Presidents of The Cooper Union

Peter Cooper, 1859 – 1882

Peter Cooper was an American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist, and founder of The Cooper Union.

Edward Cooper, 1882 – 1904

Edward Cooper was educated at Columbia University and operated an iron works in Trenton New Jersey with his partner Abram Hewitt.  He was the 83rd Mayor of New York City from 1879 to 1880.  He became president of the Cooper Union shortly before his father’s death in 1883.

John Parsons, 1905 – 1914

John Parsons was one of the original 5 Trustees on the Cooper Union Board of Trustees.

R. Fulton Cutting   1914  – 1934

R. Fulton Cutting established a Department of Social Philosophy at Cooper Union in 1934.

R. Fulton Cutting passed away during his term as President of the Cooper Union.

Gano Dunn, 1935 – 1953

Gano Dunn was President of Cooper Union, and an early Chairman and CEO of the United States National Research Council. He helped found the J.G. White Engineering Corporation and was a winner of the IEEE Edison Medal (1937) and Hoover Medal (1939).  learn more

Edwin Sharp Burdell, Director  1938 -1953 and President 1953 – 1960

Edwin Sharp Burdell was born on February 2, 1898. He was Director of Cooper Union for 22 years.  He was appointed director in 1938.  This was a new educational post announced by President Gano Dunn.  Dr. Burdell served as the Administrative and Educational Head of Cooper Union during his term as Director.  Later following Gano Dunn’s death, he became president.  Before coming to The Cooper Union, he was the first Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Burdell was also Resident Consultant of the Cranbrook Institutes in the early ’60’s. His responsibility was to help coordinate the activities of the six Cranbrook Institutions.  He left The Cooper Union to serves as president of a university located in Turkey.

Dr. Johnson E. Fairchild (Acting President) 1960- 1961

Dr. Johnson E. Fairchild was very active in promoting the use of the Great Hall for lectures.   Later, he edited, America Faces the Nuclear Age : A Cooper Union Forum in June 2012.

Richard Franklin Humphreys, 1961 – 1968

Richard Franklin Humphreys was a physicist and President of  The Cooper Union.  He was joint author of First Principles of Atomic Physics.  He presided over the expansion of the school’s curriculum and the creation, in 1963, of degrees in Art and Architecture and in 1967, a doctorate degree in Engineering.  He passed away during his term as Cooper Union President.

Henry Held (Acting President) 1968 – 1969

Henry Held was president of The Ford Foundation before coming to The Cooper Union.

John F. White, 1969 – 1979

John F.White was president of the Cooper Union from 1969 until 1979, President of National Educational Television and was a special assistant at the ASPEN Institute. He has previously been a Director of Development at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Vice President of Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  Read More

Bill N. Lacy, 1980 – 1987

Bill N. Lacy served as the Executive Director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize from 1988 through 2005. Previously, he served as President of the State University of New York at Purchase. From 1980 to 1987, he served as President of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

John Jay Iselin, 1989 – 1999

John Jay Iselin, led WNET, the nation’s largest public television station prior to coming to The Cooper Union.  He helped create the PBS show, “The Robert MacNeil Report With Jim Lehrer.” While at Cooper, he led a $50 million capital campaign, created endowed professorships in the schools of art, architecture and engineering and added new trustees and new deans for art and the humanities.  During his term the Cooper Union Dormitory was built.

George Cambpell, Jr.    1999  – 2011

Dr. George Cambpell headed a nonprofit corporation, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering prior to coming to The Cooper Union. He was a member of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology. During his term, the parking lot at 26 Astor Place was leased to Related Companies and a large residential tower called the Sculpture for Living opened there in 2004.  The lot that once held the Engineering school was leased to Edward J. Minskoff Equities and a 11 story commercial building was built there.  The new academic building located at 41 Cooper Square was also built.

Jamshed Bharucha  2011 – 2015

Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, served on the faculty of Dartmouth College,and he was the provost of Tufts University from 2002 to 2011. He brought to light a history of operating with growing deficits at the school and was a strong advocate for charging tuition.  Jamshed Bharucha resigned along with 5 members of the Cooper Union Board of Trustees in June of 2015, as part of a settlement negotiated by New York Attourney General, Eric Schneiderman.

William Mea (Acting President) 2015-2016

William Mea, was The Cooper Union’s vice president for finance and administration before becoming acting president.  He played a major role in reuniting factions of the Cooper Union Community.

Laura Sparks 2017 to Present

Laura Sparks served as executive director of the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia prior to being elected president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.  She was responsible for numerous initiatives addressing social and environmental challenges in Philadelphia.  She had previously served as the director of development finance initiatives for Citi Community Development and Citi Foundation.

References:, Presidents of The Cooper Union link

New York Times, Tablet of Peter Cooper, May 12, 1901, link

People’s Institute Records 1883-1933, The New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library,

Manuscripts and Archives Division.  link

New York Times, Dunn Chosen Head of Cooper Union, February 2, 1935 link

New York Times, Cooper Union Post to Director to Dr. E.S. Burdel, February 21, 1938  link

New York Times, Burdell Retires at Cooper Union, January 11, 1960  link

New York Times, Dr. Richard Humphreys Dies, August 9, 1968  link

New York Times, Educational TV Official will Head Cooper Union, March 13, 1969  link

New York Times, John Jay Iselin Installed as Cooper Union President, April 15, 1989  link

New York Times, John Jay Iselin, Public TV Innovator dies at 74, May 7, 2008  link

New York Times, Cooper Union Picks Physicist as First Black President, November 18, 1999 link

New York Times, Provost of Tufts University Will Be Named President of Cooper Union, February 6, 2011  link

New York Times, Cooper Union President Resigns, June 11, 2015  link

The Cooper Union, About Cooper Union–Office of the President, website accessed 12/14/2016 link