Cooper Union Students Protest Possible Tuition Fees

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Twelve students at The Cooper Union continue to barricade themselves in a studio room in the school’s Foundation Building with three demands of their administration, including the resignation of the school’s president, Jamshed Bharucha, and that the school remain tuition free.

The institution, which has been tuition free for 110 years, announced last spring that it would have to implement tuition for its graduate students. Now, students are worried about the possibility of the school charging tuition for undergraduates, too.

On Monday an anonymous source released a detailed committee report to members of Students for a Free Cooper Union, which discussed the possibility of charging tuition to undergraduate students in the future. The report noted that within 10 years, students could end up paying between $40,000 and $80,000 in tuition fees.

Students say it’s not just tuition at The Cooper Union that is at issue, but the high cost of higher education in general. They argue that education should be accessible for all, not just those who can pay.

“Universal accessibility to free education is the only way that a democracy can function,” said fifth year architecture student and student protest organizer Jake Lee. “We’ve been shifting away into a more commodified version of what education is.”

The Cooper Union has said in a statement that the views of the students that barricaded themselves in the room beginning Monday afternoon “do not reflect the views of a student population of approximately 1,000 architects, artists and engineers.” 

Dilan Raycheavicci, a sophomore at the Cooper Union studying Art and Painting, noted there is a divide between arts students and engineering students on the issue. “Everyone in the art school is supporting this, I mean the engineers are not stricken so hard cause they're not having classes cut and these chances taken away from them,” he explained.

He’s against the idea of implementing tuition for its undergraduate students, saying the idea of accepting students solely based on merit encourages them to “do something with their knowledge, instead of having to constantly grind in an office to pay off a debt.”

In a statement, The Cooper Union said “the effort to develop and implement a financially sustainable plan is critical to the institution’s survival.” Proposals for The Cooper Union schools to meet that end will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees with a decision expected by early 2013.

Tuition at the tuition free school is currently valued at $38,550.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that The Cooper Union has been tuition free since its founding in 1859. It has been tuition free since 1902.


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Comments [20]

wong lee from nyc

We only value that...what we pay for.

Feb. 27 2013 08:27 AM
Barry from New York

The ratio of engineering, art, architecture is 3:2:1, not 4:2:1. The number of engineering students is a fraction of the number of engineering alumni, and the engineering alumni - on the alumni council, in the media - have been more active organizing public events, researching and analyzing the facts, and proposing real alternatives to undergraduate and graduate tuition models at Cooper. There was an early disconnect between engineering alumni and engineering students, and engineering student leaders were persuaded early by a false set of narratives from the administration. The most heinous of these false narratives was a "blame the alumni" narrative derived from diverting large alumni donations from the annual fund to the capital campaign, making the percentage (and amounts) of alumni giving appear to be much smaller than it actually was. And see the silly 1859 to 1902 back to 1859 lies occurring on this thread.

The students were given a Sophie's Choice - raise revenue or reduce academics. Unlike adults, the students (especially the undergraduates) don't understand economics, accounting, unions, overhead, and the like, and the engineers are accustomed to trusting authority figures, and many need letters of recommendation for graduate schools and the like. There are academic politics, media politics, and class politics at play at The Cooper Union - politics that cannot be easily discussed in a few paragraphs or in a short radio segment.

The art students and alumni are better at getting a short attention-getting message out to the media, but the media - especially NPR and WNYC - would do well to delve deeper into what has actually happened and what is actually happening at the institution.

Dec. 25 2012 11:23 PM
Michael Heaviside from NYC

As a guy who reads things on the internet, I would say how would 11 (or 12 I keep reading differing accounts) artists truly represent the feelings of all the schools? I mean, I know that the art and architecture schools are pretty much supporting this but the engineering school, aka the majority( if I recall correctly the student ratio is arch:1 to art:2 to eng:4), are kind of split from what I hear. Almost every quote that I've read on the interwebs about this has been from an art or architecture student. What about the engineers? This is probably why the administration insists that a "silent" majority agrees with them...

Also I've heard from alumni that the school division problem has been going on for decades. The recent events have only brought it to attention.

Dec. 06 2012 02:04 PM
Amy from Brooklyn

As an alumus of the Cooper Union, I fully support the 11. Free Education for All.

