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BY SAM SPOKONY | Cooper Union students, with the support of more than 50 professors, are continuing vehement protests against the school administration’s April announcement that it will begin charging tuition for graduate students next year, along with considering tuition charges for some undergraduates.
Monday afternoon, 11 student protesters barricaded themselves in the historic clock tower on the eighth floor of the college’s Foundation Building. After attempts by maintenance workers to remove them failed, the occupying students draped a large banner reading, “Free Education To All,” over the building’s side.
The students remained in the clock tower at press time.
Cooper Union, which serves about 1,000 students, with schools in art, architecture and engineering, was founded in 1859 and has offered full-tuition scholarships to all its students since 1902. With buildings on Cooper Square and Astor Place, the college is one of a handful in the nation to offer a free education.
Its full-tuition scholarships are currently valued at $38,550 per year, according to the college.
The college was founded by inventor and industrialist Peter Cooper, whose son-in-law — a major figure in the college’s development around the turn of the 20th century — advocated for starting the scholarships because, as he once said, education should be “free as air and water.”
But Cooper Union’s current administration and president, Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, have argued that drastic measures are needed to keep the college from financial ruin.
The school faced a 28 percent, or roughly $17 million, operating deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, while falling $53 million short of its goals for donations and overall endowment revenue, according to an October report by the college’s Revenue Task Force.
The task force aims to create $12 million in new revenue streams by fiscal year 2018. The report’s creators estimated that a series of new, tuition-based, cross-disciplinary graduate programs at Cooper Union would bring in about $6.5 million by that time.
To close the revenue gap, the task force raised the possibility of cutting undergraduate scholarships by 25 percent. According to the report, this would bring in about $6 million more in new revenue by fiscal year 2018.
Anticipating outcry over that idea, the report’s writers noted, “Such a change should be implemented only when all other measures fall short of ensuring the survival of the school.”
But many students and professors believe that an end to full tuition scholarships would permanently damage the overall character of Cooper Union.
“[By opting] for an expansionist, tuition-based model, President Bharucha has demonstrated that he is incapable of defending Cooper Union’s mission and history of providing free education for all,” said Rachel Appel, a senior in the college’s School of Art, reading a statement prepared by the 11 occupying students, at a press conference outside the Foundation Building on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Day Gleeson, an associate professor at the college, announced the writing of a letter, with more than 50 faculty signatures, in support of continued full scholarships for all enrolled students.
Jolene Travis, a Cooper Union spokesperson, said in a statement that the 11 protesters occupying the clock tower “do not reflect the views of a student population of approximately 1,000 architects, artists and engineers.”
But there were hundreds of students cheering when the occupiers waved from an eighth-floor window Tuesday afternoon.
“Some of us are more outspoken than others,” said student Chris Bennett, as he sat outside the Foundation Building smoking a cigarette that day, “but everyone here supports them.”