Cooper Union President and Five Trustees Quit!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting this morning that the fight over the future of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, an arts and engineering college in New York City, came to a head this week as five members of its Board of Trustees abruptly resigned and its president agreed to step down at the end of the month.  The resignations mark the latest chapter in a years-long battle over tuition at the college, which historically has offered full scholarships to all undergraduates.  As reported in The Chronicle (subscription required):

“Cooper Union announced in 2013 that it would start charging tuition to undergraduates for the first time in over a century, citing dire financial straits brought to light two years earlier by Jamshed Bharucha, four months into his presidency there.

Faculty members, students, and alumni were outraged. A coalition of critics sued the college in hopes of reversing the new tuition policy, which took effect last fall.

In April the board offered to force Mr. Bharucha from office in a bid to settle the lawsuit and to ward off an investigation by the New York attorney general into the board’s management of the college’s finances. (That investigation remains open, the attorney general’s office said on Wednesday in a statement.)

The resignations might ease some of the dysfunction in the Cooper Union leadership, but the college’s problems are far from solved. The new tuition policy, nominally the subject of the conflict, does not appear to be going away.

“It can’t,” said Mark Epstein, one of the trustees who quit this week. “There’s not enough money coming in to keep up with expenses.”

Much of Cooper Union’s revenue stems from New York City’s historic Chrysler Building, whose land the college owns. But the college has been spending beyond its means for years, and a recent capital campaign came up well short of its goal.

According to Mr. Epstein, Cooper Union would need an infusion into the endowment of at least $400 million to allow it to revert to a tuition-free model. The new tuition policy is “not going to go away if Jamshed goes away,” he said. “It’s a financial problem, not an administrative problem.”

“There’s an old saying in crisis communications: Sometimes the gods demand a sacrifice,” said Gene Grabowski, “And that’s what we’re seeing here.”



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