Dec. 06 2012 12:28 PM
Susanna Coffey from NYC

These students have a great deal of support, from a majority of Cooper students student, from many Cooper alums and from the arts and arts education community. Cooper play an important role in the cultural life of our country. It's tuition free policy ensures that student body represents our citizenry, that young people from all economic situations have the opportunity to receive a first class education. This opportunity is quickly disappearing from our academic landscape as first class educations are mostly available to those who can afford the $30,000-$40,000 a year. For young artists and architects there is no career path that can support the debt of such an education. Peter Cooper had a vision of the kind of contributions " his" students would make to our country, and indeed they have. It is a shame that we accept as a fact that his idea is unsupportable. Why should the future of Cooper's students be compromised to pay for a bloated administration and irresponsible management? Isn't this an important story? WNYC should pay better attention to the facts of this situation.

Dec. 06 2012 12:15 PM
Curtis B from Manhattan

As an architecture alumni ('75) and activist architect in New York I am thrilled and 100% in support of the Cooper Eleven. The school MUST find new leadership, MUST open its books, and MUST remain a full tuition scholarship meritocracy. Any other model isn't Cooper.

Dec. 05 2012 06:35 PM
Andy Pressman

As an alumni and former adjunct faculty member, I stand with the occupying and protesting students, and support their demands. The administration and board have spent the past year obfuscating the situation and discrediting demands for transparency; a correction is needed.

Dec. 05 2012 02:47 PM
Pablo Diaz

WNYC should review the available information further and give a more complete account of the events. The students who occupied the PC Suite and the general outrage of the student body and alumni is not due to so much to the financial state of the school, as this is now unavoidable, given decades of bad economic decisions that have brought us here, by past presidents and trustees, many of which form part of the current board. Rather we are reacting to the lack of transparency coming from the administration and board of trustees since RUMORS of tuition started last year. A complete account of how the school got to this financial state has not been disclosed. Instead the blame was put on lack of fund raising from the alumni.

The issue of the ricing cost of tuition and national debt as keeps being reported, is not why these students have occupied the PC Suite. They have done so because they have lost trust in the people who are changing the history of the school (and on a side note, the look of Astor Place with the recent towering glass buildings).

The president lives rent free in a townhouse -which is property of Cooper Union- on Stuyvesant street, that should instead be working as an investment to raise money for the school.

Dec. 05 2012 01:30 PM
Kerry again

I want to add that I believe Cooper's educational model should neither be destroyed nor preserved in amber, but replicated nationwide. Time to invest in real and tuition-free human-to-human education again, just like Peter Cooper, Andrew Carnegie Abram Hewitt and generations of other philanthropists did at Cooper. This is why they put their money down, and I support the Cooper Eleven because they believe this was and is an investment critical to our future.

Dec. 05 2012 01:08 PM
Kerry at MacDowell from Peter Cooper Suite, in spirit

To the point: some engineering students have been fed misinformation by an irresponsible administration and are being used as pawns in this endgame. Thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff and friends from Engineering, Art, and Architecture STAND WITH THE ELEVEN. THOUSANDS. We have been petitioning Bharucha and the Trustees for an honest and productive dialogue for OVER A YEAR only to be lied to and dismissed. Only now that the Eleven have put their bodies and lives on the line are we being taken seriously. Visit any of the websites -, (there is a timeline if the history of this movement in The Way Forward), and more for proof.

Dear Cooper Eleven, as an Engineering alumna (2000) who also enjoyed 2 years in the Art School and flirted with the School of Architecture too, I am in touch with hundreds of people from all schools. We stand with you, Cooper Eleven. I am standing in solidarity with you from the MacDowell Colony, where  I am a current writing fellow. I stand in solidarity with you as an engineer and civil servant with over ten years of experience working for the people of NYC. I stand with you as a Cooper graduate who once came from a place, geographic, socioeconomic and experiential, where never in a million years would I have found the kind of strength, support, inspiration and affirmation I've needed to do the work I do without this school and its full-tuition scholarship policy. Cooper was founded and endowed on the principle that money should be no barrier to an education, but also that class and social standing should be no internalized barrier to the ambitious and talented among us. Peter Cooper fiercely believed these things should not divide us and prevent us from working together - that's the "Union" in Cooper Union. From the "pizza lift," which I am told engineers worked on as well as artists, to the work we've all done together over the last year to try and sort this mess out, the Union is alive as ever.

You have inspired us all once more, and we stand with you to ensure future generations also have the unique and necessary opportunities Cooper was founded to provide. On behalf of alumni everywhere, thank you.

