Letter to The CUAA from Peter Cafiero CE’83 – President

Date: November 15, 2011

To: The Cooper Union Alumni Community

From: Peter Cafiero CE’83 – President, The Cooper Union Alumni Association

The past two weeks have seen an amazing amount of passion and interest from alumni and students regarding the school’s challenging financial situation, and especially about the potential for charging tuition. Students and alumni have been mobilized and engaged in dynamic and fast-paced conversations about these issues.

While the Alumni Association has been very active in this debate, what we haven’t been so good at these past two weeks is sending a message out to all of you: to communicate our position and answer questions. Starting with this email, I intend to regularly communicate electronically with all of you regarding some of the issues being discussed and debated in the Cooper community. This week I would like to address the donations issue that so many of you have raised over the next few weeks I would like to share with you more information about your Alumni Association and its governance, explore how we can support alumni and students, and discuss how we have historically and will in the future recognize alumni achievements.

First, I would like to remind everyone of the missions of the Alumni Association.  Chartered in February 1943, the mission of the association is to support the alumni and the students, to recognize achievement of alumni, and most paramount in these times, to support the school financially. Through annual giving, alumni have an opportunity to raise the funds to support a scholarship education. Many of you have responded to the reports of the financial troubles of the school by making a new or an additional contribution to the school. We are all very appreciative of this.

Some have suggested that they would prefer to make a donation that would be restricted (perhaps in the form of an independent and separate escrow account) with the statement that the school must remain free to receive these donations.  I fully understand this sentiment.  We all share the goal of maintaining Cooper Union as a full scholarship school.  But I strongly believe that any type of restricted donations would be a serious mistake at this point. A restricted donation may result in the exact opposite of what we all want by hastening rather than preventing the possibility of tuition.

Why is that?  Gifts to the Annual Fund are spent immediately to offset Cooper Union’s deficit.  In effect, you can be assured that your gifts to this year’s Annual Fund will support a full scholarship education because they will go to provide direct support for educating current Cooper students.

Restricted or escrow donations divert money away from the Annual Fund. Each dollar that is diverted from the Annual Fund is a dollar that will need to be taken from other sources to pay this year’s structural deficit. This will make balancing the budget more difficult, and essentially leave the school with fewer non-tuition options.  Furthermore, anyone who donates to an escrow account may not be counted as an individual contributor to the school, and thus will not help us to increase our all important alumni participation rate – used by larger donors as a signal for whether there is enough long term alumni interest to support the institution.

In the coming weeks and months, students and alumni will be reaching out to you to talk about the situation and how you can help. I would ask you to make a stretch gift this year, but if you are unable to, we are grateful for any gift since a rise in participation speaks loudly about our commitment to our school. So please, give to the unrestricted annual fund today.

If you wish, send a letter with your donation stating the reasons for your contribution: because Cooper is a full scholarship institution and that you support keeping Cooper a full scholarship institution in the future. But don’t jeopardize that goal by restricting your dollars from funding current students.

The Alumni Association will be working with President Bharucha and The Board of Trustees to make sure that all questions about the school’s finances are answered fully.  The financial situation may seem daunting, but I fully believe that if alumni stick together and support the school, we hold the key to Cooper Union’s future.  I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you.