rose Companies $2M to supervise the construction of
the new building. The owner of this contractor is Jonathan F.P.
We believe Sandra Priest Rose is Johnathon’s mother. She is also a trustee at CU.
So wow! That was a crazy march on Wednesday! We took the streets! But before the march to Foley Square, there was a student convergence in Union Square, and I said some things about Cooper Union. This is what I meant to say (I ended up skipping a bit at the end because it is hard to communicate long sentences in four-word waves):
“I’m from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. If you’ve heard of my school it’s probably because every accepted student receives a full-tuition scholarship.
We just learned that that might change.
Our financial situation is terminally bad and without drastic change Cooper will close within three years.
Most of us are horrified that tuition is being considered, even as a last resort. But not just for fiscal reasons. This is also a philosophical issue.
The scholarship does more than remove a huge amount of potential debt. It creates a unique environment of equality and ethics. The relationships between students and teachers are radically different from the normal American college, where diffusion of knowledge is bound to the exchange of money.
But what’s really special, beyond the quality of the community, is that receiving a full-tuition scholarship with their acceptance letter tells every student, “YOU ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN YOUR FAMILY’S MATERIAL ASSETS.
YOUR POTENTIAL TO MAKE A CREATIVE AND ENLIGHTENED CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR ABILITY TO PAY TUITION.”
During this struggle remember Cooper Union as a model of what an educational institution could be. An institution can treat people as ends in themselves, rather than as means to generate capital.
Even if Cooper changes, let its ideal live on: EDUCATION SHOULD BE AS FREE AS AIR AND WATER.”
I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in electrical engineering in 2001, and I moved to Japan a year later to pursue my career. I have not been back to the Bowery since then and did not keep tabs on Cooper, as I had faith that it would be the same unique and challenging institution of higher learning in 2059 as it was in 1859. I recently did a nostalgic Google walk through the old campus and was shocked to see the new 41 Cooper Square where the old Hewitt Building once stood. As an “outside” observer, my first reaction was that things must be going very well for such dramatic changes to be taking place during a global financial crisis. After writing a quick note to re-engage with one of my professors, I learned the reality is quite different – there is a very real threat that the school will no longer be able to continue the founder’s mission of providing a high quality, tuition-free education.
Across the country, there are protestors gathered who feel that the “the system” is unfair and has left them at a material disadvantage. Among their supporters are people who incurred substantial debt to pursue a college degree that they believed would help them to provide for their families and make a meaningful contribution to society. Unfortunately this vision has not become reality, and they are left with nothing but crushed dreams and crushing debt. I will always feel that the biggest advantage I had when I entered the “real” world was that I did not start with a punishing debt load. The only burden I bore when leaving Cooper was the burden of choice – the education I received provided such a solid foundation and so many opportunities that my sole concern was how to make the most of such a generous gift.
I currently work in finance in Tokyo, but it is not a career I intend to pursue for the rest of my working life. Some day I will come back to the United States and reboot my education and career, and the most powerful tool at my disposal is my degree from Cooper Union. For the benefit of all students and alumni I would like Cooper to do whatever is necessary to maintain its reputation for providing an education that is both free and “equal to the best”. This has probably been said many times before, but I will say it again here: what’s done is done, and the people in charge need to decide the best path to move forward, regardless of who is “responsible” for the current predicament. All the facts of the current financial situation need to be exposed to all stakeholders, and all options for solving the problems must be considered in an open and constructive format. There must be a way through this that will leave the soul of Cooper intact.
My education was as free as air and water. I hope that we never know a world where clean air and water have become so scarce that they are no longer free… and I hope that I never see a world where a Cooper Union education is no longer free to those willing to put in the time and effort to obtain it.
Professor Stephen Rustow’s comment is highly articulate and thoroughly reasoned. He asks us to consider words and their meanings carefully, and also to be scrupulous and measured—-not demagogic or overly emotional—-in what we say or write. Then he unfortunately releases a fog of words that could have been condensed into a few precise sentences stating, for one, that we should not cling too tightly to principles. Rather, we should face the reality of Cooper’s financial situation and be flexible, bending our principles—-inherited or presumed—-as the contingencies of reality demand.
The only problem with his point of view is that, by definition, principles cannot be bent. A principle either holds or it is no longer a principle.
I do believe that The Cooper Union is founded on principles, established at the founding of the school. The key principle is that the school’s students should not be required to pay tuition as a requisite for studying and graduating. That’s it. That’s the principle. Never mind the equivocating that took place at the outset that required some “amateurs” to pay to attend classes—-that was never more than a side issue, one that was clarified when, at the turn of the 20th century, all tuition was eliminated.