Dec. 05 2012 12:38 PM
Alexander Cameron

As an alumni and adjunct faculty member, I fully support the actions and demands of the occupying students and their peers on the ground. Over the course of the past year the administration has continually sought to undermine the position of these students and an extended network of alumni and faculty by referring to a "silent majority" that supports the administration. This "silent majority" is a complete fiction. I stand with Free Cooper Union.

Dec. 05 2012 12:35 PM
Peter Buckley from Brooklyn

As the historian at Cooper Union I'd like to make a correction to WNYC's correction above. With the exception of a small number of amateur students in the women's Day School of Art all students in certificate or degree programs have received tuition without paying for it. This has been the case since 1859. The "110" year statement refers to students in the Day School of Engineering, but since it only opened in 1901 it would be hard for the institution to charge tuition for that school before its founding! Let's not pretend it was the policy of Cooper Union to charge tuition in its early years and that mere circumstance has delayed its return.

Dec. 05 2012 12:33 PM
Henry from NYC

As an alumnus, I completely support the student protesters. The divisions between the schools are exaggerated and a detriment to the school. As someone working with the organization Friends of Cooper Union, I've personally received dozens of emails supporting the protesters. And as it's been stated, faculty across the disciplines signed in support of the mission statement including the full tuition scholarship policy.

And I agree with Professor Buckley's point. The article's correction is inaccurate-- please update .

Dec. 05 2012 11:43 AM
Josephine from Brooklyn

As an alumna and a faculty member I stand behind these students and their demands.

Yesterday, representatives of all 4 faculties met together and signed a statement re-affirming the longstanding mission of The Cooper Union. Most agree that the so-called 'reinvention plan' carries unnecessary substantial risks and the overwhelming majority support the current mission of the school that specifies all-tuition scholarships and merit-based admission.

By assigning the schools differing revenue targets, the administration wishes for a division of the schools, not the faculty.

Dec. 05 2012 10:55 AM
Sam Messer

As an alumni , '77 practicing artist, Professor teaching in the Arts as well as an administrator at another University , I can say if I had the opportunity I would join the students holed up in the Clock room. I fully support and applaused this non violent approach of bringing public awareness to the fiscal crisis that faces the Cooper Union. Similar occupying occurred 40 year ago at Columbia and with the grace of time show the value of this kind of action. Rather then paint the students involved in this action as lone wolves I wish the Cooper administration would embrace the positive desires this action is flowing from and use it to promote the passion. We all want the same thing , to maintain the serious level of rigorous study of the Arts unequalled BECAUSE of its historical free policy that affords all young artists the actual possibility o pursue their dream.
Sam. Messer J

Dec. 05 2012 10:42 AM
Nichole from Brooklyn

A comment from one art student can not sum up the opinions of the entire engineering school. It may be true, but why focus on the division among the students? That division may simply stem from the fact that there is little communication between the departments, or because engineering students, who are likely to get a job after graduating, are less frightened by the idea of tuition.

Of course Cooper says these students don't represent the majority of opinion! This article makes it seems like that could be true. What a shame.

Dec. 05 2012 08:55 AM
Students for a Free Cooper Union

WNYC isn't telling the whole story here! Refer to this ( ) response to the administration's claim that Students for a Free Cooper Union do not represent the opinions of the Cooper community. In truth, President Bharucha's administration does not represent the Cooper Union!

Dec. 05 2012 08:49 AM
cooperstudent from NYC

As the article says, the scholarship allows students the ability to do something more useful to society than simply working in an office to pay off their debt. They can use their knowledge to work on ideas that will change the world, and push the human race forward. It is sad that the engineering student body does not stand in solidarity with the artists and engineers. Aside from this important benefit from the tuition-free model, the environment at the Cooper Union is one of equality, as all students, regardless of need, are accepted solely based on merit. This is a wonderful model for education that should be emulated not only across the nation, but around the world.

Dec. 05 2012 05:22 AM
Lily from NYC

There is indeed a HUGE divide between the engineering and art school that should be explored further. The views of these 11 do not express the views of the majority.

Dec. 04 2012 11:59 PM
50yearsagp from USA

50 years ago, on the other side of town (Dec. 4, 1962) 500 Columbia students waged a late night panty raid. 35 of NYPD’s finest were called in to calm things down. One sergeant remarked, ““No damage really happened. The boys were getting the girls excited and the girls were getting the boys excited.”

Dec. 04 2012 09:56 PM

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