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Free Cooper Union

Students at Cooper Union here in NYC have been occupying their president’s office for the past two days, in response to their school’s announcement a couple weeks ago that incoming students would be charged tuition (about $20,000) beginning next year.  Never in the school’s 154 year history have students been charged tuition, as the founder, Peter Cooper, wished for an institution that was free and open to all, based on nothing but merit.

Predictably, many students, alumni, and faculty are pissed.

According to students, the president, Jamshed Bharucha, and the board of trustees have been extraordinarily unresponsive to hearing their and their allies views on the matter; they feel that the president and the board have railroaded the decision through, past the objections of other administrators, the faculty, current and past students, and other stakeholders.  They further have the view that Bharucha and the board have somewhat mismanaged Cooper Union’s finances, focusing on unsustainable growth at the cost of the school’s core mission of free education.  In response, the students want the tuition decision reversed, and for Bharucha to step down.

Anyway, left with few other avenues to power, the students sat in.  Cooper has in the past been pretty tolerant of student direct action, but last night a couple administrators calling themselves the “emergency management team” (Bharucha was conspicuously absent) brought in some private security guards from who-kn0ws-where around 5pm and told the students they had an hour to vacate the office, or face stiff academic penalties, including “dismissal and denial of degrees.”  The security goons then screwed the bathroom doors shut, boarded up the water fountains, and held shut fire doors, and the administrators told the students the would have no access to food, water, or bathrooms should they choose to stay.  (That must be illegal?)  Of course, these being bright kids, they soon regained access to their facilities (seriously, I’m pretty sure a bunch of politically astute engineering students can handle light hardware).

An hour passed, almost no students left, a bunch more joined, and the emergency management team’s bluff got called.  (Also, some firetrucks showed up, but then shortly left, that was weird.)  Down below, allies gather in solidarity.  NYPD came a-calling at one point, but Cooper Union’s administration seems to want to hold off on that spectacle for the time being.  So, the evening passed relatively calmly.  The occupying students spent a second night camped out in the president’s office (perhaps quietly overtaking some of the work that office might be involved with? they seemed to maybe have helped themselves to files that administration staff has not carried out?).  Students and faculty have been adding signatures to a statement of no confidence in Bharucha. (Though, if NYU’s recent no confidence votes in their president, John Sexton, have anything to say, it’s that this may not mean as much as we’d like; higher education has truly become more about administration that education & faculty in most places.)

I’ve sounded off on how shitty neoliberalsim is before, and this is just another example.  People with power, in this case the president and board of trustees of Cooper Union, demand that people with less power find individual solutions to systemic and structural problems, when those very problems are often created by the powerful people in the first place.  The administration mismanages the school funds, then makes students pony up to cover their asses, making what should be a public asset into a private one.

This evening supporters will be back in front of the Foundation Building in solidarity.  Keep tabs on the situation through Student Bloc’s Facebook event, or Free Cooper Union’s Twitter account.  The Village Voice, Cooper Union’s neighbor, is also reporting.  The occupying students are expecting the administrators’ return to again attempt to remove them at 4pm today.

[While we were milling about {or maybe it was the day before, I can’t remember}, TheLuddbrarian posed the question — what other higher ed institutions in the US are still tuition-free?  Does anyone know of any?]



ETA: Here’s the New York Times on the financial fuckups at Cooper Union.  The Times is a middle of the road, mainstream publication, of course, so read it for the facts, not the conclusions.

About oneofthelibrarians

Respectable mid-career librarian by day, dirty street librarian by night & other days.

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2013 by in Activism, Economics, Education, Higher Education and tagged , , , .

Ne'er do wells



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