Now, why is this principle important? Why is it worth carrying forward into our present time and beyond, whatever the sacrifices required?
The answer is not subject to debate, to re-evaluation, but is simply that the school is founded on a principle of meritocracy. Those people who have demonstrated the desire and ability to learn shall be admitted to a program of study, regardless of their ability to pay, or not pay, tuition. That’s it. That’s the principle. If it gets bent into some semblance of principle—-that a few who can pay should and will—-there is no principle. The principle arises from a belief in economic equality. Having halfway equality is like being halfway pregnant. Such a thing doesn’t exist.
In our present consumer society, it is very easy to accept economic inequality and the values that go with it. Peter Cooper lived in not only a different era, but also one in which the consequences of economic inequality in America were just beginning to become obvious. What made him a visionary was that he saw the future coming, didn’t like what he saw, and put his personal resources into making what he believed would be a better future. How many of us are willing to do that today?
The Cooper Union is a symbol of a better, more just, future. It must withstand the pressures to give up its principles, conforming to the mass psychology of consumerism, or the contingencies, the various crises, of the moment. It is truly a matter of life or death.
The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
I think we all recognize that our Cooper Union faces an existential crisis.
“I for one, have been blessed with…a moment in education…where I have had…A Social Contract and many of the people sitting today in this audience, have made my life…more understandable, because of their understanding of the Social Contract.”
It is not that: The Cooper Union holds up free education, but that free education holds up The Cooper Union.
It is not that: we can no longer afford to: freely educate, but that we cannot afford to break the promise of Free Education
The largest single financial asset that the Cooper Union currently holds is its promise of free education: TO ALL. The value contained within this promise far exceeds our current endowment as well as the physical properties held by the institution including the land under the Chrysler Building.
Our challenge and obligation, our social contract, is to comprehend and make more understandable how to mobilize the resources contained within this promise.
Peter Cooper was directly involved in countless inventions. There are three specific inventions that offer direct lessons to the questions we face. When this Foundation Building was constructed it was one of the tallest buildings in New York City. It contained an elevator shaft that waited four years until Elisha Otis invented the ‘safety elevator’, an elevator containing a mechanism that secured the elevator cab if the cable was cut. This securing mechanism mitigated the risk of injury or loss from collapse and created the credibility necessary for the elevator to be widely used by the public.
The safety elevator removed the vertical barrier of walking above eight stories and the city EXPLODED upwards, creating an entirely new geography of human inhabitation. Removing the vertical barrier, mobilized the resources, that fueled the 150-year vertical rise that is: New York City.
Peter Cooper was also directly involved in pulling the Trans-Atlantic Cable between the two continents, compressing weeks into seconds, in the exchange of: information and ideas. The Trans-Atlantic cable removed the communications barrier of shipping speeds and the exchange of ideas EXPLODED between the two continents, creating an entirely new geography of human interaction and exchange. Removing the communication barrier mobilized the resources that fueled the 150-year continuous transformation of Global communications.
The massive resources invested in creating each of these transformations were mobilized as a direct result of removing barriers and articulating a credible vision of the consequences of their removal.
Peter Cooper’s years of struggle in pulling the Trans-Atlantic cable were overcome by his clarity of vision, that through this connection. “Knowledge shall cover the earth as waters the deep”
Articulating this vision, keeping this promise, required the third invention, I believe, Peter Coopers greatest invention: the removal of barriers to education. Education is by definition a transformative pursuit, individuals come together and engage in transformative interactions and experiences: Knowledge evolves. Creating circumstances of proximity and interaction among a great multiplicity of ideas and questions, leads to mutual transformation and new forms of knowledge. In creating The Cooper Union, Peter Cooper invested in the profound idea that removing the barriers to education creates a dynamic crucible of free thought where a great diversity of people and their questions can interact and co-evolve, developing new linkages, new thought processes and new questions. Peter Cooper understood that the barriers to education were not only unjust to those that they excluded, but those barriers impoverished the internal life of an institution. Barring any segment of the population creates a diminished geography of human knowledge and experience within the educational community.
