A Call to Action For Those Who Wish to Keep the Cooper Union Open
Universities the world over, but especially those in the United States, are becoming increasingly burdened with administrative costs that are threatening the very existence of these institutions. This overhead is passed directly to students resulting in tuition costs that segregate the incoming classes into those who are either able to afford these fees directly or who are able to access the necessary loans – increasing the divide between the rich and the poor - the poor for whom education becomes more elusive.
This state of affairs, likened by many to the collapse of the housing market, is not sustainable and is destined to fail. Student debt in the United States exceeds $1 trillion and the rate of loan defaults increases. The current model for higher education is broken.
With the new academic building, The Cooper Union was presented with a unique opportunity to lead the world in sustainable design – to erect a building that showcased the principles of a radical rethink for sustainable construction in the city – a building that was truly integrated with its surroundings and one that used natural processes where possible to regulate the internal environment. Our trustees’ solution was to erect an edifice that we could not afford – one that garnered the dubious distinction of a LEED platinum rating – one that did very little, if anything, to advance a radical rethink for the sustainable city.
At this time, we are again presented with another unique opportunity, one in which The Cooper Union can lead a conversation about the future of university education. We are placed in exactly the right position at exactly the right time to turn around the current model of the University – an institution suffocating under administrative overhead.
Cooper Union needs to lead the fight to make education affordable again, to enable access for those who most need it to move forwards with their lives. The United States academic ranking falls year-by-year – we need more tertiary education not less. We need to graduate men and women who are able to pursue their dreams, able to make bold decisions, able to make the world a better place. Instead, saddled with loans, graduates must postpone such aspirations, take the first high paying job and propagate the status quo.
To open this conversation and further the cause of open access to higher education, we, the faculty and the alumni of The Cooper Union, propose to take back our school and to fulfill the ideals of our founder, Peter Cooper, to the best of our abilities.
We propose that the board stand down effective immediately. We thank you, the trustees, for your service to The Cooper Union and wish you well in your future endeavors. We further propose that our income be used solely for the purposes of education with an administrative staff sufficient to ensure smooth running of the three schools. To those in the administration who will not be required we truly regret this course of action but hope you understand that there is no alternative path. We will do everything we can to ease your transition to alternative employment.
We anticipate that it may be necessary for the faculty to teach extra courses or forgo some of their stipend to promote the mission of the school. Stipends for the president and all senior administrators will be commensurate with those of senior faculty.
Concomitant with these structural changes, the position of Dean will be filled by rotating faculty; the alumni will administer alumni affairs and takeover all fundraising and development activities. We will vacate 30 Cooper Square and the Fish House will be used to provide extra space for teaching and social functions, and occasional accommodation for current and visiting faculty. The president’s accommodation will be limited to the top floor.
We realize that these are revolutionary proposals – equally we are in tumultuous times – and thus require a radical rethink and approach to the preserve the mission of Cooper Union.
We need to realize that we must fight on behalf of those for whom a tertiary education is already becoming a distant dream.
We must fight to reduce the barriers between the rich and the the poor; the haves and the have nots.
We must fight to REDUCE the divide in our society - we must fight to prevent a return to serfs and lords of the manner - the uneducated and the educated.
The future of Cooper Union extends far beyond the boundaries of Astor Place and New York City, far beyond grades and classes - the vision of Peter Cooper and the concept of education that is as free as air and water is critically important for the survival of humankind.
We venture into a period when we may even need to fight for the survival of the human race on a planet whose equilibrium may have already been perturbed beyond return to a stable state for our existence.
Toby Cumberbatch has taught at The Cooper Union since 1994 as a member of the Electrical Engineering department.