To The Cooper Union Community:
Many of you have heard me say that The Cooper Union is an American treasure. It is our responsibility as a community to do all we can to protect and ensure its legacy for generations to come. 2017 marks a turning point for The Cooper Union. We are at the outset of engaging the entire Cooper community in a strategic planning process that will provide the path forward for the institution. Our end goal is not only financial resilience and a return to sustainable full-tuition scholarships, but also a renewed focus on civic and academic leadership in a vibrant and high performing culture. It’s about turning the legacy of Peter Cooper into a model for the future – for excellent, financially accessible higher education and for how a community can achieve and contribute to the great city of New York, the nation and the world.
Beyond our proud and storied history, beyond the venerable academic programs our esteemed faculty and staff provide, I know that tuition and our financial situation are on everyone’s minds. While the level of student funding we provide continues to outpace that of peer institutions, the Board and I are committed to developing a plan to return The Cooper Union to fiscal health and, within that context, a full-tuition scholarship model.
To do that, our strategic planning process will address all aspects of the college with a commitment to maintaining our unparalleled academics and student opportunities while enhancing revenue, paying down our debt, reducing operating expenses, and reexamining how work is managed and executed within The Cooper Union. That path will sometimes be difficult, but if underpinned by a compelling strategy, rigorous and disciplined execution, strong financial management, and a culture of collaboration, common mission and transparency, it will help us regain our financial stability, rebuild the scholarship funding we provide to our students, ensure excellence and vibrancy in our academic programs, and reposition The Cooper Union as an institutional civic leader.
In thinking differently about how we manage our work, especially as we implement the expense reductions approved by the Board in 2016, we are announcing today a restructuring of our administrative framework, which includes the elimination of 14 staff positions throughout the college between now and the end of the spring semester. Starting in the Office of the President, we analyzed the skills and talents we will need to move our goals forward and compared our structure to other small, high-performing colleges. We are reconfiguring a new organization within the Office of the President that redistributes the work of leadership positions being eliminated, affording us the opportunity to introduce new positions focused on planning and institutional effectiveness, governance, risk management, operational efficiency and external affairs. The new structure will flatten and streamline our organization to more effectively drive the work that is ahead of us while reducing our overall costs.
I know that the reality of eliminating positions tests and concerns all of us. I want to provide you with the context for this decision to provide a complete picture. As you know, the Free Education Committee (FEC), a committee of the Board, has been working since last year to determine a path to a sustainable, full-tuition scholarship model that maintains Cooper Union’s strong reputation for academic quality and historical levels of enrollment. The FEC, working closely with the Board’s other committees and Bill Mea as acting president, determined and the Board approved a 17 percent reduction in operating expenses (excluding debt service, capital and auxiliary expenses) from FY 16 through FY 19. All of the individuals impacted by these difficult decisions were dedicated to The Cooper Union, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service. Accordingly, we have put together resources to help each person with his or her transition. In addition to their severance, we have engaged a professional outplacement firm that will provide each person with customized, one-on-one transition counseling based on each person’s individual needs.
I want to emphasize that I understand – as does the Board – that we cannot cut our way to free; however, it is a critical first step toward greater budget discipline as we look to raise new funds, pay down our debt, and build The Cooper Union’s endowment. Regardless, I know how difficult this is for our community and most especially for the individuals impacted. I can assure you that these decisions were not made lightly or without thorough, careful
consideration. The staff of The Cooper Union is key to the fabric of our community, to creating the quintessential Cooper Union experience for students and all those we impact in the city and beyond. The people of The Cooper Union are unique in your passion for the institution and its values; your willingness to work across programs and departments to get the job done and done well; and your longevity here, many starting and building careers here as alumni.
What affects and is painful for an individual or a group of individuals here is painful for all of us as a community. The connectedness of The Cooper Union is one of its greatest assets, and it’s what we must rely on now and as we move forward. I recognize that many of you will have questions about these changes. I welcome your thoughts and questions, and I encourage you to check this schedule of Campus Conversations for my open office hours and other opportunities for us to connect. Please feel free to reach out to your Deans and managers for their perspectives, as well.
Today is most certainly a difficult moment for our institution. Change feels hard, and this community knows that all too well. What I will assure you is that this change is a step toward the future we all seek.