Like the vertical barrier removed by the safety elevator, the invention of The Cooper Union, removed the artificial age limit above which people could freely participate in the transformative interactions of education. Like the Trans-Atlantic cable, the removal of the financial barriers to education collapsed the distances within the vast and uneven geographies of resource distribution and accumulation, bringing into direct proximity those who would otherwise have an ocean between them. Removing the barriers to education creates an entirely new geography of human: proximity, interaction and transformation, a new geography of knowledge and imagination. The value and meaning of the Trans-Atlantic cable and the global communications revolution that it unleashed is found in the exchange of: knowledge and ideas that pass through it. The Cooper Union is Peter Cooper’s greatest transformative invention, because it creates transformation itself. It is the invention that sustains invention and contributes to the continuously expanding universe of knowledge that elevates mankind.
There are many forms of interaction where the introduction of a financial barrier to participation dramatically alters the meaning of the interaction. I would offer the example of participatory democracy. While the process of participatory democracy requires the mobilization of vast resources, gathered together from all of the participants, requiring an individual fee to participate in voting would alter the meaning of the process, to such an extent, that it would collapse the value of participation, it would no longer be participatory democracy.
In fact, the ultimate safety device, the mechanism that secures individual agency and gives credibility to all forms of collective judgment is the: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each and every Right guaranteed by this United Nations declaration requires the mobilization of resources. These rights are of such fundamental value to mankind that the burden of these resources must be borne by US ALL. Assigning an individual fee to those who are the supposed beneficiaries of these rights is to collapse the value of all of our rights. I imagine this principle was in mind when crafting: Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Article that designates education as a Human Right and specifically says: “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” They must have been quoting Peter Cooper.
This institution is a shining demonstration of the transformative powers of removing the barriers to education. We have been pulling this cable for 150 years and now we face the risk that we are out of resources, that our debt load is too heavy and the only way to keep moving forward, may be to “cut the cable”
and introduce the barrier of tuition. This would not be moving forward at all, this would be a collapse in the value of the entire endeavor. For, in this journey, there is no other shore to reach; we are pulling the continuously expanding geographies of knowledge and imagination. The distance traveled creates the geography itself as we continue to move forward. Cutting the cable is not the solution; we must invent and construct the safety mechanisms that secure the continuous evolution of knowledge without barriers. We must articulate a credible vision of the value and consequences of removing the barriers to education, and this WILL mobilize the resources to continue the journey. As a way-finder at sea, uses the force of the storm to out-run the storm
we must keep the promise of free education to all, in order to secure the many promises of free education to all.
In moments of existential crisis, time has a tendency to collapse, whole chains of events that may usually require years and decades to unfold, suddenly happen overnight. If we can get this right, if we can articulate a model that secures the credible promise of education without barriers, the transformative consequences will far exceed those of the ‘safety elevator’ and the Trans-Atlantic cable. We will have shifted the trajectory, unleashing new geographies of knowledge beyond our wildest imaginations.
There is a city to be built rising above the geography of our current models of education, a city built upon the many promises of education without barriers. A new city elevating mankind through the transformative forces of: Knowledge, Imagination and Ideas.
December 5, 2011
The Great Hall of The Cooper Union
Imagine that you’re sailing on the ocean from one island to another. Somewhere along the way, you realize that you’re not sure where you’re coming from or where you’re going. Your eyes meet the horizon and it surrounds you. That sight is terrifying… but it is also beautiful. The only things you have are your ship, yourself and some vague idea of what land is. It is best to refrain from anger and to keep the sails full and the boat moving and most important to hold on tight to that idea; the idea of the real existence of land.
I feel extremely privileged to be a student of Cooper Union. I am a student of an institution which currently gives all its students a full tuition scholarship. Peter Cooper infused this building with the idea that an education, equal to the best, should be made accessible to all. Cooper Union cannot provide this quality of education to all seven billion people of the world or even two thousand people for that matter. However, Cooper Union has long proven its profound ability to provide a phenomenal education to just over nine hundred spirited students every year. Every student, then, upon acceptance into this school, is bestowed the responsibility to represent seven and a half million people whose circumstance did not allow them to enter through these doors. To me that is an incredible privilege that comes with an immense responsibility.
The education that we receive is one that fosters leaders who think critically, clearly and creatively. It is our responsibility to disseminate the fruits of the highest quality of education one can receive; to be leaders in every respect.
Education is a seed planted and expected to grow and flourish so that its fruits can be reaped. And more seeds can be planted. It is an investment in the existence of a future world that is better than the present.
Since every student graduates with the mind of a leader, every good leader should know that their time is short and continuity is necessary for success. How can WE ensure that there is a steady stream of unique, creative minds with a Cooper Union education gushing into the world every year forever?
