At 'Teach-In' Cooper Union Community Grapples With Tuition Proposal

Friday, November 04, 2011

Cooper Union (Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC)

Cooper Union students, faculty and alumni are pitching fundraising ideas as the school's administration considers charging tuition for the first time to address a $16.5 million budget deficit.

On a series of websites and facebook pages, they propose renting space for events, creating easier ways for alumni to donate and even lowering the heat in school buildings during winter to save money. The push comes after Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha announced Monday that charging tuition was one of the options on the table to raise revenue, a move that sparked an outcry from the school community.

"I would hate to see a place where some students are paying and some students aren't," said design professor Mindy Lang, who is also a Cooper Union alumna. "It would just change everything about this place."

At a so-called "teach-in" Friday morning, the Cooper Union community met to hash out what charging tuition would mean for the 152-year-old institution.

At the meeting in Cooper Union's Great Hall, history professor Peter Buckley, a 23-year veteran faculty member, gave a talk on the school's history of admitting the best students regardless of need.

"The very core of the institution is the idea that education should be free," he said after the event. "Peter Cooper, the founder, had one primary horror: The horror of debt. He believed that if you got into debt, you're always someone else's servant."

The teach-in is the latest in a series of events this week aimed at drawing attention to the tuition proposal. The director of admissions spoke about how the plan would affect competing with other universities for applicants. The director of development highlighted the need to pull in more donations from alumni.

The administration has not made any details public, and a Cooper Union spokeswoman did not respond to a request for information about the tuition proposal.

In an open letter posted on Cooper Union's website on Tuesday, President Bharucha called the school's financial model "structurally unsustainable."



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Comments [2]

Andrew Leader from Cooper Union

Everybody understands the school's dire financial situation. The key is to ensure that Cooper's cultural and philosophical ideals are preserved as the school restructures its finances, whether that restructuring includes charging a tuition or otherwise.

The major call for concern is the lack of transparency with which the administration, specifically the board of trustees, has been handling the issue. The major spokesman for the administration has been President Bharucha, who, as a newcomer, had no idea what he was getting himself into, culturally.

Cooper Union stands for an idea, more than anything. Having an incredible history of events upholding the right of free speech and thought, I say without hyperbole that Cooper has been a pillar of freedom in the United States since its founding in 1859. Cooper continues to demonstrate what freedom means, in all its forms and powers.

Of this idea, each member of the Cooper family is a stakeholder. Guiding the school through this crucial period is truly a momentous challenge, and the only way to give these positive attributes of the school the best possible chances of survival are to open up to the entire Cooper community, in honest and brutal transparency.

Nov. 05 2011 02:07 AM
Betsy Alwin from Cooper Union

The problem with a tuition model is that it is unclear where the line will be drawn between those who are able to pay and those who are not. How would this be determined? Would a potential student of high calibre be discouraged to apply if they were a middle-class son or daughter? Furthermore, how would this affect admissions? We have been told that it would not affect the merit based admission policy but if you have to close a $16.5M budget gap, would this influence, somehow, the admissions process?

Though at first it may seem logical, obvious even, to charge tuition to those who could "afford" it, this would seriously erode the mission of the school. Cooper stands for how education should be. Free. And though we all know that SOMEONE has to pay for it, I feel that it is the responsibility of alumni and trustees who have the burden of legacy to ensure this survives.

Nov. 04 2011 09:04 PM

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