Summary of CU BOT Free Education Committee Panel Discussion held on 10/11/17

Free Education Committee (FEC) Panel Discussion
Held at the Rose Auditorium on 10-11-17

These notes are not a full transcript.  All questions and responses have been shortened to better capture the key points.  The notes were taken by Mary Lynch ChE’82, CUAA Secretary.  Photos by Brian Rose A’79 & Mary Lynch ChE’82


Paul Nikulin CE’06, Alumni Trustee and President, CUAA

Eric Hirschhorn ME’89, Trustee

Robert Tan AR’81, Alumni Trustee

Rachel Warren, Chair, The Cooper Union Board of Trustees

Laura Sparks, President, The Cooper Union


The Panel Discussion began at 6:15 PM with a welcome message from the Board of Trustees Chair, Rachel Warren.

Next, CU President Laura Sparks explained that the work of the Free Education Committee (FEC) in seeking a path to full tuition scholarships will be encompassed within a broader Strategic Planning Process (SSP) that she has been leading.    The work of the FEC and SSP is coordinated and they are both focused on revenue generating and expense saving measures (i.e., renting out the Great Hall and other school venues for private events).  Laura noted that approximately 9 million dollars has been cut or is planned to be cut from the school’s operating budget and we are looking at ways to re-think scholarships, financial aid, and new student work opportunities.  In addition, we commissioned a space study to review how the school buildings are utilized and this includes looking at the possibility of holding classes at other locations and at options for utilizing the Fish House and Residence Hall too.  Laura underscored that for each initiative being considered, they considered other impacts besides financial.  For the residence hall that meant taking into consideration the role that building plays in creating and maintaining a sense of community here at The Cooper Union. She reminded everyone that the Consent Decree requires Cooper Union to keep the three schools with their existing enrollments and no loss of academic quality.

Rachel Warren explained that the work of both the FEC and the broader SSP are taking place under a compressed time line given the timing of the appointment of President Sparks, the deadlines established by the Middle States accreditation process, and the FEC Report deadline (January 2018).  She reminded everyone that Laura Sparks began working on the SSP as soon as she arrived.

Rachel Warren then explained that the Financial Monitor, Kroll Associates, Inc. (Kroll) is present at every Board and committee meeting and there are 3 people assigned to oversee Cooper Union’s adherence to the Consent Decree. She said that they have expertise in college budgeting and in college governance.

Question and Answer Period

Q: Brian Rose A’79
Thank you for giving us a listing of topics researched.  At what point will we hear
actual recommendations?

A: Robert Tan AR’81
A FEC report will come out in January 2018 that will have recommendations.

Q: Carol Wolf A’84
The FEC had a delayed start because the court monitor was appointed late.
Did the FEC have enough time and will it continue after January, 2018.

A: Rachel Warren
We have a continuing obligation to continue to work to becoming tuition free.  So either
the FEC will continue as is, or it may be rolled into the finance committee of the Board of Trustees.  We will need a process to oversee any plan that is adopted.

Q: Bob (Engineer. Did not provide last name)
Has anyone looked for corporate sponsorships?
Can you elaborate on some of the new revenue sources that you have looked into?
A: Laura Sparks
We are looking at corporations to partner with in research.  We are also looking at Foundations.  We are also looking to increase alumni donations and ways to maximize the use of the Great Hall.  There is a committee on the BOT that looks at development opportunities.  And the schools Development office is looking too.

Q: Chris Curro, EE’15
It was mentioned that the goal is to return to tuition free around 2030.  Could that change in a year or two?  Could new people come in and have a new plan?
A: Robert Tan AR’81
The Consent Decree says we have to keep working toward Tuition Free. The Court monitor will be with us for ten years.
A: Laura Sparks
We are in the process of working through that.  We are thinking about where we want to be with our strategic objectives.  It is obvious to me that the quality of learning is very important.  Free education is only one component of a larger strategic plan.

Q: Barry Drogin EE’83
The BOT tends to love big ideas.  Each big idea contains multiple initiatives.  What is sometimes missed is that some of the initiatives of one big idea may be in conflict with initiatives in a different big idea or may only be achievable if another big idea also occurs.  Are potential conflicts between various initiatives being explored?
A: Laura Sparks
One of the things that we are doing is
asking “What are all the outcomes of each initiative? For example what are the impacts on the curriculum and on the sense of community.”

Q: Scott Wilson A’70

I am in limbo about whether I should donate since tuition is being charged.
A: Laura Sparks
Some alumni have continued to donate because they know we have the need now.  Others
are waiting to see a plan.  Others are in a wait and see approach.  We are launching a new fund raising challenge coming up.  This is being made possible by a large alumni gift which will be
used to match donations.