The current problem with continuity must be solved in order to reaffirm the legacy of Peter Cooper and fortify the pure idea that is the fruit of that legacy. Current Cooper Union Students have begun to build that bridge that will materialize this necessary continuity. We have embarked on a campaign to accomplish a 100% donation rate from students at Cooper. Student donors to this fund have signed their name under a pledge that seeks to forever eradicate any vulnerability of the core of Cooper Union, to the forces that seek to dismantle it. The promise is our investment towards a better future for us and for this school. We must begin to fulfill that promise now. It is borne out of the privilege earned in coming here and the inherited responsibility of leadership towards a better future.
I will now recite the pledge and the conditions under which it is valid:
Because I have inherited the responsibility to continue a tradition of ensuring that Cooper Union provides a priceless education of equal or greater quality to the others that will succeed me, I promise that I will give to Cooper Union what I am able to now, and I will continue to give annually for as long as I live, once the Cooper Union remains true to its core. I promise to be involved in maintaining and building on the resilience and solidity of that core.
I promise this under the condition that Cooper Union accepts students solely based on merit and awards every student a full tuition scholarship for their entire matriculating period.
Let us come together in this continued effort to eradicate any possibility of a recurrence of this threat of contamination of the Pure Education that we all enjoy now.
Back in 1962 the Cooper Union Freshman Orientation was a weekend at Green Camp, in Ringwood, NJ, the old Peter Cooper Estate. We were all told in very clear terms that the mission of Cooper Union was: a free education based on merit for the most talented and hard working students, and IF THEY EVER HAD TO CHARGE TUITION, THE SCHOOL MUST CLOSE ITS DOORS.
Despite what you may hear, this was the mantra of The Cooper Union, as told to us by the administration of the school. I did not invent this.
It was repeated at my wife’s freshman orientation at Green Camp in 1964.
It was understood to be so by my friend and mentor, Renee Darvin, when I was a high school art teacher. She was a 1950’s Cooper Art graduate, and went on to become one of the most inspiring art educators the city has ever had. She was for a time the Arts Director for all of the City of New York schools. There is a scholarship fund at Columbia Teachers College in her name established by the grateful students and colleagues in her memory. At her memorial service the number of people she inspired who could show up could not even fit into the large chapel, and spilled out to the sidewalks.
She would prepare high school seniors in portfolio class to apply to various schools, and to tell them about this gem, this unique institution, this holy grail in the pursuit of excellence, and that it was free, always MUST BE FREE and that is why it could select only the best, the brightest and the most committed. She would say, THEY MUST KEEP IT TUITION-FREE OR CLOSE THE DOORS.
Were we all being misled as to the mission of Cooper?
Whatever you hear, remember, it once was clear. Beware of rhetoric that muddies the waters.
For decades, members of the Board of Trustees have strived to keep The Cooper Union solvent while preserving both the excellence of its educational offerings and the full-tuition scholarship policy. This has required extraordinary efforts. Indeed, providing a high quality education without having the benefit of tuition income has necessitated the sale of institutional assets over many years.
In difficult financial times such as these, all higher education institutions are facing financial stresses. The possibility of charging tuition is only one of several alternatives the Revenue Task Force comprised of alumni, faculty, and students will be examining over the coming months; it is by no means predetermined that future students will be paying tuition for what our current students have received without charge. But one thing is certain: both the Trustees and the President remain committed to the goal of ensuring access to education for students with demonstrated financial need.
Recently, I had the opportunity to live in close parameters to Cooper Union. In exception to first year, not too many students have this opportunity - which is unfortunate and a direct reflection of the cultural and economic corruption in the city right now.
Living close to Cooper was one of the most edifying experiences I have had while at school. The parameters of the intitution bled into the rest of the city. THIS is why our education is, and should remain, free as water and air. Our education is not “systemetized” or regulated by any economic constraints. In contrast, we graduate free thinkers and builders. Our education derives from an individual experience, from our own rhetoric as students, our own language, and our own questions. We have the ability to utilize tools and instruments that we have been equipped with to speak to the rest of the world.
Walking around the historic streets of Lower Manhattan, talking to the neighbors, volunteering, and participating in neighborhood events, not only opened up amazing opportunities, but has been a keystone in my education here at Cooper. The fact-of-the-matter is is that the city is pushing out everyone who cannot afford to live in New York City. This is unfortunate because communities are deteriorating; my neighbors are being kicked out of their apartment of thirty-plus years, and small businesses are decemating. The people who have invested themselves in this amazing city for the past years are slowly being kicked out. Where is the muse? Where are all of the artists going?
