Commentary by Alumni Trustee Kevin Slavin A’95

Kevin Slavin A'95
On the importance of voting for new Board members

On the initial WSJ article regarding President Bharucha’s ouster
On Bill Mea’s response to the credit overload issue
On the reaction of Trustee Liebskind that leaked the WSJ article
On the call for removal of specific trustees

On the importance of voting for new Board members

This is personal, on behalf of no one but myself. On the upcoming elections, I have struggled to follow the back-and-forth and up-and-down, and can’t/don’t endorse anyone specifically. But let me address a few things I can see from where I stand.

Most everyone involved – no matter how noble or banal their intentions — is working with poor information. This includes me. I think the trustees have a hard time getting good information about the day-to-day of the institution, I think alumni have a hard time getting information about the work of the trustees, the administration and perhaps — most importantly here — the work by one another.

I have *some* insight into the intentions and effort on the part of everyone from the trustees to FCU to the CUAA. I don’t know everything, but I do know that no constituency is well aware of what the other does, day-to-day. And I can say that all of them work very hard for their respective understanding of the institution. Much harder than you imagine.

So: in choosing who will represent the CUAA to the Board — and this is *a very important position* because this is one of very few voices on the board that can be said to represent the broad interests of the alumni — I endorse no one and nothing but the following principles:

— If someone is running for this position, they have already worked very very hard with either a lack of gratitude, or worse. Take that as a priori. If you don’t know what they’ve done: find out.

— They don’t know what they are in for. No one does. Had I known what was actually involved in the position of Alumni Trustee, I would never have agreed to do it. From a time perspective, as well as the general toll it takes, it tests the ability to balance everything else in life.

— The introduction of tuition is considered resolved by the trustees and has not been a topic of debate or discussion since the vote. There is no candidate, and there is nothing a candidate can do, to restore tuition-free Cooper. If Cooper returns to free, it will be because of exogenous forces (whether law or funding or I don’t know what), rather than the CUAA’s representation to the board. I don’t think that’s a good thing, but it’s a true thing. You can disagree with me on this, but that is how I see it from sitting with the Board. If I thought there was something an Alumni Trustee could do, I would do it. I tried, and I would try again if something changes. I believe in the principle, but I know that since the vote, there is no practice to apply it to in the current system.

Everyone should vote as they see fit. I vote based on this single criterion: assuming the board and the administration make the decisions, will that person be effective in working with the Board?

I don’t mean that they must be complacent — just the opposite — but whether they agree or disagree with what’s going on, will their opinion have weight? A vote is only one among many; the heart of the role is being able to represent facts, ideas, and the alumni as a whole, effectively and persuasively. Someone who does that well can make the role incredibly powerful. Someone who cannot do that well is simply casting one of a few dozen votes.

So, overall, I am not voting based on the stated positions about tuition or not. I trust that any alum knows what time it is in that regard, and would make Cooper free if they can. But they will not have greater power to do that simply by having a vote or being in the room.

They will have the very real power to affect a million large and small decisions that Cooper needs to make, and they will need to have time, knowledge, courage, integrity, a thick skin, and perhaps most importantly, the capability for many forms of diplomacy. I urge everyone to vote, and to vote with those criteria in mind.

The conversation can be followed here.

On the initial WSJ article regarding President Bharucha’s ouster

[This] is not a guess. [This] is a fact: the story exists not because of investigative reporting. It exists because Justin Harmon and 3 or 4 hired PR professionals escorted Jamshed to a reporter’s office at the WSJ and provided him with an exclusive. That is what someone in the administration told me (because they were horrified… there are a few people even in the administration who can’t believe what’s going on.) I trust them.

As a general rule, when a story this good is provided with exclusivity, it usually comes with a lot of hooks, including e.g., shaping the very headline of the story.

It is also a deliberate contravention of discussing legal cases that are like, in progress. Jamshed wasn’t even in the room, and has no insight on the conversation that we had; to represent such a thing is specious. For Libeskind to talk about it (and describe the votes of 23 people as a “fait accompli”) is something even worse. But anyway, yes: the story comes from the sputtering PR machine. I think Mike Vilensky is a good journalist in any case, but this is what expensive PR buys you.

The conversation can be followed here.

On Bill Mea’s response to the credit overload issue

Please read Bill Mea’s note about the overload decision, because it’s remarkable. Since I am not only on the board that *approved* the original decision, but was unaware that we’d approved it, I have my own humiliating culpability in the decision, in the broadest sense.

But I would like to talk about Bill’s response, in order to praise it. Not reversing the decision (about which I’m not allowed to have an opinion) but how he took responsibility for it, and how he communicated that to the community he works with.

Read it carefully, and note the frequency of the personal pronoun “I,” to make clear that he was personally involved in the evaluation and the decision. Less “we”, less “they.” Bill does not default to what Other Schools Do, but does just the opposite: notes that Cooper has been — and still can be — different. He uses words like “value”, “honor”, “patience”, “maturing” and — a word I can’t recall having seen before in official communications: “learn.” For all the verbs that are used by the administration of a noble educational institution, that’s not one I’ve noted often.

I don’t even like everything the letter says, but I believe it holds honesty, integrity and transparency, and while I’m not allowed to evaluate how common or unusual that is, I do want to note it when it happens.

So I wanted to publicly thank you, Bill, not for the decision, but for the way you communicated it, even if the Board gets thrown under the bus on the open. It’s not how it starts, it’s how it ends: with gratefulness, which will always be reciprocated. Thank you.

My personal opinions, representing no one but me, but I know that some trustees, alums, and students share this sentiment. People recognize what they’re looking for.

