The Day That Shook Cooper Union

by Corinna Kirsch on April 24, 2013 Newswire

The past 36 hours have proved hectic for the Cooper Union community. At 6:05 AM yesterday morning, the Cooper Union board of trustees sent an email confirming what many students, alumni, and faculty have feared: for the first time in the school’s 100-year-plus history, undergraduate students will be required to pay tuition. This sea change in the school’s offerings will begin with this fall’s incoming class; all students entering Cooper Union prior to the class of 2017 will continue to receive full scholarships.

Students, faculty, and alumni have responded to this announcement, made over e-mail, with varying degrees of opposition and protest. The Cooper Union administration, it seems, has become accustomed to their protest tactics, and is taking steps to prevent large-scale protests like the lock-ins that occurred last fall.

Following the morning announcement, the trustees held a Q&A at 12 PM in the school’s Great Hall. In order to diminish any prospects for outbursts among the attendees, questions were scribbled on slips of paper and answered selectively by Board Chairman Mark Epstein. Writing for The New York Times, Joanna Marshall attended the event, which fell somewhere between a critique of the board and its lack of transparent decision-making and a meta-critique of the Q&A format itself:

“This format of asking questions is insulting,” shouted a man in the back of the auditorium.

“Being yelled at is insulting,” replied Mr. Epstein. “I’m trying to keep things civil.”

This strained back-and-forth continued on Twitter. Common remarks and cell phone photos included ones like this:

With so much tension in the room, it’s unsurprising that the board was unable to quell attendees fears about the school’s future. When asked about whether students might see any tuition increase (before scholarship, yearly tuition at Cooper Union stands at $38,500), Chairman Epstein’s response didn’t garner much hope. “You could all donate to the school,” he said, in order to prevent a tuition hike.

After the Q&A, the student group Free Cooper Union organized a school-wide walkout at 2 PM. The Cooper Pioneer traced the students’ steps, following in their footsteps as they set about a peaceful—but definitely not quiet—protest across campus grounds. Students banged, shouted, and chanted.

While students were protesting, the administration set to work. From a photo posted on the Free Cooper Union Facebook, staff is seen screwdriving shut campus windows followed with the caption:

Administration has told maintenance to drill the windows locked on the fourth floor where we have hung banners in the past. There are seven NYPD motorycles [sic.], and two vans, unmarked cars, and several NYPD cars.

The campus-wide walk out ended with a candlelight vigil at 7:30 PM.

While students’ tactical responses have leaned toward the visceral, Cooper Union alumni tend to be more hands-off. Friends of Cooper Union, a group formed in response to growing fears about the school’s financial future, released a statement regarding yesterday’s announcement. It’s full of diplomatic measures like electing new Cooper Union alumni to the school’s board of trustees. That’s a reasonable option, and it might actually work—but it won’t happen overnight.



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