It is not by coincidence that Cooper Union is stationed right inbetween Greenwich Village and the East Village - both, historical places of protest and social reform, places of art, writing, and intervention. For example, Tompkins Square Park housed many protests including The Communist Rally of 1877, twenty-two years after the establishment of the Foundation Building. Also, La Plaza Cultural Community Park, located on 9th and C is another historical Anarchist assembly space and theater. Greenwich Village and the East Village housed and birthed thousands of free-thinkers and artists, infusing this part of Manhattan with culture, social reform, and a voice.
As you might have read walking along the black and white floors in the Great Hall hall, Peter Cooper built The Cooper Union Foundation Building in an intersticial space between the lower class communities and upper class communities in 1859, at a phenomenal time in our nation’s history. The Foundation Building itself is a very specific space derived for community intervention. The neighborhoods that grew around our school over time is great proof that Peter Cooper’s vision was vast and timeless.
Peter Cooper emphasized the education of art as an insturment to liberate the underclass - to give them a voice. Not only this, but to then provide a sacred space for this type of art to be executed.
In conclusion, I would like to propose an individual observation and question, that I need help answering neighbors (email@example.com):
On behalf of the student community, I am proposing more transparency of where our ideas are being utilized and how to financially benefit from that process instead of relying on the students to pay tuition.
Firstly, as the city comes to this sacred space during thesis presentations, senior shows, and the End of the Year Show - in other words, as the institution literally turns inside-out and transforms programatically into a museum — a place for edification, of national identity — how is our art being utilized by corporations, by mass media, by this “bigger force” that capitalzies on our ideas? This is a critical question because no longer do we live in a city where individuals invest themselves in their community, but rather, where corporations invest money for research to generate money for themselves and to control the mass.
How does Cooper benefit (financially) from this? I am not proposing that the End of the Year Show should not be open to the public, especially because other institutions like the MET do not promote higher education and healthy national identity (due to the display of fake artifacts), but rather, I am proposing that there be some sort of transparency between the benefitors of our art and questioning where their financical contributions are.
Non=neighbors, or those who flood into the East Village for drinks in the night, or even those who are utilizing our ideas: our art is an observation of a natural phenomena located in our neighborhood and school - most marketers, urban planners, and other imitators can only sell the aesthetics. The process of creating the art peice is essential to the art, and because of this, I find great peace and liberty.
We are an amazing community of talented individuals who grew up in an environment of social reform -
The End of the Year show should not be marketed to big corporations, but rather, should be a space to display of our voices, our questions, and our observations. By doing this, we liberate all those who walk in and out of the school — our neighbors, our families, and our friends. We have been blessed by asking Big Questions; moreover, we have been equipped with tools to share these Big Questions.
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!
Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
I’ll use the occasion of Professor Rustow’s pointed, clarifying remarks in response to my comments, to express my disappointment with my faculty colleagues. Aside from a bare handful whose posts appear here, they have been entirely absent from our discussions on this website. I find this difficult to understand and even harder to accept.
Most of us are on one or multiple-year contracts, so fear of reprisal for critical remarks (if any exists) affects us all equally. If the absent faculty are “waiting to see which way the wind blows” (a sad possibility), they won’t have much longer to wait, as the Board of Trustees will be voting on the imposition of tuition in a month or so, after which time our discussions will become post-facto irrelevancies. The time to make our considered opinions clear to the Board is now. I hope our intelligent and engaged faculty will delay no longer in speaking up and out.
I apologize unreservedly for any offence that I may have caused through my comments on public forums associated with The Cooper Union – or through quotes attributed to me in the Pioneer. No offence was ever intended or implied. My comments were directed towards process and procedure – not individuals – and were made without full access to all the information. It was never my intention to insult, tarnish or damage the reputation of the school, the administration or the President.
I believe that everyone connected with The Cooper Union is truly invested in its success, the continuance of its mission and the pursuit of excellence. I also believe that each party desperately wishes to contribute to the current
discussion, to know that its voice and perspective are heard and considered.
Since his arrival, President Bharucha has worked tirelessly to listen to all constituencies. I respectfully suggest that open and transparent discussion amongst all alumni, staff, students, faculty and administration be facilitated and promoted to enable each to understand the perspectives of the other and so address fully and directly any misconceptions or misunderstandings.
Once opened, these discussion channels should be respected, nurtured and cherished as we all work together to move The Cooper Union through this difficult time.