The Cooper Union and CSCU Reach Settlement
Article by: Carol Wolf, A’84
On Monday, September 14th, 2015 a Consent Decree between the Office of the NY State Attorney General, the Board of Trustees, and the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU) was presented to NY Supreme Court Justice Nancy Bannon, intended to bring to a close the lawsuit that was filed over a year ago. Members of the Cooper community including alumni, students, faculty, and staff came together for a full day of events surrounding this historic agreement.
Starting off the day, Nonstop Cooper, a community residency at 31 Third Avenue, hosted a presentation and Q&A discussion to help better understand the agreement. Following an introductory presentation by Scott Lerman A’81, CSCU founding members Adrian Jovanovic BSE’89, Mike Essl A’96, and Professor Toby Cumberbatch, along with Mike Borkowsky ME’61 and CSCU attorneys Richard Emery, Zoe Salzman, and Andrew Wilson, answered questions from the audience. A brief summary of the provisions of the Consent Decree follows this article.
In the afternoon, alumni, students, and other members of the community regrouped downtown to attend the hearing in Justice Bannon’s courtroom at 111 Center Street. Assistant Attorney General John Oleske and the attorneys for all parties were first called into a private meeting with the judge in which she reportedly requested five changes of an administrative nature to the Consent Decree document. Following this meeting, Justice Bannon entered the courtroom and heard statements from all parties in support of the agreement. Mr. Oleske began by explaining that the Office of the Attorney General chose to intervene in the situation at Cooper Union as a result of the lawsuit because it presented an opportunity for a better result than had they intervened independently at any other time. He described the proposed agreement as an attempt to address the concerns of the OAG and all parties involved, and to revise the Charter for the 21st century in a way that would help avoid future litigation, while retaining the vitality of the school as it is. He reassured Justice Bannon that the Attorney General believes the proposed settlement is superior to any other possible outcomes for Cooper Union. He closed by describing the agreement as an opportunity to “come out of the trenches and work together.”
The proceedings continued with statements from attorneys for the CSCU and Board of Trustees. Each requested that the judge approve the agreement, pending her requested edits. In the end she stated firmly that, while she could not officially “approve” the document until it had been finalized and resubmitted, she did find the agreement to be satisfactory in achieving the goals of all parties involved and to the benefit of the school. A revised document will be submitted to the court as soon as it is ready, and no further court appearances should be required.
Following the hearing, supporters gathered outside the NAB for a rally celebrating the historic agreement. Speakers included Adrian Jovanovic, Richard Emery, Scott Lerman, Mike Essl, Toby Cumberbatch, and NY State Senator Brad Hoylman. Emotions were upbeat, focusing on a future of working together towards a common goal and celebrating Peter Cooper’s gift of free education that has changed so many of our lives. Senator Hoylman remarked, “(Cooper Union) was never about a new building, or expansion, or trustees, or what faculty members made. It was about students. And that’s why today is such an important victory. What Richard (Emery) and his team, with the oversight of the Attorney General and the participation of students and alumni have established is that students come first at Cooper Union.”
Senator Brad Hoylman and the rally goers then headed upstairs to attend a special mixer hosted by CSCU in cooperation with the school. The atmosphere was refreshing and positive as members of the school administration – including Acting President William Mea – faculty, staff, alumni, and students mingled and celebrated a renewed sense of community. It was a beautiful, crystal clear September evening, and by dusk the party spilled out onto the Alumni Terrace. As the sun went down, the Foundation Building clock began to glow green, symbolizing a clear change in our future outlook – a “new beginning.” The events of the day came full circle with an after party at Nonstop Cooper that lasted into the night.
Consent Decree summary prepared by Scott Lerman A’81
The Consent Decree and cy pres include the following provisions:
- Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees will work with the community to return Cooper Union to a high-quality, sustainable, tuition-free model as soon as practical;
- A special committee of the Board will be dedicated to development of a strategic plan to return the school to its traditional tuition-free policy;
- Alignment of the trust and charter of the school, through the cy pres petition, to reflect the evolution of the institution into its modern form and allow for judicial oversight of the effort to return to a full tuition scholarship model;
- Expansion of the Board to include student trustees (2), additional alumni trustees (2), and faculty and staff representatives (6);
- Establishment of the Council of the Associates of Cooper Union—comprised of the alumni, student, and faculty trustees—with the charge to develop a full plan and proposal for The Associates of Cooper Union;
- Appointment of an independent financial monitor who will be responsible for evaluating and reporting on the financial management of Cooper Union, including compliance with the Consent Decree;
- Transparent disclosure of Board materials, budget documents, and investment results;
- Formation of a board committee to further reform the school’s governance; and
- An inclusive search committee to identify the next full-term president.
Sketch of the courtroom by Barry Drogin EE’83