April 23, 2013

Letter from the Cooper Union Alumni Association Elected Trustees and the CUAA President 

We are writing to you to explain our position regarding the Cooper Union Board of Trustees decision on undergraduate tuition, and to provide additional insights into what was a long and difficult process for each of us individually and collectively as Alumni Association representatives on the Board of Trustees.

Charging tuition to undergraduates is something that we would prefer not to do and it is fair to say that for each of us, this was viewed as the option of last resort. For all five of us, arriving at this conclusion took much longer than we originally anticipated, as we felt a strong imperative to exhaust all other options, from reducing costs to finding new sources of revenue, before we could accept the concept of undergraduate tuition at Cooper Union. 

Each of us considered numerous alternative options, even including closing all or part of Cooper Union rather than charging tuition, which was a view expressed by some in the Cooper Community.  We respect that view, but ultimately we reject the notion of even closing one of the three schools as a final, irrevocable surrender. It would hurt current students and employees, and it would, in a significant way, hurt all of us alumni. It would also waste the school’s abundant resources. The school is rich in human capital with talented students, faculty and alumni and it still has a significant endowment, although one no longer sufficient to fund the entire school.

The Revenue Task Force, which included current students and many alumni, including two of us (Peter and Edgar), examined hundreds of potential revenue generating ideas. We thank each of you who submitted suggestions. In the end, many of these coalesced into what was called the “Hybrid” model—a number of proposed programs that ideally would strengthen the school while together generating enough revenue both to pay for themselves and fully subsidize the undergraduate program. The three schools have developed those ideas into more concrete proposals. 

At the same time, the school has reduced controllable costs by more than 10%. These revenue and cost reduction efforts provided great examples of the ingenuity and spirit of the Cooper Community. However, given the inherent uncertainties around each of these new programs and the considerable (and growing) operating deficit, we, as Alumni Association representatives to the Board of Trustees, came to the conclusion that while these initiatives need to be part of the broader solution toward a sustainable and vibrant Cooper Union, we also need to include some undergraduate tuition as part of that broad plan.  

We know that Cooper could launch the recommended new programs successfully and believe it should continue to invest in them for two reasons. First, the school, even without the immediate financial issue, faces intense competition in the coming years, with the arrival of much larger and better financed institutions in the New York City area and rapid changes in the world’s needs. Secondly, the new programs have potential to generate excess revenue, which can and should be reinvested in the core undergraduate programs, to keep tuition as low as possible and educational quality as high as possible. We hope that someday they will generate enough money to restore the full undergraduate scholarship. We believe that the undergraduate tuition policy should be seen as a minimum scholarship level available to future Cooper students with the intent of augmenting that scholarship level if possible.  

Finally, we would like to share with you what we believe are the truly important qualities of The Cooper Union, the ones which we should try to be saving at all costs. We reject the notion that a full tuition scholarship, of and by itself, is the defining character of Cooper Union, without which it could or should no longer exist. Certainly, Cooper has bright and talented students attracted by the scholarship, but so do many other schools with different tuition levels. And Cooper is more than just talented students. It is a unique cradle of education that is defined by a distinctive culture, size, collaborative learning approach and many other factors which extend well beyond the historical full scholarship policy, and which continue to attract those talented students. 

In summary, this was a very difficult process for the Board, and particularly the Alumni Association Trustees. In the end we felt compelled to ensure the continuation of the unique Cooper Union education from which we all benefitted. We completely understand the pain that this change causes, as we felt it also. We look forward to discussing these matters with you and will be working with the Alumni Council to create that opportunity in the near future.


Cooper Union Alumni Association Trustees:

Peter Cafiero, CE ’83 (President, CU Alumni Association)

Don Blauweiss, A ’61

Ray Falci, ME ’86

Edgar Mokuvos, EE ’78 Lee Skolnick, AR ’79