Bill’s note below:

The Board of Trustees approved the 2015-2016 tuition and fees at its March 11th meeting and, while an official announcement had not yet been issued, yesterday the Cooper Union community reacted negatively to a planned implementation of an overload charge for credits taken above 19.5 credits per semester. As was planned, this charge would have applied to the current freshmen class and future classes. I do not want to restate much of what was said yesterday in emails and on social media, but I do want to provide some additional clarity as to how such an overload charge was proposed.

Institutionally we are still maturing in our policies and practices surrounding the charging of tuition. When I arrived here in September, I noted that we did not have a comprehensive schedule of tuition and fees, including specific policies on charging students who were not full time and students taking overloads. As I sought to implement such a tuition and fees schedule, I consulted with others and received feedback about many areas, including from Dean Dahlberg about increasing the limit from 18.5 to 19.5 credits. I saw this tuition and fees schedule as “normal” for higher education institutions and thus thought implementing it would be a normal course of operations. Having seen yesterday’s reaction to the overload charge, I can say that I am still learning about the culture of Cooper Union. I value our unique character and I wish to honor it.

Accordingly, after consultation with President Bharucha and the Board of Trustees, we will not implement an overload charge for 2015-2016. This is certainly not the time to implement such a policy, and it may never be the right to time to do so. I cannot promise that this will never be implemented, since such policies can help refine the balance between actual course enrollments and the resources needed to accommodate them. But if such a policy change is considered in the future, I will ensure all affected constituencies are included in that conversation. I thank you for your patience in my education in The Cooper Union way.
Bill Mea
Vice President for Finance & Administration

The conversation can be followed here.

On the reaction of Trustee Liebskind that leaked the WSJ article

If you want to know what I was up to last week, it included voting on a rather sensitive matter.

Evidently trustees can describe what went on in that meeting — even though it was with legal counsel — otherwise Daniel Libeskind couldn’t say everything he says in the WSJ. I understood something different, but sometimes I get things wrong.

So I may or may not add color to the lines that are drawn. It depends on a few other things. Whatever comes, will come later.

Right now, I just want to show you the email that Libeskind sent to the trustees, after I disclosed on Facebook that the administration misrepresented the state of affairs with Cooper Alumni. If you want to know what it’s been like, it’s been like this. Shamelessness.

On Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 12:01 PM, daniel libeskind <[email redacted]> wrote:
Dear Chairman Lincer,

I appreciate that you wish to bring the “point-counterpoint” to an end between Board Member Slavin and others. However, even though I am new to the Board, I wish to make the following point:

Executive sessions of the Board, with or without the presence of the President, surely have to be confidential. This is to ensure a frank and meaningful discussion. To have Kevin Slavin report on social media the contents of certain parts of our last Board Meeting was, frankly, something I find shocking and unacceptable.

Obviously, Mr. Slavin has every right to express any opinion that he wishes to express during the Executive session and he did. He made very clear his displeasure. But I believe that whatever his disagreements with the direction of the school, as a Board Member, once he leaves the Board Meeting, Mr. Slavin has to speak with a voice that echoes the decisions taken by the Board.

No one is trying to curb his right to freedom of speech – least of all, me. If Mr. Slavin feels that he wants to “broadcast” his disagreements about the direction of the School and with the Board, then he should be asked to leave the Board, so that he will then have an opportunity to voice whatever opinions he may have. That’s free speech and good governance.

With best regards,

Daniel Libeskind

The conversation can be followed here.


On the call for removal of specific trustees

This is a direct response to the article posted here.

Ah yes, the mudslinging against trustees who actually take a contrary position. Nothing new.

But you — all of you — legitimately asked for the Board to be proactive, to never let another George Campbell happen to the school again. Here we are. But not everyone agrees with that position. And here we are.

I can’t disclose anything, but here are ways to read what you are reading:

1. What do Richard Lincer, Jeff Gural and Tom Driscoll *actually* have in common? I can’t tell you, but note which 2006 Trustees are *not* on the list: Mark Epstein (who was the CHAIRMAN of the board in the period they describe), and Francois de Menil.

Do you wonder why they don’t appear? I don’t imagine, and wish I could tell you. But try to imagine why those three and not those other two.

Do you still believe it’s as simple as the idea that the “Board” voted to “save themselves from investigation” as the President described it to the WSJ? Does this suggest some complexity there? Why would the sycophants who posted this distinguish between the different 2006 Trustees? What might some trustees have done differently than others?

2. Re Jeff Gural’s donations to Schneiderman, this is a fact, but it’s also a rumor, and it was spread very specifically by one VP in the administration who I won’t name here. I’ve listened to it spread.

So the question isn’t whether this is true. The question is: why is the administration spreading it as a rumor?

With every single thing you see and hear over these next weeks, read it and ask yourself: cui bono? Who benefits? Who has what to gain by telling what story?

Is it weird for a hyper-successful real estate developer to give money to politicians? He gave a lot to Obama as well. Is Obama in on this vast conspiracy?

Do you think the engineering faculty of Cooper Union discovered this in an investigation, or do you think someone told them that, and if someone, who? why?

3. How would the faculty of Cooper Union know how Jeff Gural voted, I wonder. Does anyone else wonder?

4. I am fascinated by Lima, Sidebotham and Wolf the ways that I am fascinated by vaxxers and creationists. And in the same way that science goes on fine whether people believe in it or not, there are facts that persist here even if I can’t disclose them or discuss them.

It would be a grievous error to give any weight to any of these faculty communications, and as a Trustee, I find their call on students and fellow faculty to endorse their position curious, from an ethical position. And who knows what it looks like from the POV of the law.

The conversation can be followed here and here.