Since 1902, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art has remained tuition free, offering accepted students scholarships drawn in part from
industrialist Peter Cooper’s epic neck beard real estate holdings and alumni contributions to cover the cost of attendance. Though Cooper Union previously rallied under the banner of an education “as free as air and water,” it seems the only banners being hoisted today are in protest of the school’s move to cover only 50% of tuition. On Tuesday, Cooper Union made it official that it would be instituting the tuition plan proposed by the university’s maligned board of directors back in December of 2012. This blog covered developments in this story at length, which included a student response in the form of a building occupation and that occupation’s inevitable conclusion, as the activism at Cooper Union clicked with the campus zeitgeist regarding Wesleyan’s own decision to discriminate against students without the means to attend Wes abandon need-blind admissions.
Click through the jump for more on what this means for those of us who also attend institutions that renege on espoused principles like inclusion and diversity.
Cooper Union: the canary in the coalmine of today’s collapse of higher education
— Free Cooper Union (@FreeCooperUnion) April 25, 2013
As implied by the above tweet culled from @FreeCooperUnion, the de facto mouthpiece of Cooper Union’s student coalition against charging tuition, pretty much every college right now is facing a financial shit storm precipitated in part by the 2008 financial crisis (remember that?). However, in a letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education, George Campbell, Jr., president emeritus of Cooper Union, asserts that the institution was in much less of a pickle than its newly appointed president put on. Indeed, Campbell asserts [emphasis mine]:
“When the market crashed after 9/11, the Cooper Union was in desperate straits. Yet by 2008-9, just preceding this recession, we had built the college into what was arguably the best financial state in its history: an operations budget surplus, an endowment of more than $600-million, and projected cash flow that would carry the institution for many years.”
I’d like to interject here that Campbell presided over the construction of a building to the tune of $166 million that features “lively public spaces [which] reaffirm that enlightenment comes from the free exchange of ideas, not just inward contemplation,” and, to grok with “[Cooper Union’s] mission of providing free high quality education, the building itself is didactic with its selective transparencies and sustainable façade.” Capital projects like this necessitated a Bain Capital-like leveraging of Cooper Union’s assets that seems to account for this week’s news.
The bottom line is that the college is in a far superior financial state than during similar external conditions in the past, and I firmly believe that it has the potential, the short-term resources and long-term assets, the creative capacity, and the intellectual capital to address the current challenge and to carry on its extraordinary mission, which has contributed so much to the nation’s scientific, cultural, and social infrastructure.
As this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education states, though, current
stooge president Jamshed Bharucha insists that The Cooper Union has its back against the wall due to frequent dipping into the unrestricted piece of the endowment to cover miscellaneous budgetary shortfalls, and the most creative solution the university could come up with to combat this is, apparently, charging tuition.
In short, this situation is all kinds of fucked up (for instance, according to the New York Times, after faculty in the art department refused to submit fundraising proposals to cover the budgetary shortfall — currently $12 million per annum — administrators refused to send out early acceptance notifications to students in the art program), and who knows where it will go. All I know is that I hope I don’t have to bundle the cost of my college and funeral together in one loan.