Cooper Union tuition fight continues in courtAugust 21, 2014 • By The Villager
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Arguments were heard in court in Lower Manhattan on Fri., Aug. 15, in the ongoing battle over The Cooper Union charging incoming students tuition. Members and supporters of the Committee to Save Cooper Union also held a rally outside the courthouse at 1 p.m.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose 27th District includes the 155-year-old elite school, spoke at the rally and thanked the students for their activism. Many of the protesters held placards with slogans like “Free School or Die” and “Trustees Gone Wild.”
“Somewhere Peter Cooper is looking down on us and smiling,” Hoylman said.
In a column he recently penned for City and State in support of keeping Cooper Union tuition-free, Hoylman stated, “Charging tuition at The Cooper Union — a beacon of educational equality in Manhattan’s rapidly changing East Village, which I represent in the state Senate — is a betrayal of New York’s trust that not only jeopardizes the college’s reputation, but also its standing in our community.”
He emphasized that Cooper Union has enjoyed a property-tax exemption for the land it owns beneath the Chrysler Building on E. 42 St. that no other private institution has received. He cited the taxes Columbia University paid on its Rockefeller Center land until it sold it in 1985.
“I would urge that the trustees would reconsider this plan,” Hoylman said. “We’ll keep fighting.”
Arguments were made before Justice Nancy Bannon in State Supreme Court.
“These trustees are engaging in risky business,” said Richard Emery, a lawyer for the Committee to Save Cooper Union. “We believe we will be successful.”
“When I first heard that they would charge tuition at Cooper Union, I was shocked,” said Adrian Jovanovic, a co-founder of the committee.
An alumnus who graduated with a degree in science and engineering, Jovanovic is also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He slammed what he called lavish spending by the board of trustees, an expensive inauguration party for President Jamshed Bharucha, and other financial mismanagement that he said has led to the change.
“That’s not my Cooper Union,” he declared. “Not Peter Cooper’s Cooper Union. Not our Cooper Union.”
According to court documents, lawyers for the school’s board of trustees argue that the Committee to Save Cooper Union’s claims related to the “Board’s decision to reduce scholarship are based on a false premise that Cooper Union’s Deed of Trust and Charter (the ‘Founding Documents’) require the institute to be tuition free. A review of the Founding Documents reveals that no such mandate exists.”
New incoming students for the fall have already received their tuition invoices. Claire Kleinman, 18, who will attend the School of Art, held her invoice in her hand as she spoke to the crowd about keeping Cooper Union tuition-free.
The school will offer half-tuition scholarships for fall 2014 — around $20,000 for the full year, according to its Web site. Tuition for the 2013-2014 year was $39,600.
“There are certain things that change when money is involved,” said Benjamin Degen, 38, an alumnus, who said he has taught drawing and painting at Cooper Union. “It is not a transactional experience. Education at Cooper Union is not to be brought or sold.”
“This is the last hurrah,” said art student Larissa Gilbert, 19. In her own case, Gilbert will not have to pay tuition. Yet, she has spent much time fighting and organizing to keep Cooper Union from charging incoming students.
She was joined by two fellow art students who also don’t have to pay tuition but who, like her, wanted to show support: Hunter Mayton, 20, who had been in the courtroom, and Marina Daniel, 20.
“Trying to fight for the school,” Daniel said.