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Cooper Union Update

Ahoy!  Sixty-five days after they occupied president Jamshed Bharucha’s office in response to Cooper Union planning to start charging tuition, the Cooper Union occupiers have departed.  From the Students for a Free Cooper Union newsletter email:

On Thursday, July 11, a group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, met with Cooper Union trustees Jeff Gural and Mike Borkowsky to join together in an effort to keep Cooper Union free.  At the meeting we reached an agreement to form a 16-member working group, to be chaired by Jeff Gural and Mike Borkowsky, that will “leave no stone unturned” as it seeks to return Cooper Union to being free to all.

In addition, we’ve secured a community commons, a space where students, faculty, and alumni alike may continue to work together on the Free Cooper Union campaign. For the time being, that space has been designated as Room 504 in the Foundation building. We plan to move into a permanent space before the start of the fall semester. We’re currently working on getting this space set up with desks, decorations, and all manner of supplies in the coming days. We hope to see you all in the new community commons space soon. It’s open to faculty, students, and alumni during Cooper’s building hours. Please get in touch if you have any furniture or office supplies to donate!

Phew. So after 65 days of occupying, and in reaching an agreement that will afford the community a real say in the future of free education at Cooper Union, we’ve moved on out of the President’s office and on to our next steps.

While it’s not over by a long stretch, it turns out that direct action gets the goods.  (But you knew that, didn’t you?)

Lucky for those who sat in, Cooper Union’s administration was rather tolerant towards them.  After some police & security presence early on, and a few students getting roughed up by it, the administration seemed to unwilling to risk the bad press (and possible legal action) that might come from forcibly removing the occupying students.  I think with a lot of administrators outside of Bharucha’s immediate circle, as well as much of the faculty, in open or implicit support of the students, it could possibly also have instigated a more serious revolt in the CU community.

Eventually I guess the administration finally got the hint that the students were serious, and weren’t going away.  I kinda wish the students had actually just taken over administering things, that would have been neat.  Perhaps that’s what the administration was a little afraid of; if the students stayed there long enough, their continued presence and commitment would encourage them to keep on taking and taking, forcing a serious shift in the governance of the school.  And so perhaps this agreement is a compromise with that possibility, in which case my point about direct action stands — even if they don’t yet have exactly what they want (reinstitution of free tuition for all), the students’ actions have so changed the realm of possibility, that the way the Cooper Union administration is now forced to relate to the students and other stakeholders is drastically different from previously.

So now we wait and see what the working group comes up with.  I continue to find it hard to believe that there isn’t a way to make it happen.  I’ve written previously about how backwards I find the priorities and methods of managing higher education endowments, and, as we know, Cooper’s finances have been particularly mismanaged of late.  The administration has vowed to completely open the books to the working group, and I’m very interested to see if that vow is followed through on, and to see what we find out.  Then we’ll see what creative, think-outside-the-box tactics the working group comes up with.

And, failing that, keep some direct action on the back-burner.

For media coverage, see:

The Huffington Post

The Village Voice


About oneofthelibrarians

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

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This entry was posted on July 23, 2013 by in Activism, Education, Higher Education and tagged , .

Ne'er do wells



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