Students Demand Answers As Cooper Union Ends Full Rides

Cooper Union TuitionJoanna Marshall

Following an announcement that Cooper Union would cut scholarships for incoming students to 50 percent next year, current students and faculty members furiously scribbled questions onto slips of paper and shouted complaints during a tense back-and-forth at the school’s Great Hall.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, read from the slips of paper, but it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t addressing all of them. “Why are you skipping questions?” a student called out.

“I am not reading the questions that are offensive or inflammatory or that I have already answered,” replied Mr. Epstein.

Mr. Epstein did reassure the crowd that the price of tuition won’t go up in the immediate future, but said that inflation would likely increase the price down the road. When a student asked what could be done to stop inflation, he replied, “You could all donate to the school.”

“What about the expansion?” asked a student in the front row. “Why are we expanding to P.S. 64 if we have no money and we’re not getting more students? Are we planning to sell the old dorms?”

“We will not be selling the old dorms,” said Mr. Epstein. As the student asked for elaboration, others in the audience began to grumble about the expansion and yell out unintelligibly. Mr. Epstein repeated that he had already answered that question.

“This format of asking questions is insulting,” shouted a man in the back of the auditorium.

“Being yelled at is insulting,” replied Mr. Epstein. “I’m trying to keep things civil.”

Mr. Epstein managed to keep his sense of humor throughout most of the discussion. When a student asked whether the school would be getting a swimming pool, he smiled and said, “No, I’m sorry.”

There was a question about the level of transparency during the Board’s financial discussions. “I’ve never heard of a school with more transparency,” said Mr. Epstein. “The board just made this decision on Sunday and you’re already hearing about it on Tuesday.”

“How about the fact that you only gave us six hours notice for this meeting?” yelled a woman in the back with thick tortoise-shell glasses. “That’s not transparent.”

As conversation turned to the Board’s decision, Mr. Epstein addressed the numbers. “The decision of the Board wasn’t unanimous. The decision was a majority, which is all that matters. The breakdown is not important,” he said.

“That’s not transparent!” the woman with tortoise-shell glasses yelled again. At this point, the questions were becoming more caustic.

“Do you know the price of everything, but the value of nothing, sir?” shouted Walid Raad, an art professor. The room erupted into cheers.

Asked if the Board was going to apologize, Mr. Epstein countered, “What do they have to apologize for?”

“Abdicating the stewardship of the mission statement,” the questioner shouted. In a frenzy, some students started to chant “resign.”

At this, Mr. Epstein declared the meeting at its end.

“There is no silver bullet to solve our financial problem,” said Mr. Epstein. “The scholarship reduction is just one aspect of our solution.”

“I don’t know if this tuition decision will be reconsidered in the future. That is up to the Board.”