A: Eric Hirschhorn ME’89
More alumni giving is definitely necessary.
It would be nice if everyone here tonight would reach out to fellow alumni and encourage them to give.

Q:  Standish Lee AR’11
After the January 2018 report is released, will there be a meeting to discuss what comes next?  Annual Reports are not frequent enough.  Could we have Quarterly Reports?  Quarterly Reports work better for tracking progress.
A:  Rachel Warren
I don’t know if we will have another meeting after the FEC Report is issued, but we will definitely solicit alumni feedback.
A:  Laura Sparks
I think we will have some method of tracking, but I do not know if it will be quarterly.
A:  Paul Nikulin CE’06
I can be reached very easily and I have responsibility for reporting to alumni.  I am happy to receive emails from all of you.

Q:  Carol Wolf A’84
I have been the Chair of the Annual Fund for 2 years.  I wish to underscore the importance of communication.  I don’t think you can communicate too much.  We would like to see more frequent communications from the Board.
A:  Rachel Warren
There is something that I would like to communicate now.  The Board is not adversarial with alumni. I know that a past B.O.T. chair said some things that suggested he blamed alumni for not contributing enough financially to the school.  I don’t agree. I don’t blame the alumni for one thing relating to the financial condition of the school – that is the responsibility of the Board.  I blame the past Boards and school administrators for not creating an environment that fostered your desire, a hunger, to give back.  They did not establish a culture of philanthropy and I blame them for that, not the alumni.
A:  Paul Nikulin CE’06
Thank you to all of you who have given and thank you for coming and being engaged
whether you give or not.

Q:  Ben Degan A’98
Is there a way that the Board accounts for non-monetary losses that have occurred since Cooper began charging tuition.  The school has changed. Has the Board accounted for that?
A:  Laura Sparks
How would you go about assigning value to that?

Q:  Ben Degan A’98
I don’t know.

A: Robert Tan AR’81
There has not been any change in student quality.  I have met with many faculty committees
who all say that and say so emphatically.
A:  Laura Sparks
Currently the average scholarship award is 77%.  I believe that message is not getting out to people.  Please help us get that word out.

Q:  Ben Degan A’98
It would be great if there were initiatives to invite alumni to give to the school in ways
other than giving money.

A:  Paul Nikulin CE’06
I would like to see alumni who are engaged pick up the phone and reach out to 20 other alumni just to invite them to come back to the school, to come to an event, and get involved again.
A:  Rachel Warren
Thank you, Paul, for the call to action.
I remember that when we had the Meet the Board night earlier this year at the
Fish House that some students said they would like to have alumni for mentors.  That is one way to give other than giving money.

Q:  Gene Tulchin A’55
It is 65 years since I graduated from the art school and 22 years since I retired from the CU faculty.  I have had lots of dealings with the Board of Trustees over many years.  I dealt with the Board as a faculty committee chair and as president of the faculty union.  There is a very real difference in the Board today, and it is a positive difference.   My question is, what sum of money do you believe is necessary to solve the problem?

A:  Laura Sparks
We would have to add 250 Million to the endowment in current dollars.  There is an index used to capture the financial health of universities.  It is called the Composite Financial Index (CFI).  The CFI scale goes from -4.0 to 10.  The Cooper Union is at -2.1 right now.

Q:  Gene Tulchin A’55
How have the Board members donated to the school?
A: Eric Hirschhorn ME’89
Every trustee has made giving a priority.  In total, the trustees give in the 100s of thousands a year.

Q:  Bob Whalen Eng’87
I have attended five colleges and The Cooper Union is the only one that I donate to.  My education at Cooper exceeded that at other schools.  I would like to be sure that the quality of teaching remains high and is not compromised.  I would like to speak about communications between the school and alumni, and also about accessibility.  I would like to see the school do a poll and publish the results of the poll.

Q: From on-line viewer 1
Are books and fees included in what will be free?

A: Laura Sparks

Q: From on-line viewer 2
Is Free Tuition the correct goal?  Should affordability be the goal?

A: Eric Hirschhorn ME’89
Our mission as per the Consent Decree is to get back to full-tuition scholarships.

Q: Barry Drogin EE’82
I recommend that alumni take a look at the financial analyses available on the Pioneer website.

Q: From on-line viewer 3
It would seem that if there is a clear fund and campaign dedicated to raising funds for becoming tuition free, donations would increase.
A: Laura Sparks
That is one of the things that we are looking into.

Q: Paul Nikulin CE’06
Is there a way for alumni to submit additional questions?

A:  Rachel Warren

For those who have already submitted questions that were not yet answered, we will find a way to post the answers on the CUAA website.  If there are any new questions, we will address those too.  But we won’t have the means to address a flood of questions.

The panel discussion was followed by a social get together with light refreshments in the auditorium foyer.