Open Letter to Mark Epstein

Toby Cumberbatch November 4, 2011

Dear Mr. Epstein

We learn from the Daily News that The Cooper Union is broke (

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.


Toby Cumberbatch
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